Performing work functions from a remote location is becoming easier every day. Sophisticated phones are no longer a rarity, and laptops are shedding pounds for easy travel. And most important, the Internet is constantly evolving. Oversized documents can be sent with ease through file-transfer Web sites, and with proprietary Web platforms, a colleague’s desktop can be viewed from abroad by those at the home base in real time.
Online ordering, however, is one aspect of the electronic age that’s been around for a while. But it too has evolved and become more sophisticated. For Independence Tube Corp., Chicago, its portal is a secure site where customers can book orders from existing stock. They can also place orders against future rollings; view the on-hand stock; release orders; submit inquiries, which can develop into purchase orders; and print test reports, invoices and bills of lading at any time from any place. The portal has facilitated more than just the ins and outs of placing material orders, it has heightened efficiency at work for just about anyone who’s dabbled with it.
A few years in the making
Independence Tube first delved into the idea of making its products available online a few years before the portal’s official launch in October 2008. The first attempt at the portal wasn’t in real time, but what Independence Tube discovered was that many of its customers were logging in and releasing orders hours after quitting time. And they were doing the same over the weekends. The after-hours benefits of the online offering compelled Independence Tube to continue to upgrade the portal to the point that its customers rarely have to pick up the phone. The customers, after all, had a hand in getting it to where it is today.
"It was about a year in the making," says John Tassone, marketing manager at Independence Tube, of the work carried out by developers Luke Emery, Ryan Remiker, David Puglielli, Scott Lewein and Roopak Talwar, as well as Alan Goldenberg, chief information officer.
"We went out and surveyed a lot of our customers as to what they wanted to see," Tassone says. "After the initial launch, we did an update because we got a lot of great feedback."
Wisconsin Steel & Tube Corp., Milwaukee, a longtime customer of Independence Tube, got involved early to test the portal’s functionality and see how well it could work. After sitting down with those on the development team, it became easier to place an order. Much of it works like any other online ordering site.
For Independence Tube, its customers start with a shape: a square, rectangle or round. They simply click on the desired shape and then start choosing dimensions, such as 4-inch square tube with a 1/4-inch wall. Once the selection is made, the portal shows everything Independence Tube has on the floor for those specifications at all three of its divisions. This allows the portal users to see available lengths, bundle weights and total pieces on the floor. From there, they can click on the items they want to purchase.
"Let’s say that there’s nothing available on the floor in the quantities that a customer wants," says Tassone, adding that this is an unlikely scenario. "That’s when a customer can choose to order from future rollings. The dates are all available on the portal according to what facility is scheduled for a certain size. A Chicago customer, for example, can filter out the available product at the other Independence Tube locations."
The ability to order and manage inventory that Independence Tube hasn’t even produced yet is a service that Juerg Heyn, purchasing manager at Wisconsin Steel & Tube, raves about.
"Placing orders online isn’t the only advantage that I’ve found with using Independence Tube’s portal," he says. "The site shows stocking levels, rolling information and other information that I usually have to call a person to obtain. I can get that information in seconds through the company’s portal. It’s helpful to know when rollings are scheduled for a certain size because then my purchases can be smaller. I can see that a specific product is rolled every three or four weeks, or whatever the case may be, and order it ahead of time."
Tassone says what started as a user-friendly tool for Independence Tube’s customers ultimately turned into a user-friendly tool for the company’s inside salespeople, as well. As customers place orders without the help of a single Independence Tube representative, the orders are automatically entered into the company’s system. Once an order is placed, it’s sent directly to the shipping department.
"We look at this almost as an additional inside salesperson for when the market gets busy again," Tassone says. "All of the work they would have to do if someone were to send in an inquiry can be done online. It also keeps a browsing history for us so that we can look at all of the different shapes that we make, such as 5 inches by 3 inches by 1/4 inch."
The material management aspect of the portal has been a boon for those at Independence Tube, but it’s also been a godsend for some companies that needed a bit of an inventory management reprieve. Production Cutting Services Inc., East Moline, Ill., is one of those companies. It supplies tubular component parts on a just-in-time basis, and the material it orders from Independence Tube is based on delivery schedules to its own customers.
"The portal simplified the monumental task of tracking what we had and made it more manageable," says Bill Duy, president of Production Cutting Services. "Now I can go, and within three or four minutes, I can look on the Internet to see what I have. It’s a flexible enough system, but the basic benefit to us is being able to see a lot of the different online views, such as by size and by purchase order. We can keep total track of what we have and what we can release. It also helps in terms of building inventory over time. You can look online and see what you have on the floor, what you have on order for future rollings and then place orders for additional material on the next rollings. And in addition, I can build truckloads from the site."
Every opportunity for increased efficiency is a welcomed one. If those opportunities can come during typical off-times or be dictated by the user’s schedule, leaving the office at 5 p.m. becomes more of a possibility. MM