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Thomas R. Cutler

Quality Insider

The Role of Quality in E-Commerce

Outsourced SaaS solutions gaining traction for SAP ERP users

Published: Monday, February 9, 2009 - 14:17

Plan-do-check-act (PDCA) is an iterative four-step problem-solving process typically used in business process improvement. It’s also known as the Deming Cycle. When W. Edwards Deming postulated this process, there was no such system as e-commerce.

PDCA has been rarely applied to websites or to the quality of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation, which is often the backbone of the e-commerce website.  This is particularly true in SAP ERP implementations. Sam Bayer, Ph.D., founder of b2b2dot0 suggests, “The e-commerce website provides the ultimate ‘check’ of the quality of the ERP configuration, business rules, and data. Real-time integrated e-commerce websites can provide a positive effect on overall order entry quality. If they are standalone websites that are separately maintained, they will inject defects into the process.”

Indeed customers who come to a business to business (B2B) website insist on accurate data including product descriptions, personal pricing, availability, and shipping lead times. Companies without an ERP-integrated e-commerce website are able to hide the ERP deficiencies; they are covered up with "tribal knowledge." Customer service representatives have this knowledge, but may well be tired of asking to have the correction repaired in the system. Frequent issues such as automatically searching multiple warehouses, discontinued products that are replaced with new products, and incorrect replenishment lead times are hidden factors that have a direct effect on quality.

“Companies that aren't interested in improving the quality of their implementations, never go to B2B e-commerce," says Bayer. "The primary reason companies go to B2B e-commerce is because of marketing reasons. They want to merchandise their products better and offer another order entry channel. However, marketing people have such a hard time working with their IT people, and there is so much work to do to clean up the ERP system, and it will take so long, that they chose to set up a stand alone system. The enlightened company recognizes that not only does this add potential waste into the order process, but it’s a missed opportunity to streamline the ERP system. Companies that are interested in leveraging their investments, create a real-time website with the customer's ability to provide feedback. Quality-minded companies use the customer feedback as the ‘check’ that instigates action to fix the errors in the ERP.”

e-commerce challenges quality

Similarly, product availability may be calculated to be delivered in three weeks but is shipped within one week. The customer is surprised by early delivery and is therefore trained to not believe the data. In the non-e-commerce environment, customer service representatives know about this type of quality deficiency and do the mental calculation when quoting customers over the telephone.

SaaS adds quality and value to B2B e-commerce

Software as a service (SaaS) is a model of software deployment in which applications are hosted as a service across the internet. By eliminating the need to install and run an application on the customer's computer, SaaS alleviates the customer's burden of software maintenance, ongoing operation, and support. This allows for a great focus on internal quality issues.

Using SaaS also can reduce up-front expenses of software purchases through less costly, on-demand pricing. SaaS gives software vendors complete control over use, unauthorized copies and distribution, and derivative versions of their software. This centralized control often allows the vendor to establish an ongoing revenue stream. The SaaS software vendor may host the application on its own web server, or this function may be handled by a third-party application service provider (ASP). End users may reduce their investment on server hardware too.

Testing SaaS offers unique challenges that aren’t usually faced by software in other deployment models. End-user environment simulation (multiple web browser/operating systems/network connectivity) is part of the software testing effort, while maintenance, operation, support, version control, and change management aren’t a customer activity in SaaS model. Quality is enhanced by outsourcing these functions to the e-commerce SaaS vendor.

By virtue of the system being available on the network, security testing is often a big area of concern. Those companies that are taking SAP users to an outsourced SaaS e-commerce solution are well-versed in performance, scalability, and reliability testing.

As the SaaS infrastructure grows, the test infrastructure needed for functional, regression, performance, and stress testing can be purchased, maintained, and easily operated as well. These functions remain the quality purview of the vendor and don’t encumber the client’s other lean internal initiatives. 

SaaS adds quality and value to B2B e-commerce websites because the outsourced vendor acts as a neutral facilitator of customers’ feedback and can track and escalate issues as appropriate. “Normally, clients are dealing with so many issues that they triage what they are going to work on. Outsourced B2B vendors only deal with one thing and are determined to improve service over time, Bayer adds. “The value of our service is dependant on the quality of our clients’ data. We have incentive to help them clean it up.”


About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler Inc., celebrating its 21st year. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 8000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 1,000 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. More than 4,500 industry leaders follow Cutler on Twitter daily at @ThomasRCutler. Contact Cutler at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com.