Last updated January 28, 2021.
In SAP B2B ecommerce, we often find that “one size fits everyone” will take us 90% of the way toward satisfying a client’s unique needs. The rest of that 10%, though, often requires careful planning and engineering to tailor the ecommerce solution to the client’s exact business processes.
There’s no greater example of this than blacking out requested delivery dates in SAP ecommerce. A requested delivery date (RDD) is a date chosen by the customer for requested delivery. It’s usually chosen from a calendar of available dates.
Sounds simple–but what happens when you need to go beyond blocking out holidays and weekends? What happens when you need to block RDDs dynamically, with real-time influence from supply chain fluctuations? This is the story of a manufacturer who needed to do just that in the ecommerce store. It’s also the story of how Corevist delivered.
The business need: Restricting available delivery dates
On the surface, this might seem like a simple requirement. The manufacturer needed to make certain requested delivery dates unavailable in the RDD calendar that’s displayed in their ecommerce store.
Simple? Not this time!
We had modified RDD calendars before, usually just to block out weekends. But this was different. The blackout dates were dynamic, dependent on many factors. The product in question, is a frozen vaccine that has to thaw completely before it becomes usable. This shelf life begins ticking down once the manufacturer starts thawing the vaccine. The factors governing the situation were complex, and there was no time to build them into SAP as business rules.
Further complication: SAP in lockdown, RDD calendar wouldn’t suffice
Under normal circumstances, the calendar that we present to the web user for RDD is based on an SAP factory calendar. That decision assumes that the SAP factory calendar expresses all of the RDD rules in the way that the client wants them expressed on the web.
In this particular case, not only was that not true, but the SAP calendar couldn’t be updated in time to provide those business rules in the self-service ecommerce store. Because the client’s SAP system is a validated system. Changing validated SAP systems is expensive, and that revalidation would have pushed the project beyond its required golive date. The golive date was set by the upcoming spring season and the need to distribute these vaccines to farmers. The manufacturer most likely would have missed this season if SAP needed to be revalidated.
For all these reasons, the business rules surrounding the fulfillment process for the vaccine couldn’t be coded into SAP. But if the manufacturer couldn’t restrict the calendar appropriately, every order coming in would be wrong. Every order would need a human touch and human communication with the customer. That would defeat the entire purpose of the project.
At least for the upcoming season, the fulfillment process would continue to depend on tribal knowledge in the Customer Service department.
How do you translate that to self-service ecommerce and avoid order errors due to invalid requested delivery dates?
We’ll talk about that in a moment, but first—it gets worse. The complexity of the problem wasn’t the only hurdle that the manufacturer and Corevist had to overcome. There was baggage in the picture, too.
The baggage: Already burned once with ecommerce…
This manufacturer wasn’t exactly new to ecommerce. Before they came to Corevist, they had attempted to roll out web-based ordering with another vendor. That project had failed. Understandably, the manufacturer’s employees brought that baggage to the table. Would this project really succeed?
We’ve seen this before, and we treat these situations with sensitivity and understanding. Sometimes, expectations are quite low due to the failure of other vendors in our market. We get it—the market tends to overpromise and underdeliver.
In this case, that baggage didn’t stop the manufacturer from pursuing the solution they needed—and it didn’t stop us from delivering. But we kept this painful history front-of-mind for everything we did on the project, including the requirement to restrict requested delivery dates. We understood that we needed to communicate with total clarity, and we needed to bring real, honest value to the table.
Baggage complicates any relationship. In this case, the manufacturer and Corevist encountered one more level of challenge: a looming, non-negotiable deadline due to product seasonality.
The solution: Custom calendar with manual maintenance by CSRs
What’s the perfect solution in this instance? At first glance, you might think “perfection” means an automated, rules-based system that displays the right RDDs without needing a human touch. In fact, the technical people on our team all gravitate towards providing “elegant technical solutions” to problems like these. It’s the natural instinct. But our projects always strive to deliver maximum value with the least amount of effort.
Unfortunately, that elegant technical solution wasn’t realistic in this case. That’s why we have a core value (one of 5) that says:
- Pursue Perfection Pragmatically. We strive for perfection, but we’re ready to change course pragmatically.
That’s exactly what we did. Rather than wasting time and resources pursuing an impossible ideal, we built something pragmatic to meet the client’s requirements.
The only answer was to present a calendar that wasn’t linked to the SAP factory calendar. This calendar isn’t governed by SAP rules or coded logic. Rather, it’s controlled manually by the Customer Service department. This calendar will get them through the upcoming vaccine sales season, and it can be re-plumbed at a later date when/if they build those rules into SAP.
At the time, the programmatic rules were too complex to be coded in such a short period of time. Yet, the CSRs, based on what we would call tribal knowledge, knew what those RDDs should be in order to keep the factory running. They had accumulated tribal knowledge based on years of experience and phone calls to factory.
This is NOT an automated solution. In the ecommerce store, the customer sees a calendar. The dates that appear in the calendar are literally administered by a CSR behind the curtain. It appears to the customer like a rules-based calendar with certain delivery dates blacked out. But the CSR defines those dates, based on his/her knowledge of what’s going on in the factory. Corevist provided the dashboard where CSRs set those delivery date blackouts.
Note: this is a practical solution because of the scope of the problem. If this were a B2C website with hundreds of thousands of orders coming in daily, it simply wouldn’t have worked! Since it was a low volume B2B site, this solution was more practical–it dealt with the complexity of B2B.
Caveat: Don’t try this at home, kids…
If you’ve been around the Corevist website for more than a moment, you’ve probably seen us talking about the importance of real-time SAP data in ecommerce. It’s one of our foundational beliefs—that you shouldn’t duplicate business rules and ERP data in your ecommerce store. Rather, you should build an ecommerce solution that interfaces with your SAP system and shows that data in real time.
The Corevist Platform is fully integrated with the SAP factory calendar out of the box. But we realize that there are exceptions. Not every company can map their business processes fully in SAP. In this case, we recognized that while a real-time SAP calendar would be best for the client in the long run, we couldn’t insist on that in the short run—or we would hamstring the project and derail the upcoming sales season.
That’s why we compromised.
The manufacturer still has real-time SAP data for contract pricing, inventory availability, credit limits, and more. When their customers log in, they see this data ported straight from SAP via web services—not via batch update, which can lead to inaccurate data displayed in ecommerce.
The result: Accurate delivery dates for everyone involved
The manufacturer’s Customer Service department has total control of requested delivery dates. They can prevent order errors, which reduces their headaches in a busy sales season. In a word, they’re happy!
But CSRs aren’t the only ones affected. The veterinarians and farmers who buy from the manufacturer also see a huge benefit. Though they’ll never realize what’s going on behind the scenes, they get the information they need—accurate presentation of available delivery dates. That means no surprises and no headaches. They get the vaccines they need, when they expected them. Their livestock can stay healthy, and life goes on.