A timely email from enterprise business solutions provider, HSO, has led to a valuable ongoing relationship between HSO and Kohler Co, a leading commercial and industrial products manufacturer. One of the first successes coming out of this partnership has been an improved service to suppliers, preliminary steps to a new digital culture and, importantly, greatly enhanced business reporting and intelligence for Kohler Co.
Founded in 1873 and now one of America’s oldest and largest privately held companies, Kohler Co. is a global leader in the manufacture of luxury kitchen and bath products; engines and power systems, decorative products and premium furniture and operates two of the world's finest five-star hospitality and golf resort destinations in Kohler, Wisconsin, and St. Andrews, Scotland.
Kohler Co believes that dealing with them as a company should be a gracious experience, no matter whether you are a customer, supplier or vendor – it’s one of their main brand values. However, suppliers contacting Kohler’s accounts payable department for EMEA were not always getting the best service possible. As Chanaka Marasinghe, Manager Finance Transactions, explains “Around a quarter of my team’s capacity was being used in handling email queries. Many of these were generic and needed to be routed globally – a process that was overly complex, time-consuming and error-prone.”
He adds that this was wasting money but also importantly, he had no simple way of gathering information about “how many queries per day we were receiving, who was dealing with them and what type of questions were being asked.
When Marasinghe approached Marcus Judge, Director, IT Services EMEA, Kohler Co, they weren’t sure what kind of solution to look for. “If it had been a standard contact centre we would have been looking at very different tools, I don’t think we would have thought of Microsoft as an option,” he says. “But because email was the primary source of communications it meant that we needed a solution that would deal with workflows and do it seamlessly within our ecosystem.”
Judge adds that he had previous experience of Microsoft Dynamics through one of the company’s Dutch offices. Just at the right time as Judge began looking for someone who could help, an email from HSO came “out of the blue”. “Of course, we also talked to other Microsoft Dynamics implementation partners too, but it was a stroke of luck because as soon as I made the first call to HSO, I had the impression of a business that was really interested, flexible and ready to meet our needs.”
Kohler Co still went on to do a full RFP, going through the whole procurement process with three other vendors. “I would say it was HSO that had done the most work in order to show us what the end solution would look like. Because of this, we realised right then that they understood our requirements,” says Judge.
This flexibility proved to be a winning factor. “The other vendors had a “this is the tool, take it or leave it” approach. “HSO gave us options, listened to all our feedback and worked with my team,” says Marasinghe. “HSO didn’t know who we were going to choose, but they invested time and effort designing a tool for us, listening to us in the pre-work process and having a detailed plan of where the cost was going to be and where it could be reduced.”
HSO implemented a cloud-based approach, leveraging Microsoft Office 365 and using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales to bridge the gap by routing communications from Office 365 to the correct shared services sub team. It did this using ‘agile’ methods which proved successful.
“This too was good timing. It was our first exposure to the Microsoft Dynamics Agile implementation model but we were just embarking on it from an IT perspective and thinking about how we should use it. It involved using small sprints to design things, check them out, verify them and adjust and then another small sprint with a ‘scrum’, the agile term for a quick brainstorm-style meeting,” says Judge.
“This was all low key and small rather than a large-scale Agile project but it took us through the principles – that is to get you to a great solution, rather than trying to ‘boil the ocean’ right from the start. It takes small steps.”
Kohler Co is now live on the Microsoft systems and currently has around 25 users up and running. It has automated invoices coming via email going straight into the system, it has reduced the number of queries and can track the vendor queries. It has been able to capture key data which is now ready for investigation to help further improve the service.
“I remember Chanaka’s frustration when he first came to me saying he was working ‘with his eyes closed’. He knew there were issues but he couldn’t quantify them or identify the biggest problem areas,” says Judge. “Now he has insight into where to focus time and effort.”
However, what is so exciting about the project is that it appears to be just the beginning of something much larger. “We didn’t want to just do a one-off small project with HSO and then change because it wasn’t working. We wanted a team we could work with jointly and make progress into the future with,” says Marasinghe.
Judge now describes it as an “evolving tool”. He’s hoping the system will be used to help move towards the use of artificial intelligence and that Kohler Co will be able to deal with much of the routine work using bots. The immediate goal is to create a digital self-service centre and there are plans to roll out the approach to other areas within the business.
“We’re hoping to expand the solution globally and across a number of financial and shared services teams. I am also working on the Internet of Things for the company and working closely with our commercial brand to set up some predictive analytics, so we are planning a visit to HSO’s business analytics experts,” he says.
“I think HSO saw the bigger picture and this was a good thing for us. Normally when you have a small project most companies would send a more junior team. However, here we got a highly-experienced and knowledgeable team. The best, in fact.”