Mobility Helped Atul Ltd Move to Next Level of Efficiency

Developed a cloud-based open source solution – 'mobSales' to enable its field sales force to book sales order, access inventory stocks, and get outstanding payables seamlessly.

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Atul is an integrated chemical company serving about 5,700 customers belonging to 31 industries across the world. The company has established subsidiaries in the USA, the UK, Germany, China, Brazil and the UAE to serve its customers and enhance breadth and depth of its business. Atul manages almost all Unit Processes and Unit Operations to manufacture about 1,380 products and formulations and has state-of-the-art facilities and processes to ensure safety and treatment of gaseous, liquid and solid pollutants. Business challenge Synchronous and streamlined operation of sales, marketing, supply chain, inventory, manufacturing, logistics and financials, is critical for any manufacturing organization. And in a diverse multi-vertical process manufacturing conglomerate like Atul, coordinated operation of these core functions plays the pivotal role for business sustenance and profitability. Atul procures more than 28000 materials from over 8700 vendors every year to produce and sell 4000 assorted product SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) across its seven business verticals at three manufacturing locations, and the same cater to more than 5600 customers which are serviced by 33 Stock Depots in India and through five foreign subsidiaries globally. Availability of seamless information at all stages of business is a mandate for decision making as well as attaining functional excellence and operational efficiency. Atul Ltd has been working on the latest version of the ERP solution - Oracle e-Business Suite version 12.1.3 along with PeopleSoft 9.1. Both systems have been operational with more than 1100 customized reports which were developed as per the business requirements of Atul’s enterprise users over a period of the past four years. Despite having the complete conventional ERP and MIS reporting in place along with QlickView BI dashboards, the business agility of the enterprise still needed an impetus through provision of sales order information and sales booking to take the organization to the next level of efficiency. The prevailing ERP provided the means of carrying out transactions seamlessly through its modular functions, but still had a scope of improvement factors which could significantly enhance the business efficiency such as update of the outstanding /overdue payments from customers while interacting with the customer. This information was available at the back-office or on the laptop client available with the sales managers – but they needed to connect and derive the same. A mobile solution would’ve been more handy and flexible. The online stocks availability of the products which were being prospected for sales to the customer, if made available online on a mobile handset, would give a base for giving commitment to the customer. Sales orders were being booked from the sales office / depots after the return of the Sales Managers from the field. This was done at the day end after the business day completion. If Sales Orders could be facilitated from the field – it would decrease the time lag of picking an order & booking the same in the ERP system. The Sales Managers used to file in their business travel report after completion of their field trip which was a cumbersome process – as the entire detailing was to be specified by the Manager at the end of the day periodically. If the geographical co-ordinates could be tracked of the Business Manager & he could simply specify the noting of the business results that would add on to the efficiency & reduce the redundant task of filing the report. The above elements gave a thought for pondering to the Atul IT team for working out some conceptual solution to take care of these matters. While delivering a solution capable of addressing the transactional speed and business decision agility – the IT team had the crucial challenge of keeping the One-Time as well as Recurring Cost of the solution to bare minimum. Summary of the project Atul has Oracle e-Business Suite ERP along with QlikView BI. They conceptualized an innovative open source cloud-based solution – “mobSales”, tested and implemented it wherein the field sales force is enabled to book sales order, access depot/central inventory stocks, get outstanding payables seamlessly and track and file the field visit report. This ‘concept-to-deployment’ initiative was carried out by the team without any external assistance/guidance within four months. The solution components and process steps are:

  1. Acquired dual fail-over redundant Cloud Servers with Open-Source components – Linux, Apache Webserver, PHP and MySQL (LAMP)
  2. Used Open-Source “Pentaho Kettle Data-Warehousing” to push Item-Master, Customer-Master, and sales-person master, Order Types, Invoice History, Receipt History, Order History and On-hand Stock information to Cloud MySQL database.
  3. PHP web-services published on the Cloud Server which returns Invoice, Receipt and Order history information when called using parameters (Customer Name, Dates etc) by Salesperson.
  4. Separate PHP web-service calls Oracle-EBS ERP ISG web service to create Sales-Order in ERP using a custom PL/SQL package.
  5. Intel XDK HTML5 cross-platform framework utilized for Mobile App development for all platforms including Windows, IOS and Android.
As stated earlier, Atul’s core ERP solution is Oracle eBusiness Suite R 12.1.3 and PeopleSoft 9.1 which is in operation since April 2009. The same are topped up with QlikView / Saiku Business Intelligence which is in place since 2012-13. Over the recent years there has been a buzz about integrating mobile applications with existing ERP Solution. Smart devices have congregated the world to our fingertips, and simultaneously, smart applications have taken the business and non-business efforts to the next level. Atul IT too had very well realized that ERP application on mobile devices can enhance business capabilities and insights. Building upon this business IT strategy, Atul aspired to enable our sales team to punch-in orders directly from their smartphones into Oracle.  After prospecting various solutions available in the market – it was inferred that mobile integration was apparently an expensive and complex implementation on Oracle Fusion Middleware mainly for web services. Hence, till now it remained a low priority for Atul’s IT team due to the costs involved –- database license, customized software solutions, one-time implementation & subsequent running / maintenance costs. ‘We had prospected external solutions which had been deployed by other leading Indian corporate, and found out the solution costs were in range of INR 40-50 Lacs in addition to the database license costs. This seemed to be prohibitive for us to take a call forward, says Rajat Sharma, President – IT, Atul Ltd. Soon, this conjecture was nullified in a lecture delivered by Ms Rekha Ayothi (Lead Product Manager for Integration, Oracle) at the Sangam Conference (India Oracle User Group) at Hyderabad in Nov’13.  She mentioned that in Oracle EBS Release 12.1 onwards, Oracle has supplemented a new component called Integrated SOA Gateway through which, we can publish both seeded and custom PL/SQL APIs as web services.  These are published through the Application Server port and hence are more secure than Database web services. ‘The session by Ms Rekha was an eye opener for us. ‘We were already on R12.1.3 and so didn’t have to invest on extra licensing to use Oracle ISG (Integrated SOA Gateway),’ adds Sharma. Once the Cloud server was set and functioning, they started looking out for the best Mobile Application development software. Our current requirement focused on developing applications for Android devices, as more than 95% of Indian smart phone market was based on Android platform.  But considering long term applicability, they developed the solution on platform independent framework. The implementation of the Open-Source Intel XDK, LAMP & Pentaho Kettle-Spoon Data Warehouse solution was carried out by the in-house Atul IT team along with the core business team leader – the notional cost of which can be marked up for 855 Mandays across 10 team members. This computes to Rs 0.21 Crores. In other words, this entire initiative was done with a value of INR 0.21 Crores, and that too was notional as this was taken up as an internal development initiative, and deployed within a timeframe of 3.5 months in live production environment. The benefits The solution enabled these primary benefits for the business and catalyzed the optimization of business efficiency. Instant Sales Order Booking: The Mobile application pulls customer related data from a high bandwidth Cloud Server.   They have ensured that the Cloud server hosted in India (Netmagic & IBM) avoids any lag in data transmission. The Cloud server in turn calls the Oracle EBS web services whenever an order is needed to be punched inside Oracle EBS. This gives grip to sales team out at field for instant sales order booking. Earlier, they had to come back to office at the end of the day in order to punch in the sales order in the system which carried high tendency of manual error as it was tough for them to retain exact illustrations. Stocks, Sales History and Payment History Capture: They are using Pentaho Kettle Spoon to push data from our Data Warehouse solution to the Cloud server database.  This way, the Sales-person draws entire details about the Product SKU on-hand stocks as well as the outstanding payment dues, order history, etc of the prospected customer before he can approaches the customer’s desk.  Since the data is retrieved from the cloud server, the access is faster and there isn’t any load on our live production Oracle eBS server. Location Trackers: Another unique preeminent feature in our mobile application is the location tracking system. It tracks the geographic location of our ‘Sales-force’ operating on the field.  They have provided an option in the mobile application through which the Sales-person registers his location (GPS co-ordinates) along with Customer Name in our Master database.  This provides a confirmatory way to verify that he certainly has visited the sales location at the prescribed time for which he claims travel expenses.  This has increased the transparency and accountability of the Sales team. Report Generator: The last & one of the most efficiency enhancing feature of the mobile application is the ‘Daily Visit Report Automation’ of the Sales-persons operating in the field.  It rids the Sales-person from preparing and sending the customer visit report on a daily basis to his reporting authorities.  The data regarding his customer visits and sales executed are pulled back from Cloud server to our Data Warehouse system on a daily basis using Pentaho and a daily report is automatically distributed to management using Pentaho reporting.  This increases the efficiency of sales team as they can spend more time on the market rather than in front of their laptops to prepare Excel spreadsheet reports.  Since data is stored in the database, further analysis, decision making and succession planning is very easy. As this solution had an unconventional IT architecture and it was a new way of working for the sales team, it had a change management requirement. The same were as under: Change Management of Field Work-force was addressed through rigorous training sessions with the end-users by the business project team. Usage of Open-Source in designing the concept of the solution – as they had to explore the solution components and design the solution through self-exploration + open-source community inputs. A free hand given to the IT project team to explore solutions & try out the lab tests of the same. To fix security concerns while utilizing cloud services – the IT infrastructure and applications team did a comprehensive collaborative effort to design and test the solution architecture prototype. Quantitative Benefits Saving of INR 16.20 Crores on TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) with delivery of equivalent data warehouse solution and functional efficiency as that of “Oracle BI Enterprise Edition” implementation was realized. Instantaneous “Sales Order Booking” instead of a time lag of a business day was another benefit. ‘Sales Order Service’ efficiency as the dispatch plan gets instantly in execution after the Sales Order gets booked in the system. Earlier, the dispatch used to be planned after the entry of the Sales order at the end of the business day. Clearly, an advantage of one business day is visible in this case. Collection efficiency improved due to availability of Sales/Overdue information to the sales force on their smartphones. Future plans As this unconventional mobility, data warehousing and geographical tracking solution has been developed predominantly on Open-Source Platforms and the same can be deployed at a universal plug-in level on any ERP / Generic Business System. Most importantly, the ‘Cost of Ownership’ is almost negligible when compared to equivalent business solutions while delivering the same or better business benefits – hence, this implementation is highly cost-effective and efficient. ‘Therefore, we plan to share it as a customized product solution offering to other organizations through our IT subsidiary company,’ adds Sharma.


Tags assigned to this article:
Atul BI erp mobile app mobility oracle

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