Readymixed documents for CSR

Readymixed documents for CSR

Feedback from a customer survey indicated a "major opportunity" in the area of invoice and statement query times for CSR Construction Materials. Gerard Knapp reports on how a CD-based document retrieval system improved response times.

After only eight months, CSR Construction Materials expects to recover its $20,000 investment on a new CD-ROM archival system.

The rapid payback is a result of the dramatic improvement in customer service provided by the document management technology. Faster responses means CSR is able to reduce costs in its customer support section, while customers enjoy an improved level of service, with most account enquiries solved within two minutes, rather than 10.

At the heart of this CD-ROM repository is IMR's popular Alchemy archival software, which includes a powerful search and retrieval engine.

Combined with the Datagrabber compression program, the Sydney-based operation is able to store electronic copies of all customer invoices and statement data for 12 months - about 240,000 documents - within less than 100MB of disk space.

"The compression works so well, you have to seriously question the need for CD-ROM," commented CSR Construction Materials information systems manager Peter Warren.

"But it's very important to us to have CD-ROMs. It's invaluable to be able to write all the records to CD-ROM, and then distribute the copies to our regional offices."

And when those offices receive a CD-ROM, they are able to quickly access the information. A CD-ROM produced using Alchemy includes a search and retrieval application on each disc, which means the offices do not need to purchase the software to search and retrieve documents.

Before and After

Previously, when a CSR customer rang to enquire about their purchase of Readymix concrete or other construction products, the CSR support officer could access the information on-line, but it was not in in the same format as the customer's copy.

The result was confusion at both ends. If the support officer wanted to view the same document and send a copy to the customer, the officer would have to end the call, search through a microfiche system, make a printed copy and fax it to the customer.

After replacing the microfiche, the support officer would then attempt to call back the customer.

This process would take on average about 10 minutes for each enquiry. Each day CSR would field over 40 such enquiries requiring microfiche access (out of some 17,000 documents per month).

Mr Warren said feedback from a recent customer survey indicated a "major opportunity" in the area of invoice and statement query times.

CSR now has an automated process to create a data file for input to the Alchemy system at the time of invoice and statement production. This is followed by a manual (soon to be sutomated) step of uploading the data into the Alchemy database on a Novell network, using Datagrabber.

By directly retrieving this formatted data, and overlaying an invoice or statement template at the PC, the call time is reduced to two minutes, as the support officer is able to stay online and view exactly the same invoice or statement as the customer.

The officer can then use the installed fax LAN system to fax a copy directly from Alchemy to the customer.

These improvements have been achieved with a package costing $20,000, comprising Alchemy software ($10K), Hewlett-Packard 4020 CD writer and CD-ROM stacker ($10K). The application runs on the installed HP 486/586 workstations operating with Windows 3.1, and will move shortly to Windows 95.

Mr Warren estimated a "conservative" ROI of eight months, calculated on the savings of 5.5 hours each day to deal with account enquiries and based on a standard salary rate of $45K per annum (including on costs).

The implementation has proved so successful that the system is now being implemented across Australia.

No scanning required

In addition, CSR no longer needs to scan to microfiche copies of the invoices and statements it mails to customers.

Ironically, impressive payback could have been cut to under three months if the scanning of the separate delivery dockets was incorporated into the system.

Although the Alchemy software and CD-ROM stacker could accommodate the extra storage demands created by electronically scanning some 50,000 dockets per month, this option was not practical due to "strategic developments" within CSR, Mr Warren said.

Among these developments is the gradual roll-out of a new, SAP/R3 system operating with an Oracle database.

This major IT project, under CSR group IS manager Graham Madsen) will cover the four separate divisions of CSR globally (including sugar, timber products and building materials).

In addition, the organisation is investigating how it could incorporate the SAP system with a production-level imaging solution, and has already had discussions with imaging vendors.

Currently, the Parramatta office of CSR Construction Materials deals with a wide variety of docket formats produced by some 100 remote sites.

Many sites still use dot matrix printers (laser printers clog up with sand) and the "quality is not up to scratch for scanning", he said.

The information on the delivery dockets is still keyed in manually, with the originals then sent off for scanning to microfiche, then stored off-site in a warehouse.

With some 50,000 dockets per month, Mr Warren said there had been only a minimal number of cases where 'proof of delivery' has been used as a key factor in litigation, so a move to using electronic data for customer docket queries, rather than the paper copy is high on the agenda.