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Microsoft Powers EDI at Brandix and Marks & Spencer

With the dawn of IT enhanced learning, Trinity College Kandy recently became the first school in Sri Lanka to initiate a fully functional Virtual Desktop Infrastructure enabled IT Lab for the students of its middle school. The Trinity Batch of ‘85, initiated this project with the software expertise of Microsoft Sri Lanka to provide the Trinity middle school with this cutting edge technology to ensure students are well equipped and powered to take on the future. As the first such solution made available to a school in Sri Lanka, this lab will open up avenues of learning that will allow students to access a world of possibility thus far unavailable to them.

The leading apparel manufacturer, Brandix, is reputed for its visionary leadership in the sector - developing the brand to become an international tour de force. One of the key enablers of its phenomenal achievement has been the harnessing of Information and Technology (IT) systems that has unleashed the potential of the company and empowered it to forge enduring partnerships along the entire value chain. In its latest strategic move, Brandix has set up an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system in tandem with its key business partner, Marks & Spencer (M&S), and the winning solution to power the EDI system is Microsoft’s BizTalk Server.

Brandix is one of the few apparel manufacturing organizations to consider using Information Technology and Systems as a strategic business enabler. The group has always been IT savvy and also believes in empowering users with technology that can support and enhance their day-to-day work. Brandix maintains a very close link with key customers such as Marks & Spencer (M&S) and it is mandatory to foster a tighter integration between operations and information systems of both organizations. M&S has embarked on an aggressive revamping of internal systems based on its 2020 strategic vision. Supply chain integration using EDI has become a mandatory requirement for suppliers. Hence, Brandix embraced the EDI project as a means of facilitating the integration between the two organizations and also with plans to extend and enhance its own operations with suppliers and service providers.

The Brandix ICT team worked closely with M&S to pilot and adopt the EDI solution. Over a period of six months, both teams charted out their business requirements and the Brandix ICT team then set about its own R&D to identify the ideal EDI technology and how the solution should be structured to meet both current and future requirements of the business. Meanwhile, Brandix had already embarked on a project to streamline business and improve efficiency. Centralization of common services across the group was already in the offing and Brandix ICT was in the process of evaluating Microsoft BizTalk Server as a tool for systems integration and enabling a service broker architecture that would enable business systems to talk to each other, eliminating the complexity involved in a typical systems integration exercise. BizTalk’s capabilities inspired the team to access further detailed published information on the technology to further refine their solution, until it was ready for testing.

Commenting on the decision to adopt Microsoft BizTalk Server, Manoj Pilimatalawwe, Head of Group ICT at Brandix said: “We looked at available solutions in the market and wanted to select a technology that provided rich capability and features that can address both current and future business requirements. We have a considerable amount of IT workloads on Microsoft platform as a result of the Enterprise Agreement between Microsoft and Brandix. From the outset, my team was very confident that they could use this technology to address our requirements. It was a stretch for my team to spend considerable amount of time in learning and engaging in R&D while battling with day-to-day IT operational issues. At the end, it was worth the effort as we managed to build a solution that addresses our requirements and saved considerable cost which we would have otherwise spent on consultants and external IT experts.”

EDI is an important aspect when considering Business to Business (B2B) systems integration in the modern world of electronic commerce. EDI systems have been around for over a decade and with the growing complexity of business information requirements and advancements in information technology, a number of EDI solutions are available for businesses to choose from.

Building an EDI solution from scratch is no longer a feasible option for businesses as there will be a number of point-to-point integrations, specific algorithms for data conversion and validation resulting in an extensive programming and maintenance cost of the service. Using a middleware has been the answer to this problem as the middleware performs a slew of activities behind the scenes, such as enabling different IT systems to talk to each other, handling complex data routing, formatting and validations, exception handling and related workflow orchestration.

Setting up the EDI system requires a broad range of expertise and an in-depth understanding of the specific implementation requirements of each trading partner, coupled with issues related to integration, all of which was handled by the Brandix ICT Team in conjunction with M&S

EDI often allows a company that initially implements Electronic Data Interchange to handle far bigger volumes without adding employees and other costs. This means increased sales and increased revenues once the initial investment in EDI is recaptured. These savings come from no data entry errors by operators, no mail time, lessens labour processing costs and time, lessen order cycle time and no filing and other processing of paperwork.

The solution enables M&S to place the order information directly with Brandix ICT systems and the merchandisers receive the PO details straight into their e-mail in-box, making it easy to track and manage communications and PO updates instantly.. This has improved both accuracy and time to production, eliminating delays and potential errors of manual intervention. Once production is completed, the Brandix Logistics system will turnaround the PO to generate the invoice for the order. This is then transferred electronically and lodged with M&S SAP ERP system using the EDI facilities.

Mr. Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka commented: “We are proud to have Microsoft BizTalk Server as the chosen EDI tool by Brandix to strengthen the supply chain with global brands such as M&S. BizTalk Server automates the exchange of internal business data as well as accepts EDI data, automatically integrating it with internal systems. The two organizations can rely wholly on the superior architecture and capabilities of BizTalk Server. The solution is proving to be a reliable, robust and can leverage future expansion for businesses. BizTalk Server offers users to leapfrog over incomplete solutions, by offering the complete EDI capability in one go. EDI improves margins by meeting buyers’ demands and therefore strengthening relationships. It also spares users time and effort that can be channeled into other priority areas.”

The business benefits derived from this project can be summarized as follows;

  • Elimination of expensive middleware web service solutions (provided by third parties) and the transaction cost involved with such a solution

  • Considerable saving of development and implementation cost of the EDI project – Brandix team built their own competency in BizTalk Server and acquired the capability of deploying an enterprise class EDI solution.

  • In addition to the M&S EDI project, the Brandix ICT team has extended the capability of BizTalk server to integrate the ERP system with some of the top international banks present in Sri Lanka. Already Deutsche Bank and HSBC are interconnected with Brandix to automate the payment processing. The next step is to expand this to Citibank.

    Some of the key learning from this project is:

  • Deep understanding of EDI architecture and the service broker configuration requirements to enable a fully functional mission critical B2B e-commerce system.

  • The importance of building re-usable EDI components that can be easily replicated to enable multiple business to business integration - reducing development time, potential errors and reducing system maintenance.

  • An appreciation of how technology can be deployed to improve business efficiency and reduce overall cost while bringing in the required agility to compete and serve in the modern market.

  • The knowledge and knowhow in extending the Brandix EDI system to other business functions, such as their own supply chain integration requirements.

  • Mr. Gaurika Wijerathne - Asst Manager Information Systems, one of the key members of the Brandix ICT team who was responsible for driving the solution from the beginning, spoke about his experiences on the project: “This project was a real challenge as we had no previous experience and knowledge of how EDI solutions can be built. I knew that Microsoft BizTalk Server supported EDI. We spent considerable amount of time reading the published information on the integration tool and how EDI systems are built. Working closely with the M&S team also had its advantages as we were able to define the exact requirements from M&S perspective and map them to our internal systems. The flexibility and rich functionality available in BizTalk made the process much easier and faster than building a conventional EDI solution by piecing together different technologies that are available in the market. We were able to launch the solution faster than we expected and completed the project in record time.”

    With the roll-out of the ongoing ERP project at Brandix, the need for integration with other internal business systems and external systems of business partners will become mandatory. Brandix is confident that the experience and knowledge gained from this project will enable them to embrace EDI as a strategic business enabler and transform the business processes by making them leaner and efficient giving the agility required to compete in a fast changing business world.