In-Depth

Corporate Express' E-Way goes real-time

ADT's 2003 Innovator Awards

E-Business Application Development Finalist

Corporate Express Inc., Broomfield, Colo., which has been providing office-supply procurement via its E-Way Web site since 1997, had a problem most companies would envy. In five years it had become one of the top 10 largest e-commerce sites in the world.

Corporate Express experienced 157% growth of online sales from 2000 to 2001, and exceeded $1 billion in online sales in 2002. But with 470,000 customers ranging from Fortune 500 giants to little Mom-and-Pops, the e-business application that was at the heart of its success needed a major enhancement.

The goal of the new E-Way Web site was to provide users with real-time pricing, which involved complex algorithms for calculating individual discounts on every item, according to Wayne Aiello, vice president of e-business services.

"What's different about our system is that every customer can have a different price for every office product we sell," he said. "The algorithm to derive that price is critical to access in real time."

The other key goal was scalability as users logged onto the Web site in growing numbers, Aiello said. The original app had been designed primarily for an in-house sales force that worked regular hours so user loads on the system were predictable, he explained. As the e-commerce Web site grew in popularity, it was impossible to estimate how many users might log on at any given hour.

The project team had been concerned about how successful they could be in providing individualized pricing and scalability that would not leave users waiting, added Bret McInnis, vice president of eBusiness technologies.

"The surprise was that when we actually implemented it, it worked," recalled Aiello. "We anticipated there'd be a lot of tweaking and things we'd have to worry about [as well as other] issues. Because we did tremendous due diligence ahead of time and testing, it worked from day one and it worked fast. The surprise was the speed. We found we could price a lot more items at the same time than we thought we could. We thought we might only be able to price 10 or 20 items, but we could have priced 100 items at a time with sub-second response."

Key to that success was the establishment at the very beginning of a project management office that included members from "every area we could possibly think of in the company," said Aiello. Not only did the project management office include all the business departments such as sales and marketing, it also included reps from IT areas not directly involved in the E-Way application.

"Even if, in the beginning, they didn't have a large role in the project, we wanted to keep the communications channels open," he said.

He found it paid off when an IT professional, who did not appear to have an obvious part in the project, would say: "Wait a second. I need to look at that code because it might have an impact on my sub-system."

Catching those kinds of potential problems in the early stages of the project helped to ensure its immediate success when it was rolled out, Aiello said.

Application profile

Project: E-Way

Purpose: To develop an easy-to-navigate site that would facilitate the location, ordering and tracking of office product purchases.

Benefits: Reduced transactional costs and errors, and more efficient management of the procurement process. Since the August 2002 launch, there has been a 17% increase in the daily sales volume going through E-Way.

Platforms: Sun Solaris E10K servers, SAN with EMC and Network Appliance storage, Oracle 9i , webMethods integration platform

Tools: Rational ClearCase, Rational ClearQuest, Rational Robot, Mercury LoadRunner, Hydra

Development team: eBusiness Services Team: Wayne Aiello, Dustin Cox, Brock Hirschman, Sara Stoner, Mark Tenney and Brett Vest

eBusiness Technologies Team: Bret McInnis, Doug LaVelle, Mark Wallendorf, John Bauer, Chuck Coleman, Eric Grapengeter, Thanh Tran, Mitchell Connolly, Din-Yi Chow, Rumen Tzinov, Chris Lemper, Brian Hagan, Ermie Sletten, Bing Wang, Brian Voller, Hong Gu, Michael Smith, Paul Ramos, Diana Tzinov and Jeff Fithian


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Click here to read about the winner in this category, "Things Remembered --Lessons learned", or click here to go to the Innovator Awards home page.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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