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Drive customer loyalty with an external-facing portal

Enhance Your Customers Supply Chain Efficiencies While Improving Your Own

The Chep Portal Team

photographs by Paul Good, Paul Good Photography


SAP NetWeaver Magazine Winter 2009


CHEP uses an innovative portal to deliver more than just superior

service to customers

Businesses are increasingly using portals to meet their customers growing demands. CHEP is an example of a service provider that offers an external-facing portal and profits greatly from the implementation. With this portal, CHEP customers can manage their orders and its customer service agents can better serve their clients.
CHEP, the global leader in pallet and container pooling services, is responsible for keeping track of more than three million pieces of equipment in transit each day and that means theres a mountain of information to collect and process. At CHEP, we have a lot of data, says Carey A. Sealy, director of Global Application Development at CHEP. Our challenge is to sift through all of it to provide our business, and our customers, with aggregated, analytical data from which solid decisions can be made. With 345,000 customer locations in 45 countries, CHEP serves a global client base, and consumers worldwide rely daily on CHEP products and services. To better serve CHEP customers and employees alike, the company undertook a portal strategy, delivering a groundbreaking customer service: an innovative portal that allows customers to generate near-realtime queries of account data. CHEP turned to the SAP NetWeaver platform and SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence Accelerator (SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator) to support this portal.
Winter 2009 SAP NetWeaver Magazine

by Chris Maxcer




Headquarters:Orlando, FL Employees: 7,700+ professionals Revenue: $3.2 billion Companydetails: Issues, collects, conditions, and reissues over 300 million pallets and containers Handles more than 3 million equipment movements per day Operates over 500 service centers Serves 345,000 customer locations Conducts business in 45 countries SAPSolutionss: SAP NetWeaver 2004s Service Pack 15 SAP NetWeaver PI 7.0 SAP NetWeaver BI 7.0 Service Pack 15 SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator version 46 SAP ECC 5.0 SAP SRM

CHEP Headquarters, Orlando, Florida

While enterprises commonly use SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator to expedite employee queries, not many organizations are also giving their customers direct access to the companys back-end business data. So how does a company wake up one day and decide to break new ground? It starts with a long-standing commitment to superior customer service. Most manufacturers are focused on producing goods and getting them into their customers hands in a timely manner, notes Senior Vice President and CIO Donna Slyster. We not only need to get our pallets to customers quickly to meet their production demands, but we also need to track those pallets throughout the entire supply chain and then get them back, get them reconditioned, and get them back out again. CHEP wanted an application that would help track this process and, at the same time, saw an opportunity to provide a valued service to its customers.

products by hand. Now forklifts move pallets carrying hundreds of pounds. CHEP offers services to manufacturers and retailers consisting of providing more than 300 million of its reusable wood and plastic pallets, as well as plastic containers for moving everything from auto parts to agricultural produce. The portal team at CHEP must track these pallets through the normal course of production and distribution, as they move between locations and customers. These pallet movements create a huge volume of data for CHEP to maintain. Our services are relatively low-cost, so we need to make sure weve really got a fine-tuned network, Slyster says. We also need to cost-justify a significant amount of automation, but with all the movement and tracking, we have one of the fastest-growing SAP databases in the world because of the volumes of data that we maintain. For all of these reasons, optimization of our data and our network is really important to us. Managing the companys own data is complicated enough, but an equally pressing challenge is helping customers achieve and measure supply chain savings. As Slyster explains, CHEP has a business plan rooted in the awareness that competitors are always around the corner. This makes customer service a constant priority. Although we have satisfied customers today, I want all our customers to be referenceable customers, she says. We want to continue offering such a great level of service that they openly ask others, Why arent you doing business with CHEP, too?

ThePallet:ASimplebut CriticalComponent

A pallet is a rectangular frame of wood upon which distributors and manufacturers stack most of the worlds products and ingredients. While it might not seem like the most critical component of a supply chain, nothing is more important to any distributor or manufacturer aside from the products themselves. Before pallets, warehouse workers had to move


SAP NetWeaver Magazine Winter 2009


CHEP started using SAP R/3 and SAP Business Information Warehouse in 2001, the same year it implemented its first customer-facing portal a custom, Java-based Web application called Portfolio. This portal let customers place orders and record pallet transfers, but its functionality was too limited to meet increasing customer demands. CHEP realized it needed to revamp this portal to better help its customers manage and track the movement of pallets and containers through their extended supply chains. If customers have too many (or worse, not enough) pallets at a critical distribution point, the resulting inefficiencies have a bottom-line impact. The supply chains main focus is to lower cost, and CHEP saw an opportunity to help its customers do just that and cement customer loyalty in the process. In 2007, the company upgraded to SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (SAP NetWeaver BI) 7.0, taking advantage of the full suite of SAP NetWeaver tools, including SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator. At the same time, CHEP decided to create a customer-focused portal that used the same solid technology foundation as an internal portal. We looked at functionality that would not only benefit our customers, but would also be good for CHEP internally, says Sealy. The new next-generation portal, named Portfolio Plus, now helps service representatives and service teams more efficiently support customers. If customers have questions, disputes, or corrections regarding transactions, they can raise an inquiry directly from

the portal. This capability eliminates the need for our customer service teams to run reports and then email them out, says Sealy. Now customers can log on to the portal and generate reports themselves with no wait time.

You have to be continually assertive about what you want to deliver next to stay ahead of the competition and give your customers the value they deserve."
Donna Slyster, CHEP Senior Vice President and CIO

Customers currently have access to near-real-time data based on the integration of CHEPs back-end SAP systems with the SAP NetWeaver platform. For example, a process like querying an invoice in the US or creating a docket in Asia is now completely integrated with CHEPs back-end systems. The portal not only returns a copy of the invoice or docket number to the customer, but transactions go directly into the SAP ERP system at CHEP. Essentially, were eliminating the batching of transactions, and processing them in real time, says Sealy. This eliminates the possibility for interface failures and also allows customers to see transaction results right then and there, simplifying the work of CHEP employees as well.



To build Portfolio Plus, CHEP gathered a team of customer-facing experts, joined by a global representation of its customer base, to generate a list of features that would help customers better manage their accounts. With the benefit of customer input, the team identified key query parameters and more than two-dozen metrics that customers would use most frequently in Portfolio Plus. Donna Slyster, CHEP Senior VP and CIO These queries were selected to give customers the flexibility to go through and look at location-level


Winter 2009 SAP NetWeaver Magazine


metrics in their own currency and their own language, says Sealy. Key performance indicators included the total number of pallets issued, closing stock balance, and flow-through ratio, among others. Originally, states Sealy, we were looking to generate all of those metrics in a real-time fashion and cache all the data so that it would be readily available for customers when they logged on.

At this early point in the project, CHEP needed to find another way to meet the needs of customers who were looking for more real-time data to help them manage their pallet and container supplies.


We quickly scaled back our plans from those 25plus metrics so we could gain performance, Sealy says, mentioning that CHEP will continue to revisit all metrics in future upgrades of Portfolio Plus. Supporting all customer variables and all possible queries still meant that caching the appropriate data was going to be difficult. Instead, the project team decided to let users dynamically select their locations and products and then pull the data directly from the BI system at CHEP. In this way, explains Sealy, customer queries would not go against cached data.

Our challenge is to sift through all of it to provide our business, and our customers, with aggregated, analytical data from which solid decisions can be made.
Carey Sealy, CHEP Director of Global Application Development

It wasnt a bad idea, but the combinations of metrics made this ambitious vision impossible to implement. We quickly understood that we couldnt cache all the combinations of all the different queries that our 50,000 or so portal customers would actually need, Sealy explains, noting that Portfolio Plus now handles 7,000 unique customer logins each day.

Even with the direct connection to SAP NetWeaver BI, some queries remained too time consuming and took even longer for customers with slow Internet connections or aging PCs. So CHEP tapped SAPs Active Global Support team and with their help, performed extensive diagnostics on the infrastructure, portal, and SAP NetWeaver BI systems to optimize

Turning BI Inside Out: Exposing BI Data to External Customers

SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence (SAP NetWeaver BI) functionality, at least for most companies that employ it, is reserved for internal audiences. So what happens if you expose such sophisticated technology to customers? We need to provide our customers with account management metrics, says Carey Sealy. SAP NetWeaver BI is the data store that houses that information. Because this customer-facing system is so dependent on performance, the CHEP team knows it is taking a risk when offering the portal to customers. Even with the limits on the range of queries, Sealy says, The sheer volume of customers requests into our BI system is still projected to be significantly heavier than our internal employee volume. So CHEP has turned to a new product, SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence Accelerator. This combination hardware/software solution offers the chance for Googlelike responses to queries against a business intelligence system. The CHEP team currently has installed 16 HP BIA blades, which are preloaded with the cubes and underlying data that customers can run queries against. CHEP is pleased with how well the system has been working, but vigilance has been central to its approach. We have been continually challenged by performance over time and continue to optimize as we go, says Sealy. Performance tuning is an ongoing need.


SAP NetWeaver Magazine Winter 2009



the response time. With various changes to the infrastructure layer and the portal, and by creating summary cubes in SAP NetWeaver BI, the queries eventually returned results that were within the 10-second range. Of course, Sealy points out, while CHEPs 50,000 portal users have a wide range of possible parameter combinations, the actual queries available to each customer are standardized, and the data is limited to what users are contractually allowed to see. Sealy reports that this approach has succeeded. Typical queries let customers view total pallets issued, outstanding balance, stock balances, or pallet-flowthrough ratios to help monitor pallet and container activity in real or near-real time much like a banks consumers regularly go online to check the status of their accounts.

downstream customers. These settings not only help the customer they also ultimately simplify the processes at CHEP by reducing the potential for errors. According to Sealy, this customization is clearly the heart of the Portfolio Plus application, and it assists account management users as well. Customers select a location, a product, and the timeframe they want to look at their metrics; it is simple to navigate and simple to understand, she says. The customization also ensures that performance remains robust. Sealy points out that a user cannot create a never-ending query. Customers can only view
Number of records processed into CHEP BI system per month Average number of queries that are generated against the BI system per month Size of CHEP BI system Number of users set up on CHEP portal system globally Number of transactions per month

2.5 billion


Any direct access of back-end data requires security restrictions. For each customer account acquired, the CHEP security team provides a unique user name and password, and assigns specific products and locations based on the customer contract. Then when a customers employees log in to the portal, they can access only the data that is relevant to the contract. Customers can further refine and customize their security settings; managers at the customer site can set limitations so that users in a particular warehouse are only able to send specific products to certain


5 terra bytes 50,000

80 million

Winter 2009 SAP NetWeaver Magazine


Carey Sealy, CHEP Director of Global Application Development

Customers can view trends of various different account performance indicators with Portfolio Plus new dashboards.

a certain timeframe online. For additional requests, they can always call CHEP and request further data.

While CHEP reduced the number of metrics it originally hoped to deliver, the project team remained committed to creating a roadmap for future development. Since CHEP first deployed Portfolio Pluss account management functionality in March 2008, new technology and features from SAP have become available to optimize performance. CHEP has already begun to leverage SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator and SAP NetWeaver BI 7.0 Service Pack 15 to support performance improvement. Future generations of Portfolio Plus will provide additional customer value and make doing business

with CHEP even easier. Solutions planned for the CHEP portal will provide more analytics and exception reporting, let customers reconcile invoices online, and use SAP NetWeaver as an underlying technology. As for specifics, CIO Slyster is cautious about divulging too much. One of the challenges of a portal is that as soon as you release it, your competitors can see it, she notes. Its a very dynamic world. You have to be continually assertive about what you want to deliver next to stay ahead of the competition and give your customers the value they deserve.
Chris Maxcers Bio to appear here

5 Lessons Learned
Hire experts: The most important lesson CHEP learned from its portal program was to hire experienced people especially when the solution breaks new ground. CHEPs portal and business intelligence teams consist of more than two-dozen experts who work on the portal along with other projects, including Basis and Portal administration. Plan for continuous performance tuning: Performance tuning should be constant, and it requires you to think about your environment and understand the tools at your disposal. The many factors that affect performance involve more than just the development team. Start performance tuning and testing early in the development life cycle and monitor it all the time. Recruit early: Take the time to locate people who are the right fit for the team. Sealy says, It is definitely hard to find people who know leading edge technology. Know what you need early and recruit for it because it takes a long time to find those people. Create a network of peers: Look outside your own company for help and advice. It has helped us tremendously to know that there are other companies out there working on similar challenges. Its instructive to know what theyve tried, both whats worked and what hasnt. Weve been able to share those experiences and get our technical teams talking and sharing their experiences, says Sealy. Find the opportunity in difficult problems: When something is hard, it means that you can improve it, converting it into an opportunity. Slyster says. If a team can recognize that a problem is really an opportunity to create a better solution, half the work is already done. The key to understanding the CHEP philosophy starts with recognizing the opportunity both for the business and its customers.


SAP NetWeaver Magazine Winter 2009