We enjoy food and often even relish it. It nourishes us. And meals underlie many social gatherings. But most of us take food for granted. That’s not the case at Skidmore Sales & Distributing Company. Headquartered in West Chester, Ohio, Skidmore Sales is a privately held company with almost 50 employees. It has been a broker and distributor of ingredients for the food industry since 1963.
Over the years, Skidmore Sales has enjoyed steady growth. Today, the company has warehouses in 18 locations outside the Cincinnati area. With more than 150 ingredient suppliers, Skidmore Sales now serves more than 1,400 customers in 18 states.
Stuck in the Past with Paper-Based Processes
Food quality and safety is a paramount concern for everyone from farmers and food processers to end-consumers, and everyone in between. Not surprisingly, ensuring food quality requires the management of a considerable volume of documents.
In total, Skidmore Sales manages approximately ten different food quality documents including, among others, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), allergen, specifications, kosher compliance documents, certificates of analysis (C of A) and certificates of origin.
Food quality documents come to Skidmore Sales through a variety of channels. Sometimes they arrive as electronic documents attached to emails, but paper-based documents, which can accompany a shipment or arrive via standard mail, are still very much a part of the business process.
The management of all of that paperwork can involve cumbersome and error-prone processes. And errors cost money. In addition to the expense of hunting for paperwork lost due to mistakes, customers increasingly assess penalties whenever required documents are not sent with shipments.
Furthermore, Skidmore Sales’ growth meant that its paperwork burden was growing as the company increased the number of suppliers and customers it dealt with.
Skidmore Sales had software that allowed it to scan documents and manage them electronically, thereby eliminating the labor costs and errors typically associated with paper-based document management. However, that software was cumbersome to use.
Furthermore, the old software did not integrate with the ERP application Skidmore Sales uses to run its business. As a result, accessing related documents was much less efficient than it could have been for ERP users.
About two years ago, Skidmore Sales initiated a search for a document management system that would eliminate the problems and weaknesses of its old software. That search led the company to Webdocs from HelpSystems.
Preparing for the Future with Webdocs
Webdocs, which is available in versions that run on Microsoft Windows-based servers as well as IBM i servers, allows organizations to electronically store and manage document images and other files, such as PC files, emails and computer-generated reports. The documents can then be accessed using up to 10 keys or through a full-text search. When the documents are stored, the 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.
Skidmore Sales evaluated several other document management systems before settling on Webdocs, but Webdocs provided the best fit with Skidmore Sales’ environment, while meeting all of the company’s requirements. Those requirements included the ability to:
- Integrate with Skidmore Sales’ ERP system.
- Run on IBM i (formerly AS/400, iSeries and System i), the platform that Skidmore uses for its ERP.
- Be future-ready. Skidmore Sales wanted software that, in the future, would allow customers to access required documents securely, on their own, over the Web.
Other Webdocs features that Skidmore Sales appreciated, even though they weren’t absolute requirements, include the large number of index keys that can be associated with each document and the ability to email documents directly from Webdocs.
HelpSystems installed Webdocs in one afternoon. Within three or four days, Skidmore Sales was capturing and indexing the Certificate of Analysis (C of A) production documents.
Today, when a food quality document comes in it is either scanned into Webdocs or, if it arrives in electronic form, it is sent directly to Webdocs’ document database. One of Skidmore Sales’ staff then keys in the associated PO number, allowing the document to be accessed by PO number.
From that point, Webdocs automatically interfaces with the ERP system to access all of the ingredients associated with the PO. Based on that, Webdocs then automatically populates the remaining key fields for the document, eliminating the need to enter the data manually.
The Benefits of Digital Document Management
The ability to populate key fields automatically from the ERP system has improved human resource flexibility at Skidmore. “End-users don’t need a large knowledge base of all of the manufacturers’ SKUs that we carry in our warehouse,” explained Dennis Meyers, information technology director at Skidmore Sales. “That minimizes the knowledge that the person doing the indexing has to have. We can now have multiple people doing indexing, whereas, in the past, only one person could do it.”
In addition, WebDoc’s ability to integrate with the ERP system virtually eliminates data entry errors. If, upon receiving a document, an employee enters a PO number incorrectly, that error will be immediately apparent because the PO number won’t be in the ERP system. In addition, automatically populating other key fields from the ERP system removes the possibility of human error at that stage.
Webdocs also allows Skidmore Sales to streamline document distribution. In the past, when sending out an order, an employee searched for the relevant documents, assembled them, and then faxed them to the customer. That process could take as long as an hour or two.
Today, that process is automated through Webdocs. Now, after accessing a customer’s record in the ERP, an employee can click a button to automatically assemble the required documents and email them to the customer.
When Skidmore creates documents that are to be sent with shipments, Webdocs, in conjunction with a customized print director application, prints them to a multi-bin printer. Each bin is designated to a specific stock picker. This reduces the amount of time required to sort and find the right documents for the products being shipped.
Webdocs also allows Skidmore to automate the process of sending out price change notifications. When announcing a price change, Skidmore uses its ERP system to find all customers that ordered that product in the past six months. Then, Skidmore uses iForms software to generate a price notification letter and archive it to Webdocs. The company then uses Webdocs’ email automation capabilities to distribute the letter automatically.
This has dramatically reduced the amount of labor required to distribute price notifications. In the past, it typically took about one and a half days to assemble the necessary customer data and send out the letters. Today it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to send electronically.
Webdocs has also made lost documents a thing of the past at Skidmore Sales. Documents used to be lost because:
- Documents weren’t indexed properly.
- PO or lot numbers were incorrect on the documents.
- Paper-based documents got lost or stuck in the manual paper-flow.
By keeping documents in an electronic database, verifying PO numbers against the ERP database and automating the generation of other index fields, Webdocs has solved the lost document problem for Skidmore Sales.
Another benefit that Skidmore Sales has received from Webdocs is access to the experts behind Webdocs. “When tying into the ERP system we were able to take advantage of some of the expertise that HelpSystems has in-house,” said Meyers. “They understand the AS/400 and the program logic used on it. That was very valuable. It eliminated a lot of headaches when doing field mapping and other compatibility and data exchange concerns. It was good to know that I was working with this area of expertise and dedicated resources.”
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