Willson International wanted to find a more efficient way to handle millions of paper documents generated each year. With a Business-Critical SharePoint solution implemented by DataBind Solutions, Willson not only eliminated paper, but also improved cross-team
collaboration, customer services, and therefore, gained competitive advantage.
||So our ECM solution not only helps us do a better job servicing the business we have, it is helping us attract new business
| Arik Kalininsky
Vice President, Information Technology,
With 12 branch locations and 160 employees, Willson International provides customs clearance services for companies that ship goods between Canada and the United States.
Demand for Fast Processing
A customs broker’s job is to handle the extensive paperwork associated with cross-border shipments and to facilitate communication between importers, exporters, and various government agencies. Of course, time is always of the essence. “The border never shuts
down, so our business operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” says Arik Kalininsky, Vice President of Information Technology at Willson International. “Customs requires all information about a shipment two hours before the truck crosses, but sometimes we
may only receive the information from our customer two hours and five minutes before the crossing. That means we have five minutes to process the information and get it to customs.”
Bogged Down in Paper
Willson’s business was mired in paper, which was expensive to manage and hindered productivity. “We handle a large amount of shipments annually, which amounts to millions of paper documents each year. Plus, we have to retain those documents for six years for
regulatory compliance, which meant we were storing tens of millions of documents in a third-party service and paying more than U.S.$100,000 a year to do so.”
Outdated Fax Connection across Teams
Many Willson customers still use fax machines. “Each of our 12 branch locations had three or four fax machines spitting out paper around the clock,” says Kalininsky. A small army of import analysts at Willson manually keyed data from customer faxes into the
database, and then photocopied the fax plus the associated shipment paperwork. One copy of the shipment paperwork was sent to the customer and another was sent to an external storage facility. This process affected efficiency, which Willson measured using
a metric called entries per man-hour (EPMH), a measure of how many shipments one person can rate in one hour. The dominance of manual work opened the door for errors, delays, and eventually customer dissatisfaction.
Slow Customer Service
Of greatest concern, however, was how paper-based processes affected customer service. “We understood that our customers had to communicate with us using paper, but once that paper hit our operations, it really slowed things down,” Kalininsky says. “About once
a week, we had to retrieve documents from the off-site facility to resolve questions about a past shipment, and this could take weeks.”
In late 2008, Willson used Office SharePoint Server 2007 to tackle the first phase of its project: converting incoming customer faxes into electronic files. This system helped Willson increase its EPMH by 25 percent, a significant improvement.
Connecting Existing Information Systems
With the arrival of newer technologies, Willson had the tools that it had been looking for; it just needed help in putting everything together. It engaged DataBind Solutions, a Canadian member of the Microsoft Partner Network with Gold and SharePoint competencies
to develop a Business-Critical SharePoint solution where SharePoint is connected with other information systems, such as Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft SQL Server, Windows Azure, and Willson’s proprietary shipment tracking database to improve cross-company
Willson uses the built-in search capabilities in SharePoint Server 2010, in conjunction with the Microsoft Business Connectivity Services in SharePoint Server 2010 to connect SharePoint Server to external applications and data sources and to retrieve information
from the tracking database and customer faxes. Willson can search all the documents stored in SharePoint Server and WDB using rich metadata.
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With its Business-Critical SharePoint solution, Willson International has been able to connect its teams, improve customer service, cut down on manual work, and increase employee productivity.
Improved Cross-Departmental Collaboration
Different internal teams that used a variety of department-specific information systems in the past are now electronically connected. The external storage facility, the import analysts, and the event handlers can now collaborate online vs. via phone and fax
in the past, improving decision-making and accelerating approval processes. Operation’s staff is able to assist each other remotely versus bringing in additional staff to handle the increased load.
Several manual processes have been automated, which translates into cost savings and dramatically reduces the number of errors. For example, in the past, import analysts needed to apply barcode labels to documents which enabled tracking and alignment with the
proprietary shipment tracking database. This previously labor intensive process is now automated. Furthermore, according to Kalininsky, “with our new ECM, we have eliminated the need to store millions of documents off-site each year, which will ultimately
amount to a $100,000 annual savings.”
Faster Processes with Automation
The SharePoint connection to existing information systems provides automated workflows and accelerated processes. Event handlers are now able to move shipment documents through the system based on a metadata field that indicates their lifecycle state. ”Operational
efficiency is paramount, so optimizing the user interface and automating steps where possible is crucial,” says Mike Hellinga, President of DataBind Solutions.
Furthermore, the connection with Microsoft Dynamics GP provides an eBilling solution. Invoices and relevant backup documentation are automatically posted onto the extranet built in Azure. To ensure timely responses, email confirmations are automatically generated
to clients, informing them that their invoice and documentation are ready to download.
Gaining Competitive Edge with Improved Customer Service
Willson not only improved productivity internally, but externally with their customers. The SharePoint connection to Willson’s proprietary shipment-tracking database provides clients with real-time view of their current shipments on a self-service basis, including
downloading backup documents, and running searches on shipment history. Customer service can now respond to customer inquiries by looking up the information instantly online. Prior to implementing SharePoint, they might have requested retrieval of the document
from an offsite document storage provider. This process often took days but is now handled within minutes while the customer is on the phone.
“Larger customers especially don’t want to deal with paper, and they want vendors that have an ECM system. It’s becoming a criteria for getting business. So our ECM solution not only helps us do a better job servicing the business we have, it is helping us
attract new business,” says Kalininsky.
Business-Critical SharePoint (BCSP) is a Microsoft partner programthatincludes top solution and service providers who focus onLOB
integration with SharePoint.