B2B Portal: A Business Platform to Ultimate Productivity Improvement

If somebody tells you that your present corporate website can be converted to a B2B portal which will help you significantly improve your company’s productivity in both of the two primary factors: Revenue Growth and Cost Saving, and that the portal can be launched in a matter of months with a very reasonable investment, what will be your reaction? Read on to learn how corporations all over the world are missing an opportunity, which can revolutionize the way they manage their businesses.

What is a B2B portal?

A portal is defined as an access point to World Wide Web. A portal is a combination of web pages, features and services which become a primary destination for users. The word was first used to describe the sites of popular Internet access providers or search engines such as AOL, MSN and Yahoo! At a later stage, the word “portal” evolved into something bigger covering business websites, where a corporate portal or enterprise information portal acts as a base for employees, customers, suppliers and other associates of a company to access corporate information and web services. A B2B portal is a distinct kind of website with features to conduct electronic business and manage significant parts of corporate business processes.

Benefits of having a B2B portal

Today, B2B portals are not just a fancy idea! They are an absolute necessity for all enterprises of any type and size. The advantages of having a quality B2B portal are massive. Implementation of a true high quality B2B portal could have immediate impact on company productivity.

Revenue Growth

Revenue Increase from Existing Clients

Existing clients get faster and easier access to product information, quicker response to their requests, get better customer support and are able to buy products online.

Revenue Increase from Value Added Services

Once a B2B portal is set as the primary sales channel, spared resources can be used to create more value added services for clients. Some of the services that the portal may offer also could be utilized to generate more value.

Cost Savings

Order Processing Cost

If the B2B portal integrates supply chain management solution, it will reduce the cost of processing orders drastically. Studies show that similar solution can reduce cost of processing a purchase order from US$ 70 down in average to US$ 6 only.

Sales and support costs

Automated sales and customer support features integrated in the solution is capable of reducing overhead costs up to 30 percent.

Inventory keeping costs

Clearer visibility and forecasting ability thanks to various features of the B2B portal may help companies considerably reduce inventory keeping costs.

Other key benefits include:

Low customer acquisition cost

Effective portal branding on the Internet will help to attract customers from new sources. The cost of acquiring customers through online channels is always cheaper than other traditional methods.

Improve customer service

Ability to have constant interaction with customers through the B2B portal helps companies serve customers better. The B2B portal solution allows tracking the whole ordering process from payment to delivery and brings greater efficiency in customer service.

Reduce sourcing time cycle

The customers can select products from the integrated marketplace of the B2B portal and either sends purchase orders or directly buy products using the shopping cart. Buyers handle all their procurement related correspondence from a consolidated working page, which helps them react instantly and reduce time in document processing.

Community participation

Company buyers and sellers can create communities surrounding the B2B portal’s discussion board. This helps getting valuable feedbacks on time, building new partnerships using the networking ability of a community, and disseminating important information to members easily.

Real time access to current product information

Current information of a product is vital for an accurate buying decision. Updating product content and other information using customized forms as it is necessary, the company can help buyers and other associates to take critical decision promptly.

Control rogue spending

Consolidated and automated procurement and approval method stops maverick buying in a company.

Main components of a B2B portal

Supply Chain Management

Supply chain management solutions can deliver great values to company’s existing systems. Implementation of these solutions will help achieving incredibly high return on investment and will have tremendous impact on company’s business, which include: better productivity, faster order processing, greater visibility, the elimination of maverick or unplanned purchasing, etc.

Marketplace

This is the venue where the enterprises can post their products for sale. A sophisticated shopping cart will be integrated into the electronic marketplace in order to automate the buying process.

Auction

Electronic auction system can use both English and Dutch auction methods. For convenience the auction component can be integrated into the electronic marketplace.

Online auction helps liquidate surplus goods easily.

Reverse Auction

This solution allows the company to automate electronic procurement, where suppliers compete for business real time online.

Storefront for Participants

Each associate of the B2B portal will get a Storefront that may reflect profile of the company, its products, services or other information.

Forum

A Forum or a Discussion Board is an organized, on-line interactive message board where participants conduct discussion on a set of topics by posting questions, comments and responses.

Internal Messaging System

Elaborate Messaging System allows a participant of the B2B portal send and receive messages from other participants and the company. Since the messages do not leave a secured server, participants would not be worried about sending sensitive information over the Internet.

Classified

Catalog based bulletin board allows company associates to post important notices in various predefined formats.

Directory of Companies

This is a listing of all registered associates of the B2B portal either by business category or by alphabetical order. An advanced search engine tool is incorporated in order to find a company based on data provided.

E-catalog

E-catalog — a hierarchy of product and service categories based on UNSPCS, a global products and services classification method that covers the broadest collection of industries and commodities available today, and designed to facilitate e-commerce transactions by providing geography-independent common nomenclature system.

Product Content Adding System

Product adding mechanism based on either easy-to-use wizard or simple but detail forms allows users to integrate products or services with accurate and up-to-date information.

Product Notification

The system can generate an alert and send by email to a user, who requested to inform once a particular product or service gets added to the E-catalog.

Numerous other features could be incorporated to an existing B2B portal depending on requirement, such as: News Aggregation using RSS feed, Contact Management, Electronic Journal, Press Room, Document Repository, etc.

Time needed to set up

Using ready made B2B Portal components from a provider like Rusbiz.com a medium size portal can be built or integrated to existing website within three to four months.

By developing a B2B portal ahead of your major competitors you can give your business a significant boost and make your company stand out from the crowd.

Lean Process Improvement – A Means for Service Companies to Increase Productivity and Responsiveness

Lean has brought about amazing changes on the factory floor. Many U.S. firms recognize that in today’s markets, the speed of response to customer demands is a key competitive advantage. These firms have worked continuously to reduce their manufacturing cycle times. By applying lean concepts, companies have transformed the factory and made considerable reductions in manufacturing throughput times; reductions in cycle time in excess of 50 percent are not uncommon.

The principles of Lean Process Improvement can be applied to service processes as well as manufacturing processes. By rethinking and streamlining service processes, some companies have cut expenses by 10 to 30 percent and made steep improvements in internal and external customer satisfaction.

With a few exceptions, companies have been slow to apply lean process improvement principles to service processes such as finance, human resources, accounting, health care and customer service. The problem stems from waste being invisible in service processes. Unlike on the factory floor, where idle workers and stacks of inventory are clear signs of broken processes, waste is usually hidden when it comes to services. It tends to lie in wait between functions and departments, so companies only see a small portion of the problem.

Service processes usually lack standardization. Every employee may have a different method for completing the same task. This lack of standardization and consistency is costly. Complex, inefficient processes are slower, have higher error rates and decrease overall responsiveness and customer satisfaction. There is also a human cost when employees are underutilized by spending their time on low value tasks, they have less time for more rewarding – higher value-added tasks.

Identifying the Problems

Service providers need to embrace the end-to-end process philosophy

Adopting this philosophy is critical to seeing and eliminating waste. Process waste in the form of excess steps, redundant activities, and non-value-added tasks cannot be pigeon-holed. Inefficiency in one part of the process spill over into other activities and other processes.

Inconsistency is a problem for many service processes

For example, during an assessment of a prospective client we observed that each customer service representative (CSR) in the same transaction center handled identical customer lab requests differently. The processing times for each CSR was highly variable as much as 50% difference between CSRs. Further analysis revealed that some CSRs were using short cut methods that decreased their cycle times. The company did not engage in cross-training or knowledge sharing that would improve the overall process and reduce the time in handling lab requests.

Another typical observation of service processes reveal the Pareto principle effect:

A small proportion of the work eats up a large percentage of the total time. A brief sampling of the transaction center processing time for lab requests indicated that approximately 80% of the transactions took about 40% of the total time, the remaining 20%, the more complex ones, accounted for about 60% of the total time. Exceptions like these are an enormous burden on productivity and are typical for most service processes.

Many service organizations are lack the ability or to analyze the workarounds, exceptions, and rework that effect productivity:

In the factory, targets for output and capacity utilization are established and measured, but most service businesses are unable to measure these performance metrics.

In manufacturing, the customer doesn’t see or care about the production process itself, if the product is of acceptable quality and delivered on time. But in health care, banking, insurance, and other service industries the customer is the product moving through the process-and experiencing first-hand the frustration of inefficiency, Satisfaction is crucial, whether the customer is internal or external. Poor satisfaction is costly when it prompts the customers to take their business to a competitor.

Overcoming the Challenges of Lean Service

Making services lean has its challenges. It requires creative thinking in adapting the lean methods to a service environment. To be successful implementing Lean Process Improvement in the service industry requires rethinking of how work is currently done. Being successful in your lean service initiative require the following six components.

Select and map your cross-functional processes

Most processes typically cross functions and departments, not many people involved with them have a complete picture of the end-to-end workflow, interdependencies, and the hidden interfaces. This usually result in costly inefficiencies and high error rates. Before a service process can be improved, its steps must be transparent. A detailed analysis of the process and its subprocesses often reveals inefficiencies, workarounds, and complexity, as well as major performance improvement opportunities. Look for non-valued added steps and analyze information flows to identify silos and constraints.

Reduce complexity whenever possible

Complexity is a major contributor to process inefficiency. Rethink and redesign the process to eliminate elements that sap efficiency. Establish a subroutine for handling exceptions. This allows employees to work more quickly and productively with fewer interruptions.

Define and standardize the work

Focus on reducing variation and increasing knowledge of the process by gathering the input of the people doing the work to arrive at the best-known way to do the work. Once the best-known way is determined, document the methods so that the process steps are repeatable.

Exploit the power of big data

Dramatic advances in computing power and processing speed allow companies to gather large amounts of data and perform data analytics to minimize waste, reduce costs, and improve overall process performance.

Establish and track performance metrics

Establish a set of measures. These measures will help continuously monitor how well the process is performing to customer requirements and provide data that will help you identify and solve process problems.

Cross-train to increase productivity

In some service processes the workload is uneven at different times of the day leading to periods of high activity mixed with periods of downtime. Cross training employees to step in to assist in areas with high workloads can increase productivity and customer satisfaction while reducing these periods of uncontrolled activity.

Implementing lean process improvement in service processes requires continued commitment from the top, but lean is driven from the bottom-up. In other words, service workers are the best source of customer insight and process improvement, so it is important to involve them at the outset of the lean initiative.

For the last 50 years manufacturers have used lean tools to improve productivity, eliminate waste and improve efficiency. The same lean tools can be applied to the service industry, where inconsistency and a lack of standardization increases errors, slow response times and hurt customer satisfaction. By embracing the six components described above, service companies can increase productivity and customer responsiveness.