As you may be aware, it has been some time since I last posted. For personal reasons I am currently unable to do so. However, in my absence, I invite you to a series of industry guest blogs and interviews beginning with this post. Enjoy!
By Paul Stamas, Mohawk, and Chris Hale, Liaison Technologies
Paul: This is a story of business transformation and how the cloud – along with the help of an Integration Cloud Services Brokerage (CSB) – is making it happen. Eighteen months ago, our CEO announced a business transformation strategy that would empower our company to thrive in the Digital Age. Mohawk is the largest privately owned manufacturer of fine papers and envelopes for commercial and digital printing, but we needed to change how we did business and we needed to do it fast. The Internet, digitization, mobile computing, environmental awareness, energy costs and global competition were culminating into the perfect storm, threatening paper manufacturers of all sizes on every front.
To survive, we would need to claim a leadership position in the emerging digital web-to-print industry. This would require becoming incredibly agile to be able to respond quickly to opportunities and technology shifts, and would also require us to broaden our offerings beyond paper and envelopes to include product bundles, digital products and services to drive demand for our high-end paper products. This shift would expand our sales channel from strictly selling to paper distributors to also selling direct to consumers. It would mean partnering with other companies, making some acquisitions and embracing eCommerce. The changes required to our IT infrastructure to support our new business model were estimated to cost over a million dollars – more money than we were willing to invest in a traditional enterprise-class integration solution. So, we turned to the cloud.
Chris: Mohawk had been a B2B/EDI Integration customer of Liaison Technologies for seven years when Paul came to us with his ideas to leverage the cloud as an integration platform for business processes. Liaison was moving to an Integration Cloud Services Brokerage model at the time Paul approached us about building a plug-and-play, service-oriented architecture (SOA) that would give Mohawk the business process agility it would need to meet its transformation objectives.
Paul had a vision: He wanted to benefit from an enterprise-class integration platform, without having to buy one. To solve the problem, he initiated an industry-academic partnership between Mohawk, Liaison Technologies and Syracuse University to design and implement an “integration-in-the-cloud” project as part of his doctoral studies at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse. And it worked! With Liaison’s help, Mohawk was selling its products on Amazon.com within a few weeks of deciding to move to cloud computing and at a huge cost savings over trying to do everything itself. But, that was only the beginning.
Paul: Expanding our relationship with Liaison to use its Cloud Services Brokerage allowed us to grow from 300 paper distribution customers to over 30,000 customers in a few months, aided through our new partnerships, acquisitions and eCommerce site, for very little cost.
The Liaison platform is a hub that allows us to build new business models by knitting together business processes. It is, in every sense of the word, an any-to-any integration platform, connecting on-premise application-to-application integration, on-premise-to-cloud integration and cloud-to-cloud integration. As a result, most of our B2B transactions seamlessly flow from hundreds of trading partners to our on-premise operation systems, resulting in more timely and accurate information and eliminating the requirement of staff to manually process transactions.
The Liaison integration platform-as-a-service, or iPaaS, also enables us to rapidly on-board new suppliers, outsourced manufacturers, and third-party logistics providers to offer new bundles of products and services and to extend the reach of delivery. Moreover, it allows us to experiment with new cloud services, data-as-a-service offerings and new business processes without the risk. Instead of the “big bang” approach to installing a million dollar middleware system, we’re taking the evolutionary path, where we can add new capabilities when we need them very inexpensively.
Today, we’re weaving together and tapping into a variety of cloud services, eCommerce sites and our own web services, as well as connecting with all of our B2B and B2C customers, suppliers, outsourced manufacturing partners, third-party logistics providers and financial institutions, through the Liaison business process hub. Although it may sound complicated, for us, it’s not. It’s all managed though a single, secure connection between Mohawk and Liaison. This completely released us from the technicalities of running such a complex integration scheme. We let Liaison handle that while we focus on building Mohawk’s business process value systems.
Besides the substantial benefits that come from worry-free integration between a diverse set of applications and services, and the ability to add in new services very quickly and economically, the Liaison iPaaS is also a proving ground for new ideas. We’re constantly experimenting with new things because it’s easy to do and very inexpensive. So inexpensive, in fact, that we simply throw them out if they fail and go on to the next idea.
One such experiment was a hit with our sales department. SugarCRM has a weblet called iFrames that lets users add local weather to their dashboards. We challenged Liaison to take a web service from Mohawk and display it within iFrames based on a URL call. It worked. “Today’s Orders” now appears on each of our salespeople’s SugarCRM dashboards, constantly bringing in a wealth of pertinent information from other systems and displaying it right in front of them. We’re now considering re-using this in our web commerce site.
Our next experiment is to create Apple and Android apps for Stock Check, our application that allows our customers and our customers’ customers to check Mohawk inventory stock prior to placing an order through their ERP systems. We’re also talking to Liaison about creating a way to directly feed expenses from our travel and expense cloud service into our General Ledger.
Here’s just a small snapshot of what we’ve achieved with the help of Liaison’s Cloud Services Brokerage over the last year:
- Doing business through Amazon increased Mohawk’s sales $1 million in 2011; we expect to double that in 2012.
- Two-thirds of our orders come through Liaison, but it takes just one account executive to manage the exceptions.
- The volume of stock checks has grown to 30,000 per month, driving call volume down by 50 percent.
- Shipping costs are 30 percent lower, thanks to a more effective match-and-pay process using MercuryGate Transportation Management system.
- We’re discovering and stopping fraud regularly using Authorize.net.
Chris: The industry has taken notice of Paul’s vision and Mohawk and Liaison’s collaborative accomplishments. Paul won SearchCIO-Midmarket.com’s 2012 Technological Advancement Award for his visionary cloud strategy, and Mohawk was named by CIO magazine as a 2012 CIO 100 Award recipient as “one of 100 innovative organizations that use IT effectively to create business value.” The Mohawk-Liaison cloud partnership also has been cited by Gartner, Deloitte and InfoTrends as lessons in Cloud Services Brokerages, hyper-hybrid clouds and business transformation.
About the Authors:
Paul Stamas is Vice President of Information Technology at Mohawk, the largest premium paper manufacturer in North America. He is pursuing a doctorate from the Syracuse University School of Information Studies and is conducting research in the application of cloud computing and service-oriented architecture in manufacturing firms.
Chris Hale serves as Vice President of Global Product Marketing at Liaison Technologies (www.liaison.com), a global provider of cloud-based integration and data management services and solutions. A subject matter expert in Application Integration in the Cloud, Cloud Master Data Management (MDM), Data Transformation and B2B/EDI Integration Services, he was a contributor to the recently published e-book, “Cloud Services Brokerage for DUMMIES®”. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.