Prototype system helps Applied Materials organize approvals on
complex custom product specs, but not without tradeoffs.
Game On For Gamification Of Business
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The idea of creating an enterprise social network hasn't taken hold at Applied Materials, but more focused applications of the SAP StreamWork social collaboration tool just might.
Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Applied Materials makes high-precision tools and equipment used for manufacturing semiconductors and other high-tech products, such as solar panels. The ambitious application it has prototyped in StreamWork would take charge of the complex process of specifying a piece of custom-designed equipment and quoting a price for it, replacing an application previously created on Lotus Notes.
According to Priti Rastogi, senior manager of the global information services group that supports marketing, sales, and order management at Applied Materials, the StreamWork app would automate the process of "collaborative workflow [for a critical] configuration accuracy meeting"--inviting participants, setting up a templated agenda with a series of required checkbox items, and tracking follow-up actions. The configuration documents produced by this process are "10 levels deep, very complex," she said, and agreement between the company and the customer is required before a sales order can move forward.
"We're closing high-dollar-value deals, but low volume," Rastogi explained, so every deal is important. The idea is that the application would be used to set up the meeting, to assign follow-up actions during the meeting, and to track those actions and make sure they get done.
SAP has other customers who are farther along with StreamWork. We featured one of them, the furniture company Vitra, a few months ago. I met Rastogi at the SAP Sapphire conference in Orlando this week, introduced by SAP executives who wanted to dramatize the kind of complex business processes StreamWork can be used to manage. What's interesting about Rastogi's story is the thought process leading Applied Materials to StreamWork--and the trade-offs getting in the way.
Applied Materials is moving away from Lotus Notes as an application platform. Meanwhile, the company has been expanding its commitment to SAP. In addition to using the core platform for financial management, Applied Materials has adopted SAP CRM in some of its business units, such as solar. For an application as critical as this one to closing sales, a collaboration platform that could take its cues from SAP CRM was attractive. One of the advantages of the StreamWork prototype app is that it can extract user and user group information from SAP CRM to determine who should be invited to one of these pre-sale configuration meetings. The system is also flexible enough to allow additional participants to be added manually.
"It's pretty secure because you can set up StreamWork so the only people able to see the activity are the ones you invited," Rastogi said. Applied Materials has not previously invested in an enterprise social network and has a corporate culture very sensitive to protecting information and intellectual property, she said. "We're highly averse to any kind of risk."
However, Rastogi's team is still negotiating with the business users to determine whether they are willing to give up access to some of the metrics the old Notes app provided that the new StreamWork app so far cannot. "There's limited capability to extract data [like] how long it takes for an action item to close. We cannot get a consolidated report for that kind of data," she said. "I think we'll be able to work around it," she said, but it's not a sure thing.
In other words, StreamWork does a good job of managing the process but not at providing reporting data on how well and quickly the process was completed. This sounds like a simple issue of product maturity, and Rastogi said she has been assured it will be addressed in an update. For the moment, Applied Materials has made a commitment to using StreamWork--but not necessarily to moving forward with this particular application.
Another possibility she is looking at is a "deal playbook," in which sales representatives would map out all the steps they take on the way to a sale, turning it into a more repeatable process. "Today, we do the same sort of thing, but we do it all in Excel," Rastogi said. That might be the application Applied Materials winds up moving forward with immediately, she said.
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