If you receive errors when attempting to view this white paper, please install the latest version of Adobe Reader.
"VAI is an award winning software developer and an IBM Premier Business Partner. Founded in 1978, VAI is headquartered in Long Island, New York, with branch offices in Florida, California and Illinois. In conjunction with IBM, the company designs customer driven enterprise management software for the IBM Power Systems."
Source : VAI
Case Study: VAI Improves Customer Service with Business Portal
Improve Customer Service is also known as : Improve Customer Service, Voice Customer, Customer Service Email, Customer Experience, Customer Care Solutions, Customer Service Training Programs, Business Solutions, Improve Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service Surveys, Customer Loyalty Training, CRM Software, Improving Customer Satisfaction.
- The Challenge VAI needed to enhance customer service methods for higher levels of customer satisfaction; incorporate additional collaboration tools to increase employee productivity; and add a company-wide messaging platform to support the needs of a mobile workforce.
- Why IBM? IBM offers a robust portal and collaboration platform especially tailored for small and medium businesses that is easy to use and manage.
- The Solution IBM® Workplace&8482; Services Express and software running on an IBM System i&8482; server.
- Key Benefits
- Improved customer satisfaction contributes to additional referrals and higher sales revenue
- Improved collaboration tools help increase employee productivity
- Enhanced messaging and collaboration platform supports a dispersed workforce by giving traveling employees the tools they need when and where they need them
VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.) helps companies effectively plan for the future whatever it may bring by providing affordable Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and associated services to clients in the manufacturing, wholesale and retail industries. The VAI S2K suite of products helps small and mediumsized businesses (SMBs) stay on top of fast-moving markets by allowing them to visualize and optimize financial, manufacturing and distribution processes. Plus VAI offers customer relationship management (CRM) software and customized e-business solutions. To support its software, VAI provides consulting, education, and implementation services, as well as expertise in system integration. Thanks to its portfolio of products and services, VAI has a number of high-profile customers, including Konica-Minolta, Turtle Wax and Dunkin' Donuts.
In order to serve its customers, VAI relies on its internal IT systems to provide a competitive advantage. "In today's environment, you simply can't compete without an IT infrastructure that lets you quickly and accurately develop and deploy new systems," says Todd Endsley, director of e-business solutions at VAI. "Not only do we have offices spread across North America, but the SMB market is very competitive, so we need an infrastructure that enables us to collaborate on sales and technical development projects as effectively as possible."
In order to best serve its customers, VAI participates in the IBM PartnerWorld® Industry Networks, which offer a rich set of incremental industry-tailored resources to all PartnerWorld members who want to build their vertical market capabilities and attract potential customers in the markets they serve worldwide. VAI is a member of the fabrication and assembly industry and is "optimized," which means it has developed further specialization by optimizing its applications with IBM on demand technologies, achieving success with their own on demand solutions and other criteria.
"We have reviewed many different portal products, so we are well aware of the full range of options in the marketplace. There is nothing that delivers the capability of Workplace Services Express."
Kevin Beasley Chief Information Officer VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.)
VAI investigates a business portal
Since the early 1990s, VAI had relied on IBM Lotus products for messaging and collaboration among employees. But when it came to communicating with customers, the company's existing customer self-service web applications and reliance on telephones and faxes slowed responsiveness as well as time-to-market for new implementations. For example, in order to respond to a customer's technical inquiry, a VAI help desk employee might have to put the customer on hold and sift through pages of technical documentation, which resulted in lengthy response times and less than optimal productivity.
Also, while success is never a bad thing, a rapid expansion in business across North America meant that VAI employees needed the ability to collaborate in real time regardless of their location. "We wanted our traveling employees whether sales or technical personnel to have their applications, information, documents, and everything else critical to their work available no matter where they were," says Endsley. "We have people traveling 50 weeks out of the year, and it is not feasible to anticipate all the documents that they might need on the road."
In order to facilitate everyday business processes through a Web interface, VAI began to consider a business portal. As a software provider and an IBM Premier Business Partner, VAI was intimately familiar with a number of portal products, and management was convinced that IBM Workplace Services Express was best suited for the company's needs. "In order to support our customers, we test a lot of products in our R&D labs," says Kevin Beasley, chief information officer at VAI. "We have reviewed many different portal products, so we are well aware of the full range of options in the marketplace. There is nothing that delivers the capability of Workplace Services Express. Because it is so customizable, Workplace Services Express allows us to use one platform to facilitate a number of different business processes."
"The time and billing part of the portal enables our employees who might be traveling anywhere in the country to keep track of billable hours, from wherever they are, they can enter what they have been doing and how many hours are billable to a certain client."
Kevin Beasley Chief Information Officer VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.)
VAI portal streamlines employee, customer and dealer business processes
VAI chose to implement Workplace Services Express software for its ability to facilitate multiple business processes with customized functionality delivered through a common Web browser interface. Of prime importance, the portal structures the customer service process. "A customer can log into the portal and enter a help desk request," explains Endsley. "In the back office, our support team gets notified, and the request is routed to the appropriate department. Then the portal structures the workflow among the internal support teams. Plus the customers can log onto the portal at any point to check the status of the request and the resolution."
In addition to supporting customer needs, the portal helps employees at VAI track their project-related time and billing. "The time and billing part of the portal enables our employees who might be traveling anywhere in the country to keep track of billable hours," explains Beasley. "From wherever they are, they can enter what they have been doing and how many hours are billable to a certain client. It allows us to track our billings, and there is even some workflow built into the process that allows other departments to see and track billable hours."
The customizable portal offers different functionality to various constituencies, including tools that support the unique needs of VAI dealers. "The portal allows us to use one platform to deliver a variety of different applications to different user types, for instance when dealers log on they see a set of capabilities tailored just for them," Beasley says. "Our dealers can do tasks such as lead generation and tracking through the portal. And they can communicate with our internal sales team here at VAI, so if a dealer needs assistance such as marketing literature or advice, they can get that through the portal."
Out-of-the-box collaboration capabilities complement custom applications
In addition to providing a powerful platform for delivering customized applications, Workplace Services Express comes with a number of portlets for collaboration. "We use quite a few of the IBM portlets," explains Endsley. "For example, our employees get their e-mail and calendar through the portal via a single sign-on. And they are using instant messaging and team spaces for collaboration among project teams."
With the built-in presence awareness capability, the Lotus Instant Messaging application is increasingly becoming a vital aspect of everyday business operations. "Team members can be working on a project together, but they might be in five different cities," explains Beasley. "Instant messaging is invaluable in terms of getting quick answers from team members when they need them. We rely on it heavily because we have so many offices and development teams in different places. VAI depends on instant messaging on a daily basis."
In addition to messaging, VAI has begun to use the team space functionality in Workplace Services Express to help improve collaboration and coordination among project teams. "You can customize these team spaces to create applications that help you collaborate, organize information and share information within your particular environment," says Endsley. "Right now, our team spaces are used primarily by our developers to keep track of their projects, but we're planning to offer team spaces tailored for customers so that they can use them as part of our ERP implementations as well."
"The biggest benefit delivered by the portal has been the improved collaboration and more effective management of our teams, instead of just adding people arbitrarily to projects, we can better manage our teams, keep costs down and deliver better service."
Vince Taravella Director of Channel Sales VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.)
Service-oriented architecture turns functionality into reusable assets
Because the Workplace Services Express portal is based on open standards, it can form the foundation for a service-oriented architecture. This allows VAI to package the pieces of functionality delivered through the portal as reusable assets. "When we develop functionality, we can look down the road and make the determination that it is something that should be offered as a service," Beasley explains. "Something as simple as an open invoice inquiry that we might have on our portal can then become a reusable Web service that we can re-package for our customers. Many of the components that we have developed for ourselves and for customers can be reused in new products that will look completely different and can be sold to new customers."
Portal increases sales and improves employee productivity
Ultimately, the VAI portal has resulted in an improved customer experience, which results in more references and increased sales opportunities. "Our customers are our best salespeople," says Vince Taravella, director of channel sales at VAI. "If you look at what makes us successful as a sales organization, it is the quality of our references. And by making our customers happy, our new portal has absolutely increased our sales revenue. If we have a large pool of happy customers that have a great story to tell about how effectively we managed and implemented their program, that really increases our sales volume."
Additionally, the company has experienced a boost in productivity due to the ability of the portal to serve the needs of employees. "The biggest benefit delivered by the portal has been the improved collaboration and more effective management of our teams," Taravella concludes. "Instead of just adding people arbitrarily to projects, we can better manage our teams, keep costs down and deliver better service. In other words, we've been able to increase our workload without adding additional personnel, and our productivity has gone up without compromising service levels one bit."
For more information
For more information, contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit: ibm.com/software/lotus
©Copyright IBM Corporation 2006
IBM Software Group
Somers, NY 10589
Produced in the United States
All Rights Reserved
IBM, the IBM logo, Lotus, PartnerWorld, System i and Workplace are trademarks or registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in the United States, other countries or both.
Other company, product or service names may be trademarks or service marks of others.
All statements regarding IBM future direction or intent are subject to change or withdrawal without notice and represent goals and objectives only. ALL INFORMATION IS PROVIDED ON AN "AS-IS" BASIS, WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY OF ANY KIND.
IBM shall not be responsible for any damages arising out of the use of, or otherwise related to, this documentation or any other documentation. Nothing contained in this documentation is intended to, nor shall have the effect of, creating any warranties or representations from IBM (or its suppliers or licensors), or altering the terms and conditions of the applicable license agreement governing the use of IBM software.
References in this publication to IBM products or services do not imply that IBM intends to make them available in all countries in which IBM operates.
All customer examples described are presented as illustrations of how those customers have used IBM products and the results they may have achieved. Actual environmental costs and performance characteristics may vary by customer.