December 2000 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

Redefining e-Business Through Connectivity

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Looking to connect seamlessly with all your trading partners without investing in information technology? ECOutlook.com can help.

Imagine a place where you could connect with customers, buyers, and distribution and financial settlement partners without having to change your company's technology infrastructure. Wake up, it's real.

ECOutlook.com, launched May 1999, is a technology company whose software products allow companies to connect with their trading partners. ECOutlook.com is driven by a need to tie companies together more closely with their customers and suppliers.

ECOutlook.com has developed a software application that runs on top of the user's platform, allowing a supplier or customer from either side of the transaction to pinpoint where a shipment has been in the logistics and distribution channel. Customers using the ECOutlook.com software include Bristol-Myers Squibb, BASF, CIBA Vision Corporation, and Lyondell Chemical Company.

"Our primary goal is to be the enabling technology companies use to gain connectivity with their business partners," says Mat Verghese, president of ECOutlook.com.

Here's how the technology works. A customer identifies a base of trading partners—their suppliers, for example—that they want to trade information with. The customer sends that information to ECOutlook.com from whatever software application the company uses.

Helping Companies Speak the Same Language

"We don't require the customer to change any underlying technology infrastructure," says Verghese. "Nor do we require the customer's trading partners to change their technology. All parties send us the information they want to communicate in their own data formats. We manage that through our technology—we translate the information and send it out to the other partners at a very simple level."

In basic terms, ECOutlook.com allows companies to speak and understand the same language, enabling seamless, automated communication among all parties involved. ECOutlook.com provides an open and independent e-business infrastructure that can tie together all enterprise applications, including traditional business applications, e-business applications, and digital marketplaces.

"It's unique because a particular model becomes a mechanism by which you can connect a large base of companies together," says Verghese. "This is something that doesn't exist in the marketplace today. We have a set of applications that allows companies to track and trace shipments among one another across a diverse base of carriers and logistics service providers."

ECOutlook.com has designed five core offerings for users:

1. SupplierLines automates and simplifies supply chains and enables other supplier initiatives such as vendor-managed inventory, collaborative planning, web-based EDI, and e-procurement.

2. CustomerLines automates the selling process, giving companies access to new markets worldwide.

3. TransportationLines helps companies efficiently manage transportation, resulting in reduced transport costs, improved service, and more efficient transport management processes.

4. ExchangeLines automates the flow of information among open trading communities and businesses.

5. EnterpriseLines lets companies quickly integrate disparate business systems within the enterprise to facilitate business management and reporting, avoiding consulting fees and integration costs.

"Our product creates benefits for companies that have a desire to use connectivity and integration with their trading partner base via their customers or suppliers. This can help differentiate them from competitors," says Verghese.

Pentacon Inc., headquartered in Houston, Texas, is a $300-million mid-sized distributor of small machinery parts for aircrafts and automobiles. The company provides c-class components and assembly to the OEM market from 34 distribution centers in the United States, and others in Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Pentacon's customers include General Electric, Harley Davidson, Boeing, and American Standard. The company started working with ECOutlook.com about a year ago.

Pentacon had two initiatives going into the partnership, according to Rick Ehrensaft, corporate director of marketing. Pentacon had an aerospace customer that was looking to rationalize inventory and throughput throughout its enterprise. The company had no visibility, as facilities all over the world were on different platforms, according to Ehrensaft. Pentacon's second initiative was to build a private exchange.

"We wanted to streamline the inventory process," he says. "Procurement was the major thrust, and the service providers we looked into did not embrace streamlining. We needed a partner to handle a large group of suppliers who all have different information systems and different ways of communicating."

Pentacon partnered with ECOutlook.com, and the new solution was implemented in 120 days.

"ECOutlook.com understood our mission. Other software companies saw our goal as a digital transfer of information, but ECOutlook.com understood the business process," says Ehrensaft.

ECOutlook.com has a "what if" mindset, according to Ehrensaft. The company is always interested in new uses and applications for its product.

"The customer service is very good," he says. "And, while we have built a relationship very deep in the organization, we decided on a single point of contact, which boosted customer service through the ceiling. ECOutlook.com works around the clock for us."

What does the future hold for ECOutlook.com? "Companies are just now starting to realize and appreciate what they can do once they're connected with their suppliers, customers and logistics partners," says Verghese. "We expect our customers to drive a tremendous amount of innovation in how they use our core platform."

Verghese says ECOutlook.com can capitalize on many emerging trends in the industry such as applying wireless technology to manage the logistics process more efficiently, integrating the supply chain, and managing the logistics process using a broad range of carriers.

As for the future of dot.coms in general, Verghese takes a fairly simplistic view.

"If a dot.com company has a great value proposition and sustainable business model, and it executes well, it will be successful," he says. "We're fortunate that we have a great team that has been executing well on a sound strategy. And we have a business model that has proven profitable."

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