Portal Solutions for Front-Office Automation and Customer Relationship Management
Lets face it, there's no real need to manage the supply chain without a demand chain. Any balanced corporate planning must use the relationship of Supply and Demand as its very fulcrum. A simpler view might suggest that business actually starts with demand. Once a company truly understands the needs/wants of a particular market segment, they have only to translate them into products and services that meet said needs/wants. However, that's where competition comes into play. Forever driving down the monetary value of deliverable goods/services and stalling the velocity of business. It's only when companies start developing strategic customer relationships instead of transactional customer relationships that they can control this downward cycle. Hence the value of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) sits at the very tip of the fulcrum between the balances of supply and demand. Market Segments become strategic customers. Strategic customers become individuals whose unique needs/wants become the relationship dynamics that are propagated throughout the supply chain. Ultimately a whole business ecosystem is established in an effort to increase the value of the relationship and the competitive advantage.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology must address the decision support needs of the different people/departments that interact with your customers/prospects and represent your company each and every day. They include: the Marketing department, the Sales force, Service personnel, Project Managers and Contact center personnel. By delivering automated decision support about customer relationship dynamics within an automated front office solution set you will have empowered them with the support needed to continuously improve the customer relationship. We call it "W.I.N.W.I.N" (When I Need What I Need). Additionally, by globally managing the associated business rules across a distributed and global database, data can be entered from anywhere in the distributed architecture and served in the most appropriate format for any functional business area. Companies that deploy CRM to strengthen customer relationships reduce operating costs and increase revenue. For example, research shows that companies providing on-line access to information-such as product catalogs, pricing, availability, order status, etc-substantially reduce customer service costs. The new efficiencies of business can enable companies to offer conveniences that previously may have been cost-prohibitive such as 24 x 7 sales and service access by customers and resellers.
Typical business applications include standard features such as personalization, self-service, on-line ordering, multiple price books, catalog and configuration capabilities, push technology, collaboration capabilities, etc. Companies that manufacture, sell and service capital equipment (Equipment-centric businesses) need additional and unique functionality over other market segments. Examples include: complex contract management, parts inventory/logistics, warranty registrations, warranty and service claims, skill-set management, processing for return material authorizations (RMAs), ordering spare parts over the web.
A growing part of CRM consists of a complete view of the customer's relationship with the service provider (360° view). This empowers customers to participate in the business collaboration, multiple channels of communications between individuals and organizations participating in the support process.
Another trend that Astea has noticed during the last few years is the change of business from a break / fix industry to a braver vision of project management and PSA. We are witnessing equipment-centric service organizations moving from 80% break / fix and 20% projects to the opposite of 20% (and lower) break / fix and 80% projects.
The following pages describe business and CRM relationships with focus on Astea International's development of the new AllianceEnterprise Suite version six. Astea will begin reaching the market in a phased product rollout during the summer of 2001 and into the first quarter of 2002. First applications will address the needs of a company's customers and employees, marketing, sales and PSA followed by additional products for indirect sales and service channels, and for suppliers of goods and services. Astea's competitive differentiator is 20 years of service automation experience that is being leveraged to create greater business value for companies seeking to include service as part of their product portfolios.
"We follow a rather unique 'Customer for Life' philosophy. Our entire organization and all our resources are made available to each customer relationship. In our evaluation process, only AllianceEnterprise complied with this total customer relationship management concept. Astea's focus on Equipment-Centric CRM and their long history of developing service automation solutions were evident by the depth and breadth of functionality in their ServiceAlliance product." - Bob Mathews, Vice President of Service Operations, Northwest Pump and Equipment Co.
Today's business environment, characterized by rapid change and increasingly complex interactions with partners and customers, represents both a tremendous challenge and extraordinary opportunity. Most companies will rethink their business processes so they can compete successfully, and business will play a critical role. Companies that fail to adopt business may not survive, just like companies who failed to adopt the telephone, the telex or later the computer.
Customers today expect accurate and timely information personalized to match their needs and prompt assistance when necessary to answer questions, resolve problems and place orders. They are expecting the services provider to know them and their business and to deliver personalized service to their exact needs. These needs can be managed with a distributed modular architecture that delivers timely decision support to employees, partners, vendors and customers. W.I.N. W.I.N. (When I need What I need) data empowers: Customers who want to utilize a Self-service paradigm, Contact Center personnel who need to both access and input customer relationship information, Marketing groups who need to analyze customer trends/profiles to move customers from transactional to strategic relationships, Sales Personnel who need to strategically manage customer needs/wants, Project Managers who must efficiently and profitably deliver solutions that meet with customer expectations and Service personnel who need to manage service level agreements and ensure that companies continue to receive the value for their investment. Customer satisfaction and retention are the same business drivers for business as for conventional CRM solutions, as are a company's needs to increase profitability through lower operating costs, higher revenue recovery and a rapid increase of the top line.
A company must focus efforts on core competencies, and outsource all non-core aspects of its business to others-suppliers, distributors and customers for self-service, self-maintenance and order placement. To do this effectively, a company must coordinate, collaborate, and integrate with these external parties. eBusiness is the key to this extended enterprise by providing the enabling solutions to create a virtual enterprise. In order for the business to succeed all aspect of the life cycle, it should be tightly integrated from marketing automation to integrated SFA to optimized delivery process and into efficient support / service offerings.
Consider how a manufacturer of personal computers may have to outsource repair services to field service organizations for on-site service, or to depot repair shops for return-to-base repairs. The manufacturer's customer service organization would take problem reports either by phone or over the web, then dispatch the call to the appropriate partner for on-site service or equipment pick-up for repair. Another partner may be used to deliver new orders as well as pick up goods being returned. Business manages the end-to-end process of the entire value chain, creating a seamless and efficient operation.
By integrating the front office and leveraging the right CRM technology for your particular business profile, the value of your relationship with your strategic customers can be increased. Early adopters can gain market share by improving customer satisfaction through better, faster services at lower costs. An integrated front-office architecture can also makes it possible for companies operating in limited geographic regions to increase market share by expanding into new areas at marginal costs.
Effects on Customer Relationships
An integrated front-office architecture can offer more product choices, faster delivery, lower prices and higher levels of service. This promotes more accurate and faster customer fulfillment due to the automation of order processing and elimination of time-consuming manual procedures. This is particularly true when dealing with partners as part of the fulfillment and service delivery processes. With business, a more personalized and responsive relationship can be developed with each and every customer. Personalization can be used to deliver information, products and services unique to a customer's specific needs.
Increasing the top line
The main motivation for organizations to implement a CRM system is to increase the top line. This is done by automating and integrating the full product life cycle (marketing, sales, fulfillment and support) by maximizing the efficiency of each of these positions of the business while fully integrated with the other aspects of the business. The goal is retain customers, maximize opportunities and utilize the knowledge in the corporate databases for further business development.
Most general-purpose CRM systems cover only the first few aspects of the product life cycle, which are marketing and sales. Most other systems do not cover delivery and support and those who do cover these areas, fall short of providing real value.
Astea's great value is with the full and mature integration with the fulfillment and support processes, where Astea's know-how for over 20 years exceeds any other CRM system. Our technology is specifically designed to manage customer relationships for companies that manufacture, sell and service equipment. We refer to these kinds of companies as 'Equipment-centric' companies.
An equipment-centric CRM solution reduces operating costs throughout your business. It greatly reduces the amount of manual processing by automating customer service and partner interaction. Research has shown that companies providing on-line access to product catalogs, pricing, availability, order status, and product knowledge substantially reduce customer service costs. Additional savings can be realized by having customers perform their own order entry over the web with assistance only when needed. Customers will see their own efficiency improved by self-service and self-maintenance as well. Information is available at any time without having to wait for a service representative. The immediacy of instant information will help customers to make buy decisions quicker and with more confidence.
The Extended Enterprise
An equipment-centric CRM solution facilitates sharing information with partners who, in turn, allow a company to focus on its core competencies and outsource all non-core aspects of its business. The benefit is improving the quality of products and services. Companies no longer have to own all the pieces of the supply and service chain, but rather have internal systems communicate with their partners' systems to improve the quality of all links in the chain. As with customers, business promotes a more consistent personalized relationship with each and every partner.
Business in general is no longer a new concept however implementations so far have concentrated on business-to-consumer (B2C) versus business-to-business (B2B) applications. Implementations were tested in B2C but are now ready for wider acceptance in B2B. Service applications, such as offered by Astea International, are exceptions and the incubators for growing more comprehensive equipment-centric business product suites. Where service applications have always required the use of web browsers, equipment-centric business products will offer the option of a company's server to communicate automatically with a partner's server for "unattended business" applications.
With a web browser the user accesses a company's business server to retrieve information and perform transactions. This is referred to as the 'client-server B2B model'. The 'server-to-server B2B model' has business applications from a supplier, reseller or customer talk directly to the company's business applications, eliminating the requirement for human intervention to conduct routine transactions. The B2B server replaces the web browser HTML user interface with XML to communicate with other XML-compliant applications unattended. Partners and customers wanting the extra efficiency can use the B2B server while others can continue using web browsers. It is possible for a partner or customer to use both methods.
Portals are one of the most important features in an equipment-centric CRM solution. The CRM approach requires multiple channels and personalized access to corporate information. The portal allows each individual who interacts with the system access to the many personalized features that are available to him. This gateway is how employees (internal users) and customers / vendors (external users) communicate with the system. This is the reason that Astea decided that each person, employees as well as external contacts / partners who enters the system would have his own personal view of the data - A personal portal. The portal gives access to many features of the corporate data. The person who enters the portal will be able to see the information relevant to his present situation. He will also have the possibility to use the many options that the system offers, from receiving and dispatching orders to voting for the worker of the month. It is easily configured and is suited to the person's needs.
All access to the corporate data is protected by a node (branching) security model, so that one cannot see the other person's exclusive information and cases and has view only to authorized data.
The point of view of each participant of the system is varied and is focused on different matters. The ideal portal would be the one that is best configured to the person's needs and wants. Astea design approach for each portal was based on an in-depth research of each individual role in the corporation and the solution allows tailoring a portal for each such role.
For example: A customer enters the service provider site, he needs to get his copier machine fixed. From his own personal portal he will be able to issue a Service Order by entering the relevant details. The customer sees only the attributes of the service order that are related to him (he does not see the cost for example). This same Service Order can then be viewed by a Service Agent through his own personalized employee portal to see what needs to be fixed and where. The service manager via his portal can see the Service Order as a part of the overall Service Orders that the Service Agent does and measure up his performance. The manager has to have the most complete view of the order including the data the customer entered, the SLA, pricing, costing and more.
The same order can be seen from multiple different points of views, and all the different views are based on the same data stored in the corporate database.
These are two different screens on the same Service Order seen from different channels.
1. The screen as seen by a Service Agent looking at the problem description, and history of solving methods regarding similar problems:
2. The same Service Order as seen by the service manager, looking at the Service Agent's summary queue.
Equipment-centric Business Applications Suite
The suite of Equipment-centric business products being developed by Astea International Inc. (Figure 1) addresses the needs of a company's customers, employees and partners, including resellers and suppliers of goods and services. Avoiding the pitfalls of wrapping HTML around existing products, Astea will offer true business solutions. Access to the portals will be established with a capable client browser while an XML-based B2B server will be utilized for unattended (server-to-server) business transactions.
As described, each portal can be personalized to meet the needs of each visitor and be access secured if desired, meaning a visitor can register as a known user and maintain their own profile. (Some visitor profile attributes can only be updated by the visitor's authorized administrator.) All information, presentation, applications and transactions can then be navigated in the context of the visitor's profile. Astea's AllianceEnterprise suite will source management, distribution and delivery of information and services requested by the business applications. With this approach, Astea enables its users to leverage their previous CRM investments and deploy Service-centric business tailored to their sales and service strategies in a more timely and cost-effective manner.
Through the Customer Portal (Figure 2) visitors can view any cases that are indigenous to their profile and are currently active-such as, sales and service orders, service requests, e-mails, returns, shipments, marketing campaigns, on-going projects, billing etc.-and check the status of a recent activity or an expected future activity. In addition to site searches, other search capabilities can be added with capable search engines, including natural language access to non-web resources such as data warehouses. Advanced search capabilities can be restricted based on a visitor's access security level.
From the portal the customer can initiate the collaborative action to improve and enhance the support process or any other interaction with the service provider.
Astea's service product includes applications for product and warranty registration, researching information, resolving problems, submitting and checking service requests, scheduling service appointments, returning equipment for exchange or repair, ordering and replacing parts, and other resources supporting product information, updates and upgrades. When a customer is unable to resolve a problem with the provided tools, a service request can be created, an appointment can be made for on-site service, or the customer can request an eRMA (electronic Return Material Authorization) to return the product for repair or exchange. The self-service can instruct the customer to identify and locate failures, order the parts, and replace them using service guides, exploded views and other drawings to verify that the correct part is shipped. A URL can be provided for instructions and video on replacing parts.
Most commerce web sites offer great catalog and ordering capabilities but lack efficient return and repair services. Astea's service application includes all the aspects of the touch points between the customer and the service organization including service contracts, installed base of warranty, projects, etc. As an example, the application processes for eRMA to ship and track merchandise returned for refund, exchange or repair-to make returning merchandise as easy as placing an order. Products return processing is an example of a function that differentiates Service-centric business. Instead of frustrating customers with lengthy phone calls and occupying customer service staff with data entry, returns are processed from customers' purchase histories and business rules. Customers can be provided with an eRMA and instructions to ship return merchandise or arrange for pickup at their location.
Today, more customers start to understand that they can resolve questions and problems faster themselves over the Internet than waiting on the phone to speak with a 'live' person. Providing self-service capabilities such as dynamic frequently asked questions (FAQ) or case histories that guide customers through a set of structured questions are likely either to resolve the question or problem outright or lead the customer closer to the desired result. This is the "Tier Zero" support that eService can provide.
If a customer requires assistance from a trained service representative or a spare part is needed, eService takes problem resolution to the next level. A web 'call me' collaboration button allows the customer to contact the company for immediate assistance, or the call can be logged for call back when a service representative is available. In the event an on-site repair is needed, the call is logged and a technician is dispatched to the customer's site. Most warranty repairs however are 'return to base' service. The eService application can determine the lowest cost-to-repair option but allows the customer to upgrade their service for an additional cost. When the 'return-to-base' option is selected, the customer receives an eRMA number and instructions for returning the defective merchandise. An 'eRMA collect' option allows the customer to submit an address, date and time for the company or company's partner to pick up the defective merchandise.
With the design and manufacture of equipment today, many repairs can be done by replacing entire assemblies and without requirements for trained personnel, only instructions for customers over the web. When a part is identified as the fault through web-assisted self-diagnosis, the customer can be directed immediately to a parts ordering page. A customer's price book, and warranty and contract coverage are taken into account to determine costs, if any, to the customer. In Astea's AllianceEnterprise CRM suite, the Service-centric eBusiness suite maintains a single view of customer issues, so a customer can follow the status of logged calls and orders in one place as they move through the fulfillment process.
The sales product allows customers to search and select products, and applies automated pricing, order entry, and payment processes. Pricing is based on customer profiles and supports customer-specific prices and order conditions. The business customer may assign multiple representatives to make company purchases. The catalog application includes background processing for promoting other products when catalog selections are made. These promotions can be based on the catalog selection, customer history and customer interests compared to other customers. Order processing includes details such as shipping information and instructions. Payment processing accommodates credit cards, standard invoicing and C.O.D. but will also be able to support eBilling. If customers need assistance, all they need do is click on a 'call me' button. Based on certain workflow settings or customer requests, the sale process can be forwarded to a salesperson equipped with Astea's SFA to conclude the transaction in the most efficient manner.
With eSales, customers are able to browse catalogs and configure products to their specific needs. Where ordering involves previously agreed pricing or a foreign currency, the eSales application uses a price book associated with the customer. For anonymous access to a catalog, the application can use list pricing or none at all. In all of the above, placing an order requires the customer to disclose their identity.
Corporate standards for equipment and supplies used can result in repeating the same orders over time. For such corporate customers, storing 'personal' order templates speeds order processing. To assist corporate customers with products that age or have a tendency to become obsolete, order templates can be automatically updated with the replacement merchandise within predetermined budget limits.
As with Astea's AllianceEnterprise CRM suite, the eSales product can define services as products and configure the services with detailed activities. For example, a customer that orders a small server can include installation of the server in the purchase and configure the installation with features such as 'install software,' 'set-up backup schedule' and 'train system administrator.' More complex is a maintenance contract that is treated as a configurable product with selectable attributes.
Allowing customers to self-place orders and configure products and services at their convenience is efficient for the company and appealing to customers as long as customers are confident with the selection and ordering process. Providing the option for customers to click on a web 'call me' button or any other collaboration functions offers instant help to customers with questions about their selections or ordering. A service agent responding immediately can talk directly with the customer to help with submitting the order and avoid losing the business.
A few more unique aspects of Astea's self sale is the ability to perform trade-in, request a pick up and update the installed base configuration on-line of this, achieving a more accurate customer profile for future service or purchase requisition.
With eWorkplace, employees can log on to a portal to view scheduled assignments and service requests, interrogate a company's centralized knowledge base, access customer information and history, research equipment and service data, and perform administrative tasks such as opening and closing service orders, creating material requests, and posting spare parts usage, exchanges and returns. When employees do not have Internet access, eWorkplace can be used to retrieve or send limited but time-critical information over devices using wireless applications protocol (WAP) such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDA) that include RF modems. Also, in today's service environment, technicians are selling products and services and are receiving incentives like sales representatives. Combining eWorkplace with sales features such as product data and configuration tools helps to promote this activity.
Even the best-equipped, well-informed technicians in the field, at times, need help from more experienced colleagues or may require to escalate a problem deeper into the company organization such as product development. With TAC capabilities, eWorkplace brings the technical assistance center into the 'e' age by providing access to knowledge management and multiple-party collaboration capabilities over the Internet.
The Employee Portal (Figure 3) connects workers to their jobs and their company. An eWorkplace application enables employees to manage their activities. An engineer can create, view, and update service orders currently active or assigned and related information such as material requests, knowledge base and customer center. Sales reps can view and manage their activities and opportunities in the same way. Consultants can view and update projects status and submit time and expenses. For other communication and scheduling, the application integrates with a groupware product such as Microsoft Exchange or Project Central. The Employee Portal also supports administrative activities such as reporting how time is used (work, personal, vacation and sick time) and reimbursable expenses, and creating travel requests. Engineers can also collaborate with field support staff, known in many companies as the technical assistance Center (TAC).
Employees must still operate with procedures that constitute a company's policy and will still be required to fill out forms with information that is processed elsewhere in the company. With eAdmin, a company can connect employees with electronic versions of forms and Internet-enabled processing systems. An employee, for example, can be provided with access to review and modify benefit plans, submit travel requests, process orders for office supplies, schedule vacation time, etc. eAdmin can link to third-party applications, and any available related information can be recorded in ServiceAlliance to help managers with work assignments.
The enterprise view
When coming to define the workplace, Astea first identified the different roles while consisting the overall CRM enterprise.
The marketing department deals with huge projects that include enormous budgets and for that it needs close inspection and a good planning tool. Marketing follows all the critical steps of marketing, from the planning of finding a customer until the transfer to the sales department.
There are several ways to create product awareness, and Marketing make planning them easy and in an orderly way. The system enables importing prospects lists and the entire company marketing budget planning, full campaigns management, load management and opportunity creation displaying accurate statistics. Also, the Return on Investment (ROI) analytical capabilities are high and enable the marketing manager to run a budget with the utmost efficiency.
The marketing portal is the personalized entry point of the employee to the corporate marketing data center.
The sales managers are responsible not only on the sales representatives, but also on the sales department functioning. First of all, the managers must define their methods, standards and working parameters. The pipelines system enables the sales managers to create sales stages, forecasts and follow them. The personalized portal also enables them to create sales standards and methodologies that are unique to their workplace.
The sales representatives must be in touch constantly with their managers, reporting to them on their progress, send them sales quotes for approval and proposals of opportunities. The portal not only does that but also enables the manager to assign the sales representatives to various leads and potential customers and transfer one representative from one case to another. The manager also approves time and expenses and overrides forecasts, quotes ad individual opportunity data.
Analytical tools are the bottom line for each manager. And define how the work of his representatives and his are the grand scheme. The tools and strong reporting methods are staggering and create accurate and reliable data that can be used to forecast on future endeavors.
Most sales functions that are done by the salespersons are done off-line. This workplace analysis helped Astea to define a number of un-tethered solutions that are laptop or PDA based.
The main functions in there are the traditional contact management (enterprises, contacts, opportunity, E-mail and reports) as well as Astea's unique functions such as the customer center that provides full customer relationship visibility and sale to service / contract integration.
These off-line workplace solutions are efficiently synchronized to the corporate database to provide accurate and efficient customer service and support.
This section of the eWorkplace consists of a full logistics portal that enables employees to perform all logistics transactions that are generated as a result from customer transactions or internal demands.
This set of personalized portals consists also of order approval, billing and invoicing, purchasing and vendor invoicing matching.
In many cases these portals are the staging area and gateway to the backend systems such as financial, manufacturing and ERP.
Call Center and Service
This section consists of a number of personalized portals. The first set of these portals of the call center portals is the managers' portal.
The manager's job is to keep the shift smooth and make sure that all the calls are answered and being taken care of, which means it is a job with a lot of responsibility and a need for a tool to keep being informed of the various tasks that are in his responsibility.
The portal offers a lot of Real-Time information including a graphical dashboard display, shift supervising and work improvement tools. First of all, the manager can schedule the shift and manage various call queues.
Also, the manager has the abilities to view all of the queues and thus work more efficiently to solve backlog problems. If a backlog occurs, the manager also has the ability to move calls from queue to a queue that is less busy, saving time and decreasing the customer waiting time. To increase even further the efficiency of the call takers and their time management, the portal can display graphical statistics of the call takers, like, the number of answered calls, the average call duration, etc.
Sometimes it is the manager's responsibility to see that service agents are dispatched to the field if the problem requires it, and so he has access to scheduling tools including a schedule board.
The call taker eWorkplace portal is designed to maximize efficiency of the call center.
Call takers need a lot of information to act swiftly and efficiently. When a customer makes a connection and ask for help, the call taker is the person that will have to give him the initial help, and assess where the problem will go from there, if he can't help him any further.
That is why the call taker has all the information that a call taker needs and all the tools that empower him and give him the ability to solve the problem faster. The call taker has full visibility to all of the customer's transactions and attributes. By viewing the past problems of the customer, the call taker can understand if the problem had occurred before and see if there is a connection between the problems. Nevertheless, the call taker will only be able to view information that is his concern.
The advanced communication CTI and collaboration in the call taker portal enables him to work more efficiently and save time. A call taker can collaborate with the caller and with other call takers and managers and receive help from them on line and thus help the customer swiftly. The customer can also communicate with the call taker not only by phone, but also by sending faxes and E-mail. Desktop Sharing can also be used, which enables the call taker to show the customer on the customer's computer screen how to solve his problem.
Telemarketing is also a feature that is available by using the portal. The module contains instructions that will instruct the telemarketing representatives executing marketing campaigns efficiently and accurately to generate leads and opportunities.
Two major third party tools supplement Astea's Call Center:
1. Computer-Telephone Integration (CTI), which gives phone access, user identification, pop-up screens, IVR, call back, call tracking and voice over IP.
2. Collaboration which provides Desktop Sharing, whiteboard, chat, download and even visualization
These two add-on functions are integrated via a comprehensive set of well-defined APIs that have an "out of the box" implementation.
The next level of iWorkplace is the service portals where service managers and service agents perform their tasks.
Professional services workplace portals consists of a number of applications, portals and un-tethered solutions.
Project Manager Portal
he project manager always needs to know the situation of the projects that he heads. For that, he needs a project center that will house all of his projects and their status including the financial status and the project development status.
The portal also enables the manager to view and approve the time and expenses that are being sent by the consultants, thus managing the project and always be in touch with the consultants. To improve even further the managing and planning of the projects, the project manager portal is integrated with Microsoft Project 2000, which enables the manager to view his projects graphically and in an organized and professional way. The managers can also work on Microsoft Project Central, which will enable them to be always in touch with the consultants, and collaborate with them at any given moment.
AllianceProjects is a major tool for project managers where they can define, budget, deploy and manage their projects. The tool is based on MS Project2000, which is the de-facto project management tool in the market place.
Astea has extended the product capability to support the unique requirements of equipment centric organization.
Consultant Workplace Portal
The consultants who run the projects need the best tools to work their busy schedule. The consultant Portal enables the consultants to collaborate with other consultants and managers, which will improve their work greatly.
The consultants, like their managers, have access to Microsoft Project Central, which enables them to collaborate more smoothly with other consultants and project managers. They can send their project's time and expenses and receive almost immediate answers form their managers. Also, the consultants' portal is integrated with WebEx, an online collaboration provider. The portal is integrated with both a Knowledge Management System and a Document Management System, which allows the consultants to work in a very orderly and efficient environment, where every document is in its place.
Not all of the consultants are in the office all day, and some of them must go out to the field and assist their customers. A consultant that carries a Pocket PC has an edge over the others. By using the un-tethered solution for Pocket PC, the consultant can transfer information by connecting a phone line to the Pocket PC or use a wireless connection.
The consultant can update his project manager on the spot on any update or change in the project status and ask for approval of time and expenses, and save a lot of time. Your Partners
The Partner Portal (Figures 4 and 5) enables suppliers and resellers to manage their interactions with the company. Applications support the breadth of partner relationships including goods suppliers, services suppliers, and resellers' sales and service. For resellers (or channel partners), the portal provides access to a range of Partner Relationship Management (PRM) functions, such as partner recruitment, sales training and certification, service training and certification, lead management, sales support tools, sales forecasting and performance tracking, technical assistance, warranty and service claims processing, and spare parts management. Use of the B2B Server further automates partner interaction with the company.
Astea's eSupplier product helps companies to process purchases faster. In all companies, service organizations look to reduce inventory as much as possible to curb costs. An organization that can predict usage can have suppliers deliver merchandise only when needed and theoretically operate with zero inventory. However, with service, inventory is linked to equipment failures (corrective maintenance) or the prevention of failures (preventive maintenance) where the moment of failure is much harder to predict. Inventory reductions are still possible with statistical analyses of equipment and service histories in combination with speedy replenishment from suppliers. The eSupplier product reduces replenishment cycles by eliminating the time required to request quotations and issue purchase orders. Requests for quotations (RFQ) are sent to multiple suppliers for bid so the purchasing company can select its source based on criteria such as price, lead time and even product quality. With eSupplier, quotations can be provided electronically and the RFQ closed in a matter of hours-a procedure now often referred to as 'reverse auction'.
Once purchase orders are assigned, partners provide order status, delivery dates and details including drop shipments, partial shipments and waybill numbers. Typically, companies want to track their orders and shipments from suppliers, since a placed order can be part of a company's commitment to a customer and an on-time delivery to the customer must be traceable. Also, the capability to answer customer inquiries regarding order status is important. The iSupplier product can link with multiple partners' systems and/or web sites to retrieve all necessary details for tracking orders, responding to customers and reinforcing customer relationships.
Partners that supply services can use the Partner Portal to manage contracted work and complete administrative tasks related to work orders. Service suppliers can access the company's product knowledge database and collaborate with the company's technical assistance center. Spare parts management functions are included for suppliers who receive consigned stock to perform services. Suppliers can return used and defective stock, report parts usage and request inventory replenishment. This service supplier application can be integrated with a full service management system hosted by an applications services provider (ASP) for the partner service supplier. Also, a service company may contract with a third party to service equipment in remote locations where it is not worthwhile to have direct staff.
iServiceSupplier helps to make a company's outsourcing of services to partners transparent to customers. Received calls that require a technician at a customer's site can be dispatched by the company to its own technicians or to the service partner for the area in which the customer is located. To help the company maintain visibility with the customer and track the progress of the service call, iServiceSupplier relies on timely and frequent updates from the service partner. With the B2B server, the partner's system can be queried for updates automatically.
For reimbursement of costs for the service provided, iServiceSupplier can process both warranty claims for service on products under warranty and service claims for time and material orders. Various claim models can be used such as 'fixed credit per service,' 'service time,' 'pre-exchange' and 'post exchange' for spare parts as well as fixed and actual costs for parts replacements. For batch repairs, it may be more likely to use fixed quotes or a previously agreed fixed price per unit with an accepted yield factor.
Servicing a company's product may require technician certification. iServiceSupplier can track training and certification profiles of service partners. Links to web-based training products can provide on-line training. Service partners can also be provided with on-site technical support with the same remote access to a company's technical assistance center (TAC) used by the company's own technicians.
The Reseller Sales product in the Equipment-centric Business suite includes all features of customer sales plus channel support features such as partner recruitment, sales training and certification, and sales tools. There are functions for searching and selecting products, product pricing, order entry, payment processing and product returns. Pricing is based on partner profiles and supports reseller-specific prices and order conditions. The catalog application includes background processing for promoting other products or pre-configured models when catalog selections are made. These promotions can be based on the catalog selection, reseller history and interests compared with other resellers. Order processing includes details such as shipping information and instructions. Through web 'call me,' resellers can access the company's sales support organization for assistance with product selection, ordering and delivery. Product returns are processed from resellers' purchase histories. Resellers can be provided with a return material authorization (RMA) and instructions to ship return merchandise or arrange for pickup at their location.
Sales support tools include product information, lead distribution, collateral fulfillment, competitive product information, and assistance with product configuration and pricing. Leads can be distributed to partners based on the level of the relationship and their expertise, industry, geographic area, and success rate for converting leads to sales. Since adequate knowledge of a company's products is rarely obtained through product collateral alone, educating a reseller's sales force is often required to sell successfully and meet end-users' needs and expectations. On-line sales training tools and instructor-led training (depending on product complexity) can be augmented with incentives such as various levels of reseller certification tied to sales volume.
It is not unusual for companies to lack information on customers acquired through resellers. In addition to the Service-centric eBusiness suite's sales which allows customers to register products, Reseller Sales provides for receiving and processing end-user shipping information via the B2B server, helping companies maintain a more accurate view of their extended installed base.
Resellers like to control relationships with their customers and often opt to handle their customers' product issues on their own. With this self-service application, resellers and third-party service partners can search for information or resolve a particular product problem through the company's knowledge management facility. When a partner cannot resolve a problem, a service request can be created for further assistance or an RMA can be requested to return the product for repair or exchange. Partners also can be instructed to identify and locate failures, order parts, and replace them using service guides, exploded views and other drawings to verify that the correct part is shipped. A URL can be provided for instructions and video on replacing parts. When the product is under warranty or a contract, the correct coverage of cost per previously agreed pricing is applied. To reimburse costs for service performed on products under warranty, the application will accept partners' warranty claims. The whole logistics of spare parts can be controlled for pre- or post-exchange of spare parts. Processing will support credits for service and spare parts or, as appropriate, parts orders, exchanges and repairs.
A company can distribute and monitor service requests to partners based on information about customers submitting requests. This assumes that the partner and customer relationship is known either from the company's customer database or specified by the customers themselves. When a partner does not respond and confirm a request, the company can escalate the request to ensure that their end-users are serviced to the level expected.
As with reseller sales, third-party service would normally require training and certification commensurate with product complexity. Reseller Service can track training and certification profiles of partners' technicians and through TAC, a company's web-based technical assistance center, partners have easy access to on-line technical support.
Equipment-centric Business Server Platform
For its server technology, Astea has selected the Microsoft platform in keeping with the Company's strategy to focus all new product development around Microsoft products. Astea's well defined API set with a number of "link" applications connects the service organization operational data with financial applications, ERP systems and other legacy systems. New versions of Microsoft Biz-talk server are enabling Astea to design many product features in-house, however, best-in-class third-party providers are being used for applications such as knowledge management, collaboration software, and partner relationship management. Within Astea, the focus is on leveraging the Company's 20 years of service business experience to create greater business value in its Service-centric business suite and relying on third parties for enabling Internet technology. Astea's Service-centric business suite integrates with its AllianceEnterprise products and eventually with legacy service management systems.
Although not part of the business concept, the infrastructure utilities play an important role in performing the business.
Astea understands that there is no one solution that fits all. Therefore, Astea created methodology where all business rules, workflow settings, data structure and characteristics are stored in the database as Meta data.
In order to provide our customers with a state of the art tool, Astea have designed a special tool around the roles and functions of a PSA implementing comprehensive enterprise CRM system. The studio (which is a topic of another Requirement Paper) is the portal for the PSA professional to change all aspects of the system from translating and modifying VI to change of business logic all the way to changing and manipulating the data structures. All of the studious VI is intuitive and build to provide a graphical display of data flow and VI.
The infrastructure utilities surrounding the studio contain also a comprehensive API set import, export, archive utility and is supplemented by crystal reports as the overall reporting tool for the system.
As the Internet matures, the novelty and consumerism that propelled its early rise will yield a much greater share of cyberspace to B2B applications because this form of business makes it easier for companies to improve performance by focusing on core capabilities and outsourcing support functions to third-party specialists. Partner relationship management and the need for information exchange among partnering companies are major drivers for B2B business applications in addition to customer self-sales and self-service.
Equipment-centric CRM is becoming essential to service-conscious companies, regardless if the service is delivered from within or outsourced. The extended enterprise that goes beyond four walls needs to be integrated and operated with the speed, accuracy and conveniences that increase interaction and strengthen relationships with customers, resellers and suppliers of goods and services. Access to 'personalized' portals allows external parties to become more efficient and comfortable with their links into an organization, which in turn increases competitive advantages and discourages switching to competitors.
The complete automation and integration of all the organization customer transactions make Astea's products a highly regarded value proposition.