As EMC IT remains focused on its IT Transformation journey, we continue to take calculated risks in emerging technologies and adopt bleeding-edge solutions — but not without bumps along the way. However, we have found that leveraging a strong partnership with a trusted supplier is a crucial strategy to help smooth the road ahead.
Recently, EMC IT went live with the third release of its SAP implementation, replacing our direct and channel ‘selling’ tools with a suite of software products predominantly within the SAP landscape. This grouping of products – while not currently sold by SAP as a “solution” – needed strong partnership between EMC leadership and SAP, as we cooperated to string them together.
Back in 2003, EMC’s ‘selling’ tools, Direct and Channel Xpress, went live as two separate applications as a conscious choice in a very different selling model. At the time, EMC’s direct sales force was focused on high-end deals with little to no partner interaction. But as the channel grew and the go-to-market model adapted it became clear that this (EMC+Channel) partnership needed a more tightly coupled application – one that we just couldn’t deliver with two disparate applications.
Choosing the New Solution
The core of the new application is SAP’s CRM (customer relationship management). EMC IT quickly made the decision to run it on SAP HANA database platform – our first venture to deploy an on-line transaction processing (OLTP) platform using SAP HANA. The capabilities within SAP CRM for quoting, pricing and customer management were going to be the core of the entire system.
The next major decision focused around the next-generation product configurator. The unlimited configurability of our products and solutions is a major competitive advantage for our sales force, and EMC needed an agile tool to maintain these tens-of-thousands of rules on a daily basis. We moved forward with a plan to use SAP’s Solution Sales Configurator (SSC) – a relatively new product with only one other production customer at the time.
It was quickly apparent that SSC’s ability to be modular and configure solutions rather than individual products matches EMC’s vision as our product portfolio continues to grow. But like all new products, there are growing pains as the application evolves. SAP stepped up to the task and directly partnered with EMC – from senior leadership level and down – prioritizing bug fixes directly affecting EMC and enhancing the tool as we found deficiencies to our process.
The last product selected was Vendavo – a leader in the Pricebook and Deal Management space as well as a close partner of SAP. Touting out of the box integrations, Vendavo was a natural fit for us.
The “Wow” Factor
With the main components selected, the focus quickly turned to user experience. Ensuring ease in selling EMC’s products would make the salesforce more efficient as well as help our partners choose to sell EMC instead of one of our competitors.
Our first user-experience step was to enlist the help of SAP’s Custom Development organization to help build a tool to easily create standardized UI’s on top of our complex product configurator. Using SAPUI5 technology and partnering with the SSC product team, SAP delivered a robust tool that allows the business to use drag and drop technology to create easy to use UI’s so sales engineers can quickly configure products.
As the project continued, in pure EMC IT fashion, along came a new curveball. SAP had recently purchased an eCommerce market leader – a software platform known as Hybris. EMC had used Hybris sparingly, most notable in its online eStore, but this was a large-scope change very late in the project timeline. Again, partnering with SAP allowed us to get our hands on early releases of its integration roadmap using SAP’s RFC jCo connections. A stateful connection (one where the client stores and re-uses the backend session) between Hybris and the SAP CRM backend allowed us to use Hybris as simply the front-end window into the quote while still taking advantage of Hybris’ core capabilities – especially its versatile product catalog, which EMC uses extensively for search and enrichment of products. EMC IT then reached out to Pivotal Labs – an EMC federation company who had done numerous user experience projects. Their design services approach, a skill that most IT shops simply don’t have, led to major improvements and efficiencies in laying out the ‘price quoting’ user experience.
Stability and Performance
Tightly coupling these software products and ensuring consistency between each is the main challenge for us as we look to stabilize the solution. Our UI strategy strives to make each disparate system feel seamless so users don’t realize they are switching to a completely different tool each time. This raises the need for data consistency between all applications – real time. Using a mix of direct web services and our Application Integration Cloud (AIC) technology (a custom EAI layer built on Pivotal SpringSource) for real time integration, the data flow is constant each time a price quotation is saved (which is done often to avoid data loss).
SAP has partnered with us again, sending out their brightest minds from Germany to optimize the solution. With a mix of short-, medium- and long-term changes planned in both the configuration and pricing area, the goal is to not only improve the end-to-end experience but optimize business processes and the user experience. A range of changes are slated for Q1 (improving the run times and handling quote saves more efficiently) with much larger enhancements in mind for the coming quarters and beyond.