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May 22, 2009
ShoreTel Inc. was facing a problem many companies would love to have — how to cope with exploding demand for its products and services. Sales for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company, a supplier of enterprise VoIP telephone solutions, were growing at more than 70 percent per year. However, ShoreTel’s Excel-based order entry and fulfillment system was labor-intensive, lacked scalability, and the high-touch aspect of the process resulted in processing errors. This situation was made even more critical by the fact that ShoreTel sells all of its products and services through channel partners.
Clearly, ShoreTel needed a new solution, both for these channel partners and for the internal team. After examining several internal and external solutions, ShoreTel selected a hosted configuration and guided selling solution from BigMachines Inc. of Deerfield, Ill. BigMachines is a provider of on-demand configurator and quoting software solutions that are designed to streamline pricing, system configuration, quoting and ordering processes while enabling collaboration among extended system users.
The Web-based solution integrated well with ShoreTel’s existing IT infrastructure and applications, including its ERP and CRM systems. By centrally hosting the software solution and the supporting IT hardware, BigMachines helps ShoreTel reduce the resources needed to monitor and upgrade the system infrastructure as new BigMachines software is released.
Prior to implementing the BigMachines solution, ShoreTel used BigMachines’ Breakthrough Opportunity Analysis (BOA) process and discovered that its front-end opportunity-to-quote-to-order processes — managed largely by its channel partners — needed to be improved. ShoreTel has more than 400 channel partners worldwide.
ShoreTel realized it needed a system that would guarantee the integrity of its sales processes and pricing, eventually extending all the way to its back-end systems, according to ShoreTel CIO Rick Parkinson. He directs ShoreTel’s strategy and use of technology for internal and external business operations.
Parkinson is responsible for improving ShoreTel’s business scalability and productivity through strategic technology investments, as well as improving channel partner business productivity through the use of ShoreTel technology solutions. When Parkinson joined ShoreTel, a key issue was the Excel quote tool used by channel partners to generate cost estimates and place orders for ShoreTel products for resale to end-users. Orders would come in via e-mail, fax, and regular mail.
“As we revised the Excel quote tool, we found that orders were often incorrect, containing SKUs that had been discontinued or not reflecting recent price changes,” said Parkinson. “The fact that there were multiple versions of our quote tools in use created issues on the order processing side of our business, which made back-end processing difficult because we had to go over each order to make sure it had correct pricing and the correct parts, as well as proper information about the end user. We also conducted customer satisfaction surveys with every customer following installation, and it was difficult to get that information as well.”
Inaccurate quotes and orders led to expensive and time-consuming manual verification and corrections for each order before they were loaded into the ShoreTel system. “There were errors on many incoming orders,” said Parkinson. “Even clean orders without corrections would take us about 27 minutes to process.”
The ShoreTel IT team and business unit representatives led a rapid search for a solution. ShoreTel examined several different options, including internal solutions as well as BigMachines’ system and a product from another company.
“We put together a requirements document that covered our key business issues, compared the solutions and went through multiple demonstrations of the products,” said Parkinson. “We quickly decided not to build it ourselves — we just didn’t have the time or the staffing. We liked the idea of having a scalable, on-demand model; in fact, we already ran five or six on-demand IT applications. A scalable solution would allow us to lower our start-up costs and be able to use something that worked well out of the box without having to spend years to customize it. We selected BigMachines because we felt it was the best fit for us.”
ShoreTel’s cross-functional implementation team included finance, technical support, order processing and sales. The team went through BigMachine’s BOA process and broke the project down into phases, including what was needed to launch the product and what would be added later. ShoreTel involved several channel partners in beta testing. Based on the results, the company made changes to the program before launching it. ShoreTel incrementally added channel partners to the system through a phased rollout.
Today, more than three-quarters of ShoreTel’s channel partners are actively using the system, and more than 85 percent of orders are now being processed through what ShoreTel calls its “Quote Management System,” or QMS.
“We went through a learning curve and figured out how we can make the QMS more bulletproof so people don’t make mistakes,” said Parkinson. “We’ve built some checks into the system to direct system users with prompts such as ‘did you forget this?’ Early on in the implementation, about 20 percent of the orders had issues like missing equipment. Now, it’s down to about five percent or less.”
Order processing time has also been dramatically reduced, dropping from about 27 minutes per order prior to the QMS implementation to about 10 minutes. Over time, processing time reduced even further, down to seven minutes or less.
“Some of that improvement has come through additional work flow automation on our back-end ERP system, but a big portion of the credit is due to the QMS,” said Parkinson.
“Our CEO is pleased that we have scaled the business without continuing to add headcount in our order processing organization. We’ve eliminated that problem through the reduction in processing time. As a result, the number of orders we process per month has gone up significantly, while headcount has remained flat.”
ShoreTel plans to continually enhance its order entry and fulfillment system. One immediate project is to enhance automated configuration processes, which specify equipment combinations for certain projects. “We think our product is more integrated than our competitors’ products, so creating correct orders for our systems is not difficult,” said Parkinson. “On orders for more complex systems, such as contact center products, we have a built-in system configurator and we also have a configurator for calculating professional service support. But we haven’t yet built a configurator into our QMS product as whole, and that is something on our roadmap.”
Overall, ShoreTel has been very satisfied with the performance of its QMS. “BigMachines is a significant product for us,” said Parkinson. “We want to make it easy for our channel partners to do business with us, so having a tool like this is significant. It’s my No. 1 priority and I’ve spent more time on this than any other project. There are a number of things we need to do to gain the partner satisfaction that we want, so we want to find ways to make the QMS better.”
QMS capability will be particularly critical as ShoreTel targets growth opportunities, which include larger corporate customers. “In the past, we’ve targeted small- to medium-sized businesses, but now we’re targeting all levels — and we have had recent success winning Fortune 500 accounts,” said Parkinson.
This case study was originally created in 2007 following ShoreTel’s deployment of BigMachines in 2006. In the time since, ShoreTel has become a public company. ShoreTel continues to be a BigMachines customer and today more than 95 percent of their orders are submitted via the QMS system; order processing time has been reduced to about six minutes.
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