Terminal manufacturer Wyse Technology was still doing business the old-fashioned way in late 1999.
"We had things like automated fax communication with acknowledgements [of orders] and shipping confirmation," recalls Phil Underwood, Wyse's VP of administration and field operations. "Nothing was horrendously broken."
And Wyse wanted to keep it that way, even as the company eased into the Internet age.
"What we wanted to do was increase the level of service to our partners" - about 100 OEMs and top-tier distributors. The latter funnel sales from 2,500 worldwide resellers to Wyse.
There was no dearth of companies eager to sell Wyse a solution. But, says Underwood, "They were all either very expensive or addressed only a small piece of the puzzle." He'd heard too many horror stories of multimillion-dollar B2B initiatives that failed to work as planned.
Asera Inc. was the only company that grabbed Underwood's attention. Asera's proposal included "breadth of functionality. We could choose to do just an e-business implementation, or we could expand that to doing a community with online chat capabilities, to doing auctions."
Also, the vendor could rapidly customize the components of its Asera eService platform that Wyse initially selected, unlike some vendors that offered inflexible, so-called total solutions. "We could bite off one or two pieces today, and over a period of time expand the functionality we offered," says Underwood.
Asera's price, schedule and guarantee were the clinchers - less than $500,000 to get Wyse online within 90 days. If Asera missed the deadline, it would waive the start-up fees.
Wyse wanted to give its key customers "24 x 7 access to product information, order status, etc., and speed up communications so when they place an order with us, they get the acknowledgement back in 15 minutes, not on a nightly fax," says Underwood.
"We were looking at improving the availability of Wyse and the level of information provided, as well as being able to add some new functionality as we progressed."
"Wyse was very concerned about how quickly this could be done," recalls Kurt Garbe, Asera's COO. "They didn't want to go through typical systems integration or long internal development projects. They wanted something that could be done quickly, and they really liked Asera's service model."
Founded in October 1998, Asera kept a low profile during its development stage. "We didn't even have a mar-com [marketing communications] Web site," says Garbe.
Asera, according to Garbe, "spent the first nine or 10 months of [its] existence focused on how to integrate all the best-of-breed [software] components," even before selecting any components. "That's the opposite of the usual approach, where 70 percent of effort goes into integration of selected components," he says.
"We hired some senior execs and gave them the freedom to ask, 'If I had to do this over, what would I do differently?' " Garbe continues. (Many of the founders and early hires came from Oracle. In fact, former Oracle president Ray Lane joined Asera's board on Nov. 16.)
"Then we decided that the overall application would be sell-side B2B," specifically, channel distribution sales. "Then we selected best-of-breed components and integrated them," Garbe explains.
More than 15 companies supply those components, including Cisco, E.piphany (customer interaction software), Marketsoft (Internet direct marketing), Moai (auctions), Oracle, Qwest, Sun and Webmethods (integrating Oracle back ends to B2B Web sites).
Thinking first about the "how" of software integration made it possible to design an open, flexible system. "We didn't know if we'd need to add auctions later, so we designed the platform to make it easy to do so, or to change to newer technology down the road." The key was using nonproprietary, standards-based component software, XML and Java.
"Wyse could use another integrator and Asera's tools to add another vendor's components later. There is no closed-system paradigm here," says Garbe.
The result is unique, he adds. "We're not a commodity ASP, though we do use a pay-to-use model. We're not a systems integrator, because we have built from scratch. We're not a software developer, because we don't have an expensive, inflexible platform."
It seems that Asera is a new, more agile species of service provider - specifically, one that's able to morph its limbs to fit a client's task, even grow new parts on demand.
"That was really the key for Wyse," says Garbe. "They knew they needed to be able to adapt ... If Wyse's customers and distributors responded poorly and were doing only a small percent of their business over the Web, Wyse wouldn't want to pay a lot for the service. But if Wyse finds that a lot of customers are using it and want to add new features, they really need that flexibility."
Wyse's wish list for this first e-biz effort was not very long. It wanted customers to have 24 x 7 access to product catalogs and technical documents; online ordering; and order tracking.
But, Garbe notes, "In business-to-business, you have credit checks, billing vs. shipping addresses, and customers have a different kind of credit history and product history. That's where a lot of configuration comes in. Everyone wants to do business over the Web based on what their customers need, versus saying, 'OK, here's how you have to do business with us.' "
Underwood also wanted flexibility. "I was concerned about not ending up with something that was heavily customized and limited future migration."
The actual implementation took a little less than 90 days. The Asera team spent the first month understanding Wyse's business process and the second month configuring Asera eService to fit into that process.
Then Wyse brought in several of its distributors to look at a "pre" live version of the system. "That's where we have a lot of interaction with the customers to make sure they're actually going to use the system," Garbe says.
"It was a way of getting their buy-in," Underwood adds.
Integrating Asera eService with Wyse's Oracle back-end systems was the most crucial part of the job. "We have to get the real order status and the real pricing information off the back-end systems," including integration of 15 data streams from different parts of Wyse's Oracle system. "That took a level of work," which was eased by Webmethods' B2B integration tool kit.
Says Underwood, "We had to export a significant amount of data to them. That meant a lot of custom feeds that previously we hadn't done."
But there were no crises during the job. "The drama came long before we launched Asera eService," notes Garbe. "The real drama was in integrating 10 to 15 different software packages and leaving room for more in the future."
About 50 of Wyse's top customers have started to use the system since it went live in April. Nearly 30 percent of Wyse's revenue is channeled through Asera eService.
"When I'm doing a review with my management," says Underwood, "I say, 'It's great, we're there already.' But I'm thinking, 'No, no, we should be doing better than that.' In reality, I'm fairly pleased."
Which is what Garbe likes to hear. "As long as the relationship is good, we keep getting paid."
Customer: Wyse Technology Inc., San Jose, Calif., www.wyse.com
Customer's Industry: Thin-client terminals
Customer's Size: 1,000 employees
Customer's Business Problem: Provide 24 x 7 extranet for 100 OEM and distributor customers
Lead Partner: Asera Inc., Belmont, Calif, www.asera.com
Deal Maker: Hosted à la carte solution, low initial cost
Competitors: Cysive, Lante, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, UptimeOne
Software: Sun Solaris, Oracle Financials, Asera's eService platform, Active Software's (now Webmethods Enterprise) B2B integration tools
Service Providers: Cybersource payment service, iSyndicate news feed, Qwest CyberCenter
Result: 30 percent of Wyse revenue flows through extranet