Products Direct is MPW’s e-commerce website for the sale of water treatment consumables and aftermarket supplies backed by 24/7 order and technical support.
EWOs are part of a new digital process that replaces paper work-order forms for Industrial Water and at select sites within the Facility & Environmental Management Division. The new system decreases the time involved in invoicing service orders; reduces errors and improves water-system services; and improves communication among Logistics, Dispatch, Drivers and Plant Managers.
Customer Portal will allow online ordering and scheduling of mobile equipment, access to past work orders and real-time analytics from active DI trailers (known as remote monitoring). It’s optional, but available for every IW customer beginning this November.
There is a learning curve with any recent technology, so we recently connected with Director of IT Tony Miller, Products Direct Project Manager David Mease and Products Direct Sales Manager Shawn Foraker to discuss MPW’s newest innovative projects.
Give us the rundown on Electronic Work Orders.
Miller: Drivers for Industrial Water are already using them and we’ll roll them out to IW Field Service Technicians within the next month or so. We’re also piloting EWOs at FEM locations including Kenworth, BMW, VW and Toyota. We actually developed separate applications for IW and FEM. The early feedback has been extremely positive. We’re getting more accurate data to our customers quicker. The drivers, who have all been issued mobile tablets, love them because the app automatically completes parts of the form for them, saving them a significant amount of time.
What advantages will the Customer Portal provide clients and MPW personnel?
Miller: Customers are excited about it. They like the real-time integration. Internally, the automatic scheduling will reduce our call volume. It will produce an organized audit trail — which is a report of exactly who ordered what — as well as a transparency of records. The real-time automated data will sync with our remote monitoring equipment and allow for prediction of trailer exhaustion. This will result in better logistics execution and better customer service. As far as we know, we’re the first in the industry to allow customer access to this information online. Future enhancements for clients will include tracking our trailers on a digital map, with estimated delivery times and more dashboard metrics.
How has Products Direct performed in its first year?
Mease: We’ve come a long way. It’s the first e-commerce website MPW has been involved in. MPW built, tested and launched the site. Initially, business was slow. We didn’t know if there was a market for what we were trying to sell. But now we’re to the point where we’re getting bid requests sent to sales every week. It’s everything from people who want filters for ponds on their property, all the way up to municipal and industrial users. Besides the direct revenue the site generates, it also serves as advertising for MPW because we feature some of our services on the site, including: membranes, rebedding, ion exchange, Electrodeionization and Engineering and Fabrication. Although direct purchase of these services is not yet available, we have some valuable content available, including overviews, case studies and videos.
Miller: We’ve doubled the number of products offered and grown our traffic and visibility. Eventually, Customer Portal will live on the Products Direct website, so those services will be cohesive.
Foraker: The number of referrals we’ve been able to track from the site has been encouraging. Also, the number of customers we’ve registered to use the site is impressive. The sales team has been really helpful with this and we’re expecting to log even more registrations from our ASMs.
How has MPW set Products Direct apart from competing e-commerce sites?
Foraker: The site is really convenient for customers because they can make payments, access previous purchase data and easily reorder products. I think the photos on our site set us apart from our competitors. The majority of competitors don’t even show photos of their products on their e-commerce sites. I also think our site has a cleaner look and is more user friendly than most competing sites. Our Services Section has led to more incoming calls. It’s another category most of our competitors don’t offer on their sites, or if they do offer them, it’s from a third party.
Mease: I think we’ve done an exceptional job ensuring the site meets certain parameters — such as fully deployed structured data — that help people find us on search engines. Also, our visual display (product photos, etc.) is better than what you usually find on competing e-commerce websites.
What are the main tasks involved in managing Products Direct?
Mease: First, it was setting up all the inventory and integrating it with JD Edwards, which is MPW’s inventory data management program. Next, we constructed the platform. Then, Software Developer Alex Bishard built the front-end components of the site.
Foraker: The ongoing parts of managing the site include the addition of products to meet market demands. Safety equipment was just recently added, which not only adds an entire category of equipment we can sell, but it displays MPW’s ongoing focus on safety. The category of ion exchange resin was also added recently. We’re working on improving our shipping and lead time.
How do you think these technologies help customers view MPW as a business that’s focused on innovation?
Miller: They show that we’re an industry leader in visible data to customers, as well as automation. These investments in our business lead to a better customer experience. They’re also another way for customers to communicate with us. There are more and more people who expect to be able to access everything on their phone, so these technologies cater to those people. Also, a lot of our recent tech advances are focused on helping customers as well as MPW personnel. The EWOs represent a huge improvement in resource coordination and the tracking of projects and customer requests.
Mease: We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from significant customers who are impressed with our technological advancements. In the industry, it’s a big deal to offer technologies that can help clients work more efficiently.
What does it say about MPW and the IT Department that we’re able to successfully take on all these projects?
Miller: MPW’s investments made in IT, including the Technology Center, have given us the resources to tackle projects of this magnitude. The importance of this technology can’t be overstated. For example, giving our clients access to our remote monitoring data could keep a power plant from shutting down due to a shortage of purified water. This could potentially save millions of dollars.