Saturday, January 19, 2008

Custom Software Development Makes Economical Sense For Extranets - Asian Paints Case Study

Twenty years back most companies the world over had no choice but to use custom developed software. Custom Software developed for self use provided the only means of mapping and automating the business processes within. Large IT teams typically were hard at work developing customized software for business users. These were well before the days of software outsourcing. Then came the wave of out of box enterprise solutions like SAP, Peoplesoft, Baan, Oracle and corporate IT lapped them up in a big way. Centralized databases and real-time view of data were the buzz words and any company worth its salt did not want to be left behind. Legacy custom developed softwares were quickly consigned to the dustbins (oh ok Recycle bins!) and the long and painful implementations (not to miss on the lighter wallets) began. We will not get into the debate on Custom Software versus Enterprise Apps as that is not the subject of this article. Instead we would like to explore why it makes sense to look at custom software solutions in the current context specially for extending the enterprise to channel partners like distributors, dealers, service centers etc. the example used is of Asian Paints. Asian Paints has always been at the cutting edge of technology implementation I will take the example of MySAP Call Centre implementation replacing the legacy software at Asian Paints a leading corporate in India. Asian Paints was operating a 12 seater distributed call centre with a custom software solution. At that time, the software at Asian Paints was made by a single member team and met all the requirements of Asian Paints . The only problem was that the custom software used by Asian Paints made use of distributed databases. In the year 2002 Asian Paints (an existing SAP customer) wanted to explore the feasibility of shifting to MySAP to manage the Call Centre. We are not sure what level of evaluation was undertaken by Asian Paints besides - It s from SAP so it must be worth it! . Certainly no usability study and impact on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) was undertaken by the team at Asian Paints. Nonetheless, MySAP was rolled out swiftly to the Asian Paints Mumbai Call Centre by the Asian Paints IT team (thankfully saving the fat implementation bill at least). Our familiar Custom Software lay firmly in the bin! But just a few months on when we (at Asian Paints) looked at the effectiveness and cost benefit we were in for a surprise. Why? Read on… For a simple call that needed very few data fields to be captured in the Custom Software solution, Asian Paints agents now had to fill many more data fields as dictated by MySAP leading to longer call handling times The training required to learn to use the software increased many fold leading to higher induction time and cost for Asian Paints. The call centre needed leased line connectivity to the Asian Paints servers so add a connectivity cost into the equation If there was a power failure or link failure the Asian Paints Helpline would stop working â€" so add the backup power, and backup connectivity cost The screen was so cluttered that the Asian Paints Helpline agents needed bigger monitors so add the cost of new workstations Some of the reports specifically required by the Asian Paints Call Center were not available or configurable easily We are of course not going to talk about the license costs etc. that Asian Paints had to bear. So we end up with significantly greater costs (the increase in costs are too embarrassing for me to share) for one great achievement â€" Real time data! And that too for a 10 odd seater Call Centre that Asian Paints had to operate! What’s the alternative? Maybe a simple custom software solution using xml web services based synchronization could have saved Asian Paints thousands of dollars every year. Is it possible? Of course and quite effective. Read this article for more on distributed solutions. One last question is bound to come up. What if we want to have data synchronize with SAP? Well we just write some ABAP code and expose some methods to consume data from third party applications. The technology landscape has changed and it is now possible to extend corporate ERPs to partners through third party custom Software quite easily without incurring the heavy overheads thus significantly reducing TCO. Food for thought? Sabyasachi Mitter (smitter@interface.co.in) is part of the IT Strategic consulting team at Interface Business Solutions. Interface specialises in providing cutting edge software and IT solutions to global clients like Samsung, UTStarcom, Morphy Richards etc. The Custom software division at Interface Business Solutions delivers IT solutions for corporates from an end to end perspective. To know more about how to make custom software solutions work for your business contact Sabyasachi at interface.co.in.