AcuSport Scores a Direct Hit With iWay B2B Suite

Distributor of Shooting Sports Products Uses iWay to Exchange Business Documents

Today's distributors compete on a battlefield where success often boils down to who wields the superior information systems. AcuSport, one of the nation's leading distributors of hunting and shooting products thrives in this environment because of its tight, well-integrated business processes – both internally and externally.

To retain its position as an industry leader, AcuSport needs to interface efficiently with its business partners – manufacturers and retailers. That is why AcuSport first set its sights on iWay Software – and today the company relies on iWay's integration technology for exchanging documents with business partners as well as for integrating its own internal information systems.

"Our focus on information technology sets us apart in our industry," says Deb Ward, director of information technology at AcuSport. "One of our goals is to provide information to independent retailers, adding value to their businesses. When you own your own business, time is money. By providing easy access to reliable information, retailers can efficiently access information, place orders, and generally make better overall business decisions.

"It doesn't matter how we exchange information. iWay can translate it and populate the correct modules within our ERP [enterprise resource planning] system to process and fulfill orders, handle billing, and automate all aspects of our B2B [business-to-business] transactions. iWay simplifies our business so we can focus on value and quality and things that customers really care about."

Hunting Down a New System

AcuSport distributes products from more than 250 worldwide manufacturers to independent retail business owners. Previously, AcuSport's IT staff developed custom interfaces to exchange item information, pricing updates, inventory status, purchase orders, and other documents. AcuSport integrated this information with a packaged ERP system on an IBM iSeries platform, and also used a packaged electronic data interchange (EDI) system from Gentran that ran on the iSeries.

As business volume accelerated, developing B2B interfaces became progressively more complicated, tedious, and time consuming. AcuSport's developers had to work with numerous order formats and network protocols to exchange documents, as well as create custom interfaces between the legacy iSeries-based applications and a product information management (PIM) application from Stibo Systems.

"We were taking incoming transaction information and converting it by hand to formats that would work within our system," Ward explains. "All that one-off coding to exchange information with business partners was an inefficient use of IT resources. We began looking for a solution that would allow us to quickly integrate trading-partner documents with our software applications."

After carefully surveying the integration vendor landscape, AcuSport focused on iWay Software. "iWay is iSeries-literate," Ward explains. "They had components to interface with our iSeries platform. We wanted to use our developers' existing skill sets, and we wanted new integration artifacts to be reusable."

iWay hit the bull's-eye on all these points. AcuSport purchased the software after working with iWay to devise a proof of concept. With help from Information Builders Professional Services, Ward and her team quickly gained proficiency with the new integration environment. "We learned a lot by working with the iWay consultants," she says. "They were very responsive to our questions and have been instrumental in making sure our iWay deployment was successful."

Gaining Precision With iWay's B2B Suite

AcuSport's first iWay interface connects an iSeries-based e-commerce application called e-OnLine to PIM, where the distributor maintains all item master data and product specifications. "The XML format data in Stibo PIM was very complex," Ward says. "iWay was able to interpret it and reformat it into the file formats we needed."

Next, AcuSport created interfaces with FedEx to automate proof of delivery and electronic cash on delivery (COD) transactions. AcuSport also replaced its Gentran EDI system with iWay as its B2B gateway for EDI X12 and non-EDI X12 business transactions.

"We replaced our old EDI software with iWay to save money and simplify our business processes," Ward says, noting that Gentran used a character mode interface and dial-up phone lines. "iWay enabled us to use FTP instead, which is much faster and easier to use. Now our customers can create purchase orders in Microsoft Excel and iWay will translate the information into the correct format for the iSeries."

AcuSport also uses iWay to communicate with manufacturers by sending purchase orders, receiving invoices, and confirming vendor inventory status. Formerly, AcuSport relied on the Gentran EDI system to handle many of these processes, which was cumbersome and expensive. Ward estimates that iWay has reduced design, development, and maintenance cycle times by more than 50 percent.

Targeting Improvements in Business Process Automation (BPA)

By establishing system-to-system links with its trading partners, AcuSport is improving business relationships and streamlining the supply chain. For example, when vendors and manufacturers introduce new products, they can send product information and descriptions to AcuSport in Excel, which iWay can translate and integrate into its electronic catalogs.

iWay also automates downstream connections with firearms retailers to fulfill customer orders. "We send retailers our catalog information, inventory status, and pricing," Ward explains. "They can then display our merchandise on their Web sites. Our catalog becomes their store. iWay passes customer orders into our order fulfillment system. We pack and ship the orders under the retailer's name. iWay manages the exchanges and translates the data into the correct file formats."

iWay not only automates these connections, but also handles monitoring, troubleshooting, and notifications. "The closed-loop application we created allows us to use iWay to monitor the responses from trading partners so we know they received each transaction. If the system does not get an acknowledgement back from a trading partner, iWay sends a notification so we can follow up. This functionality saves us time and money by allowing us to focus on any exceptions."

Now that these fundamental B2B processes are in place, it is relatively easy to add new trading partners. "We can bring in a new partner and get them online and working with our systems more quickly than before," Ward says. "That capability makes AcuSport a more attractive business partner."

What's the cost of achieving this competitive edge? AcuSport is spending less time than ever before developing these interfaces, now that its developers have become proficient with iWay. "They spend much less of their time on integration efforts," Ward confirms. "Consequently, their time is used on other projects that add value to our business."

Other savings stem from the inherent reusability of iWay interfaces and the economies of scale that come from standardizing on a flexible and extensible integration platform. "iWay is very scalable and gives us a core platform to build on," says Ward. "If we create an interface for a new retailer, we can reuse it for another retailer with only minor modifications to accommodate the unique nuances of their transactions."

Going forward, iWay is AcuSport's middleware of choice for creating both internal and external interfaces. Ward believes iWay's BPA capabilities can simplify application-to-application interfaces in connection with the ERP system.

"iWay streamlines the development cycle, and once those interfaces are in place it makes business go more smoothly for everyone," she summarizes. "iWay cuts costs out of the supply chain by building efficient links. iWay supports our mission to leverage technology to remain a leader in our industry."