SAP to the rescue
Ultimately, Kimberly-Clark's corporate office decided to use SAP for a global content management solution. It was only by coincidence that KC Healthcare found the answers to its own catalog problems with an SAP subsidiary known as SAP Markets. SAP Markets was formed in June 2000 to provide SAP customers with software applications for building public and private exchanges. The SAP subsidiary developed Internet Sales, an application now bundled with an SAP product called mySAP CRM. Together, this package provided the Internet sales application and order management system (for sales orders, fulfillment, and invoicing) that KCHealthcare.com needed.
Most SAP customers build their data stores with Oracle, but KC Healthcare used its existing IBM DB2 for OS390 system. The company runs SAP's application server, R/3, from Windows NT boxes. R/3 comes with several modules for order management, financials, production, and so on, which made it easy for the team to build the catalog application. The mySAP CRM system was written in a proprietary language called ABAP/4 (the acronym simply stands for Advanced Business Application Program). KC used SAP's Business APIs to retrieve and organize product information, which it then served via the Internet Transaction Server (ITS).
ITS acts as a gateway between the HTTP server and R/3. It forms an intermediate layer between the presentation layer on the Web browser side and the application layer on the R/3 side. Instead of using the standard R/3 front-end, the ITS uses a Web browser to display R/3 transactions, function modules, or simple reports.
As for presenting the data, KC Healthcare turned to Symetri, a 36-person firm based in North Carolina. Symetri develops applications and interfaces for e-business projects.
Dan Nielsen, chief application engineer and technical lead on the KC project, says Symetri dedicated a 10-person team of application engineers, information architects, visual designers, and strategists to the project. Most of the application engineers at Symetri develop in ASP, but learned several SAP-related languages for the project, including ABAP/4, Business HTML, and Flow Logic.
"In a lot of respects they were learning new skills for this project," Nielsen says. "The basic Web tools can be customized, but where SAP really shines is the GUI it provides for managing all of the data."
Working with consultants from SAP and the internal Kimberly-Clark MIS group, the Symetri team spent nearly seven months working toward a preliminary launch in July 2001. They spent another three months before launching the final site in October. "We housed them together, right in the middle of a marketing floor so everybody could see these people working," says Hoctor. Typically, to put three separate business units at work on a single goal is to flirt with disaster. But in this case, the team approach turned out to be exemplary of the collaborative environment. So exemplary, in fact, says Hoctor, that "Kimberly-Clark is using it as an example of how putting teams on a project can get things done."
Representatives from each of the three teams met on a weekly basis to check in on the project's specifications and make adjustments to the plans as neededA very important aspect of implementing a package like mySAP's CRM, says Neilsen. "We made sure that all along the way, there were plenty of touch points involved for the parties to get together."
Success as Hoctor defines it is getting closer. "The success of our project is when everything becomes a Web environment for purchasing, and that is happening," he says. "On most products in healthcare, the transaction is through EDI. It's one mainframe talking to another, done through a batch process.
The new thing now is to do an EDI-type transaction, but over the Web. Being able to transfer our catalog information to distributors and have transactions conducted this way is when we know we're successful." Site visits in November reached over 25,000 compared with 7,000 in the previous month. "Keep in mind that our customer base is only about 5,000 hospitals in the U.S." says Hoctor.