Automating B2B Portal Interactions

The situation in Pitt Ohio?s Credit & Collections and Customer Service groups was becoming unmanageable.

The rapidly-growing transportation provider, based in Pittsburgh, was spending too much time interacting with B2B portals, doing everything from bidding on jobs through extending credit and scheduling service to collecting receivables. The portals are a significant improvement over phone calls and faxes, but dealing with numerous websites was overloading staffers.To maintain its growth track, Pitt Ohio needed to optimize its logistics processes through automation.

Pitt Ohio, which focuses on LTL (less than truckload) freight, faced several challenges. The seven members of its Credit & Collections team were manually accessing more than 70 different freight payment and customer websites to manage receivables. They had to log in to each site, navigate through each system to locate existing past due invoices by customer, search for status changes, and then report these changes in Pitt Ohio?s internal systems. Each website had a different update schedule that team members also tracked manually.

The company used a commercial service to alleviate some of the burden, but not all accounts were accessible through the service. In addition, the team had decided to receive notifications of only 40-day past due invoices every two weeks to keep costs down. Even this data had to be reconciled manually with the company?s internal systems.

In Pitt Ohio?s Customer Service group, five agents were struggling with similar challenges. The team had six different websites to access, all with different logins, navigation, and data and timing requirements. In order to provide timely updates throughout the company and to customers, the agents had to interact with these sites and internal Pitt Ohio systems continuously to monitor and report on shipment requests, acceptances, confirmations, and delivery status. To manage the process, they relied on printed documents, which resulted in two-hour delays on updates.

The situation was not sustainable if the company wanted to maintain high quality service and take advantage of sales opportunities as they occurred. If credit and collections processes weren?t automated, receivables would begin to be outstanding for longer and longer periods, impacting the company?s cash flow. Pitt Ohio had to find a cost-effective, automated solution that worked without disrupting the business.

The Business Systems Group at Pitt Ohio tested a product from application integration and process automation vendor Kapow Software, which claimed its solution could capture data from customers? and freight payment processors? websites and automatically optimize and push that data into the company?s internal systems. With the guidance of one sales engineer on site, two processes ? one for Customer Service and one for Credit & Collections ? were automated in two days. During the ensuing three-month evaluation period, the group also integrated several external web-based databases and applications with the company?s internal systems. Pitt Ohio then deployed Kapow?s Katalyst product, with future plans to automate Canadian Customs Forms, internal data maintenance, and the TRNet Alliance Data Interchange.

Pitt Ohio?s Credit & Collections and Customer Service teams no longer spend time on routine interactions with external websites or internal data entry, freeing team members to focus on strategic initiatives that help build and expand the business. So far, interactions with about half the 70 customers and processor websites have been automated. This has eliminated errors from manually copying data from one system to another and lowered the cost of using a paid service. Credit & Collections agents now have time for data analysis, and, with access to higher quality and more timely data, they are making better decisions faster.

In Customer Service, two processes have been automated by creating ?virtual users? or ?robots? to navigate the customer sites, with four more to be built. With the robots automatically accessing and sending shipping information as it becomes available through internal systems and external websites, Pitt Ohio?s Customer Service agents are now 90 percent more efficient on the two automated accounts.

Automating business processes has allowed Pitt Ohio to identify and win sales opportunities ahead of the competition, focus its Customer Service efforts on proactively working with customers to manage their accounts, and give Credit & Collections specialists the up-to-date information they need to keep Pitt Ohio?s receivables current. The company has reduced its costs in these departments and boosted productivity and performance.

Darren Klaum is the director of Pitt Ohio?s Business Systems Group, which is responsible for all IT projects within the company.