With a head office and distribution center in Kingston, New York and six regional offices across the state, two of which include distribution centers, Empire Merchants is the largest liquor distributor in Upstate New York. The company imports wines and spirits or obtains them domestically and sells them to liquor retailers, restaurants and bars. Empire Merchants employs about 500 people, including 160 sales representatives who work out of their homes.
The company receives orders either directly from customers or through its sales representatives. It usually fills the orders the day after receiving them. Rather than using common carriers, Empire Merchants depends on its own fleet of approximately 60 trucks to make deliveries to customers.
Empire Merchants, which runs its business on a System i model 550 server, uses the Movex (now Lawson M3) ERP application.
In Search of a Cost-Effective Document Management Solution
In the past, Empire Merchants had three customer service departments in regional warehouses spread out across the state. Early in 2006, the company consolidated its customer service function at their head office. That offered some business process efficiencies, but it also threatened to introduce a new cost.
State law requires that liquor delivery trucks carry copies of invoices for the products they’re shipping. Upon delivery, the invoices from the usual 1,600 to 2,000 daily shipments must be signed by the customer and returned to Empire Merchants. That wasn’t a problem when each distribution center had its own customer service department. The drivers simply brought the signed invoices back to the distribution center and the local customer service people took care of them.
After customer service was centralized, the company needed a way to deliver the invoices to its head office quickly. One option it considered was to send them by overnight courier, but that would have cost about $1,000 per month. Empire Merchants was convinced that there had to be a less expensive and faster way to move those documents. It was right. It uses Webdocs from HelpSystems to do the job.
Evaluating Document Management Options
Webdocs allows organizations to scan and store document images and other files, such as PC files, emails and computer-generated reports, on System i or PC servers. The documents can then be accessed using up to 10 keys. Those keys can be entered manually or Webdocs can automatically extract them from barcodes or textual data appearing within the images. Once loaded into the system, authorized personnel can use a standard Web browser to access the images over the Internet from anywhere in the world.
Webdocs wasn’t the only document management solution that Empire Merchants considered. It evaluated four alternatives, two that run on System i and two that are PC server-based. Peter Coliukos, Director of Information Technology at Empire Merchants, quickly eliminated the PC server options due to cost. Their licenses included fees based on the number of users and/or scanners. Consequently, a fully implemented PC-based solution would have cost considerably more than either one of the System i alternatives, which had less onerous licensing terms. A further point in System i’s favor was that Empire Merchants is a System i shop and, as Coliukos said, “we weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel for our users. Most of our users were already familiar with System i applications, and we found that we could easily integrate the solution into their existing applications.”
After comparing the two System i packages, Webdocs came out ahead on ease of configuration and administration and superior document archiving capabilities.
Implementation of Webdocs was fast and easy. The actual installation time was under two hours. In total, the whole implementation process – including deciding how the company was going to use the product, configuring the software, defining the documents that Webdocs would manage, setting up security, and providing users with the necessary documentation—took less than five days.
The flexibility that Webdocs offers with respect to where documents are stored was an advantage for Empire Merchants. The company configured Webdocs to store documents on its IBM DS4300 SAN where it had considerable capacity and where documents could be stored without affecting production systems.
With Webdocs in place, when an invoice comes back to a distribution center it is scanned into the system. Instead of couriering paper documents from one location to another, electronic document images are now immediately available to any authorized user at any of Empire Merchants’ locations.
As time goes by, Empire Merchants is adding to the types of documents that it manages with Webdocs. In addition to information about its wine and spirits products, the company’s Movex ERP application also stores information about in-store displays that it offers. The company now uses Webdocs to store pictures of those displays. By facing Webdocs through a web portal, Empire Merchants gives sales reps easy access to those pictures.
Empire Merchants is also starting to move some of its documentation and legal documents online using Webdocs, thereby making them faster and easier to access and less costly to store and manage.
Webdocs Eliminates Hardcopy Document Distribution Costs
An obvious tangible benefit that Empire Merchants receives from Webdocs is its ability to avoid the $1,000 per month courier expense that the company estimated would have been required to send hardcopy invoices from its distribution centers to its head office. Nonetheless, Coliukos suggests that and even greater value likely comes from the instant access to information made possible by Webdocs.
In the past, when customers called with inquiries about orders or invoices they would likely have been put on hold while the necessary paperwork was retrieved. Now, a customer service representative can instantly access all related document images through Webdocs. The result has been a more streamlined, productive customer service function – and more satisfied customers.
Webdocs is also helping Empire Merchants to enhance its disaster recovery capabilities. When information existed only on paper, backing up that data was difficult and costly, to say the least. Now, documents that are maintained as electronic images rather than paper are automatically duplicated offsite through the company’s normal data backup procedures.
Coliukos expects that the benefits that Empire Merchants derives from Webdocs will continue to expand in the future. “You usually approach these sorts of things on a project basis,” he explained. “But once you get Webdocs into your environment it’s very eye-popping to realize all that it can do. In our case, we had a single project that justified Webdocs, but then when we started using it we realized that there were 1,001 other things we could do with it. I can see the day when we might get to a paperless office.”