Wholesale Specialty Food Distributor | Logistics | Supply Chain | Grocery

It wasn’t too long ago that most companies relied upon row after row of filing cabinets to house their financial documents. But in an increasingly digital world, more companies are digitizing their documents so company representatives can access them right at their desks and establish an immediate dialogue with customers. It’s a giant step forward compared to the age of cabinet reliance. The, next logical step is customer self-service, wherein customers can log in to a website to find their own documents.

One company embracing this mindset is Stanz Foodservice, particularly when it comes to signed invoices. Thanks to a collaboration between S4i Systems and NCR, Stanz now has a system that allows its customers to search for these documents with a few simple clicks, download them as needed and even email them to whomever needs to see them.

As Mark Gaddie, VP of IT with Stanz, explains, “Before S4i Express and NCR Power Net came along, we would have to go to a filing cabinet, pull the invoice and hope the customer had a fax machine. If not, we’d have to drop it in an envelope, slap a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Now we can provide that same information in a much more effective timespan, with the customer deciding when they want it—even if we’re not immediately available.”

“Because we’re in the food-service industry, ‘service’ is obviously a keyword for us.”

Mark Gaddie

VP of IT, Stanz Foodservice

Creating Partnerships

A broad-line food distributor, Stanz sells bulk grocery items such as frozen foods, fresh produce, meat, seafood, paper products and chemicals for cleaning. It also has a beverage department that sells its Stanz-label coffee, as well as having service techs who install and maintain coffee equipment.

Headquartered in South Bend, Indiana, the company services clients not only in its home state, but also Illinois, Michigan and Missouri. Its customers are nearly as wide-ranging, including school districts, regional and chain restaurants, and the University of Notre Dame, among many others. It has a store located near its warehouse that’s open to the general public.
That Stanz has been in business since 1923 is a testament to its quality of service and an emphasis on customer service. These, of course, are tightly intertwined, which is why Stanz is so focused on its IT underpinnings, although, as Gaddie notes, “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, we’re partnering with vendors such as S4i and NCR who have great products and great people who support them. That’s why we can have an IT staff of only three, including me.”

Running in an IBM Power Systems* environment, some of these solutions include NCR’s Power Enterprise, Power Warehouse, Power Sell, Store Point, Power Mobile and Power Net, as well as critical S4i tools such as Express and Express WebView. It also uses Kofax Capture to scan documents in conjunction with S4i Express for later digital retrieval.
Stanz has been a longtime NCR customer for ERP, warehouse management, sales support, and point-of-sale and online order entry. While that might be enough for many companies, Stanz saw opportunities to further enhance and streamline its back-office operations. Initially, this involved using Express to create document overlays—in lieu of preprinted forms—to merge customer invoice information with electronically generated and stored Stanz-specific invoice forms.

“A lot of customers in our industry like to have a copy of their invoice left with them when we make a delivery, but we also require a signed copy for ourselves. So we use the Express overlays to create all of our invoices, loading up a laser printer with carbonless paper and printing two copies of each page, one for us and one for the customer. When a driver makes a delivery, he leaves one copy for them and brings the signed copy, with any notations he may have made, back to us. That has actually worked out pretty well,” Gaddie remarks.

Keyword: Service

But Stanz still saw room for improvement. In the past, the signed copy of the invoice would be physically filed away. Although it was sorted according to customer and invoice number, people still had to leave their desks to retrieve it should any issues arise. The company eventually began releasing invoice information over its Power Net customer portal but signed copies with driver notations were not available.

To help alleviate this, the company began delving deeper into the capabilities of S4i Express. It soon discovered that it could scan the signed invoices with the Kofax tool and then index the invoices with Express based on any number of parameters, including customer ID, invoice number and invoice date. Stanz employees would then be able to access invoices on their desktop systems—and print and email them as needed—and thereby reduce the need to physically warehouse invoices for future reference.

Gaddie and others within the company wondered, however, if they couldn’t extend this process even further. Although Stanz could have used S4i Express WebView to provide such information to its customers, this would have required them signing into two separate systems—Power Net for placing orders and gaining access to numbers-only invoices, and WebView for viewing signed invoices. This, of course, was quickly dismissed, as it went against Stanz’s customer-first policy.

Given it was already using NCR Power Net for online customer order entry and basic invoice details, the company began mulling over other possible ways to deal with this issue—ones that wouldn’t be so onerous to its customers. The ideal solution would be turning the Power Net portal into a two-way street, with incoming orders flowing one way and signed-invoice information the other.

Gaddie reached out to both S4i and NCR to see if such a solution was viable. “They began working together to integrate the two systems, Express and Power Net, so customers wouldn’t have to use separate credentials depending on what they were doing—so they could access WebView and their invoices from within Power Net,” Gaddie says. “Because S4i and NCR have a large overlapping customer base, they had no problem collaborating on this and saw it as a win-win for everyone.”

And so it was. Customers now simply log in to one system to order products and view signed invoices. That separate systems handle each function is immaterial to them. Additionally, they can filter which invoices they want to view based on their own requirements, such as date ranges or whether the invoices were dropped off at the time of shipment or generated using NCR Store Point at Stanz’s storefront.

Using Express and Kofax, Stanz simply scans the invoices—as it had in the past—indexes them based on specified criteria and then stores them within the IFS on its Power Systems server. After 14 days, those files are migrated off the Power Systems box and stored on what Gaddie calls “less expensive media.” No matter where it’s stored, however, the difference in online retrieval time is negligible.

“Some organizations may not need access to the online version of the original invoice—it may have been digitized or carefully filed on their end—but others do. If that’s the case, they can simply turn to our site to get the invoice information they need. And because we’re in the food-service industry, ‘service’ is obviously a keyword for us,” Gaddie remarks.

Keeping Up With the Big Boys

For many companies, the days of a field of filing cabinets are quickly becoming a distant memory. This is a boon for everyone, whether they’re vendors or customers. Invoicing information can now be easily accessible online, with a user ID and a few points and clicks.

And thanks to collaborative efforts among end users and their vendors—such as that between Stanz, S4i and NCR—new and innovative ideas are always coming to the forefront, giving even lean IT teams such as Gaddie’s a chance to continue to innovate to push their businesses forward.

As he puts it, “As an independent food distributor, we have to keep finding ways to compete with the larger companies. Thankfully, by having partners like S4i and NCR, we’re able to level the playing field from the technological side of things, which means we can more effectively compete with the big boys.”