Rothco is a global supplier, manufacturer and distributor of military and outdoor clothing and accessories. Founded in 1953 by Milton Somberg, Rothco was launched in a 2,500 square foot loft on the East Side of Manhattan. Now with headquarters in a 157,000 square foot facility in Ronkonkoma, NY, Rothco continues to grow, in pursuit of its mission to be the world's premier provider of military and outdoor goods.
When it comes to Internet sales and marketing, Rothco was an early adopter, having launched the www.rothco.com website in the 1990's. But, like many manufacturer/wholesaler websites at the time, it was useful for producing sales leads, but the website did not accept direct orders online.
With customer demand driving the need for state-of-the-art e-commerce capabilities, Rothco enhanced the site in the early 2000's with online order-taking, and the Internet revenue started flowing in.
With the improved website functionality, online sales orders increased, presenting some new workflow problems. As the old saying goes, this was a good problem to have. But in reality, the manual processes were costing Rothco time and money. "Our website was not digitally integrated with our internal business systems," said Rothco's Director of Information Technology, Anthony Prossi. "There were numerous manual and paper-based procedures that still had to be performed in-between the website and the shipping dock. The solution was obvious - we need to integrate our website with the company's back-end systems."
Going Paperless, and More
The time that was wasted in re-keying orders from the website was certainly the most glaring problem facing Prossi and his IT team. But there were several other important functions that needed attention. For example, a real-time inventory check was something that many buyers were beginning to expect as a feature on an e-commerce website. Another function needed by Rothco's retail customers was the ability to submit drop-ship orders online.
To solve these workflow issues, Rothco needed a systems developer that brought to the table extensive experience in back-end system integration and e-commerce websites. After a search, Rothco engaged mindSHIFT Technologies to build the solution.
Assessment and Analysis
mindSHIFT initially performed an assessment of Rothco's systems and their business needs for the future. On the internal systems side, it was clear that the keystone application was Rothco's enterprise business system, 3rdwave, from Blinco Systems. 3rdwave handles the accounting, inventory management, and purchasing processes at Rothco. That's where the heart of the workflow solution would be found. Rothco was the first company to use Oracle as a backend database solution with 3rdwave and their strategy was to maintain that configuration with their enhanced web portal solution.
On the user-facing side, the Rothco.com website was originally built with ColdFusion7. The B2B session needed to be replaced to achieve the functionality demanded by Rothco's customers. This session was drive by a SQL 2000 database and an Oracle database and had to be fully integrated with 3rdwave, to maximize the benefit.
The systems analysis phase of the project set the stage for the development of a new "Express Ordering" module on the website. It was determined that SQL server should be the intermediary between Oracle and the website. The goal was to offload from Oracle the second-by-second inventory and order queries. This could be done much more efficiently with SQL.
All of this work needed to be done with one major requirement: zero impact to the existing ColdFusion site through development and cutover—no downtime, and no disruption in order flow.
The "Express Ordering" solution implemented by mindSHIFT included these new systems and procedures:
- The scripts for the Oracle views were made as data sources in ColdFusion. This way, the system only got the data it needed and was not generating a whole set of records and filtering to extract what was needed.
- A function file was built to convert the returned data into XML. This enabled ColdFusion to render web pages, allowing the passing of order detail back to Oracle, where a job grabs the XML file and stores it in the appropriate Oracle tables.
- XSLTs were also used to transform the data into a form that can be used by both the ColdFusion pages and the Oracle database.
- SQL 2000 was migrated to SQL 2005, improving the functionality and performance.
- Key Oracle tables were replicated in SQL 2005, streamlining the real-time data lookups: ColdFusion no longer calls Oracle but uses the local SQL 2005 database for this function.
- Table replication was done via jobs running SSIS packages to move records from Oracle to SQL 2005.
- The SQL scripts were optimized and table indexes were built accordingly.
- mindSHIFT installed the Oracle client on the web server and set up SQL and ColdFusion to communicate with the database. Additional enhancements included the implementation of a virtual SQL server to further speed up the process.
More Sales - Faster
When the new system was turned on for end users, it was a big win for Rothco. "Now we are actually able to take an order over the web, process it electronically—no paper, no re-keying—and deliver a pick-pack-and-ship job to the warehouse for delivery," said Anthony Prossi. "We took the most labor-intensive steps in our process and automated them. That had numerous benefits, foremost among them: speed. Orders now arrive at the warehouse within seconds of receipt, rather than minutes or hours.
- A self-service drop ship function for Rothco's dealers. This gives them a virtual inventory for their brick-and-mortar retail outlets, enabling them to sell product to their retail customers and offer overnight shipping on products that they might not have in stock. End result: improved customer service and customer satisfaction. And more sales for Rothco.
- Customer self-service ordering. The traditional field sales force also benefited. They were freed from the mundane task of entering small orders on their desktops. Customers liked the website ordering system, and were happy to start doing it themselves. This freed the sales staff to focus on the "golden circle"—the large Rothco clients who would always need high-tough personal sales support.
- Real-time inventory check. Most importantly, website sales increased as a result of the launch of the new systems. With the addition of the real-time inventory check, giving shoppers high confidence that their order would be delivered in a timely fashion, they were much more inclined to use the website for ordering. "Previously 10-12% of all orders were completed via the website. After the system was upgraded, that moved up to 40% of all orders," said Prossi.
Streamlined Operations - More Time for Strategic Projects
Like most companies today, Rothco operates with a lean team in the IT department. To allow themselves the time and resources to focus on business issues, they outsource application development functions like this e-commerce website development project. Rothco also utilizes mindSHIFT's managed hosting and 24/7/365 Network Operations Center team for operations functions such as the hosting of the Rothco website and e-commerce SQL server, as well as the related second-by-second monitoring and systems support for these servers.
"The new and improved website is a huge factor in driving our business," said Prossi. "There is not a meeting I'm in where it doesn't come up. We made all of these system upgrades because it's what our customers wanted and demanded. And it's good to know that the next time we need to upgrade again, we can call on mindSHIFT to do it for us."
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