On an inconspicuous industrial estate in Sulzengasse in Vienna’s 23rd district you will find a whole world of books. Based in one of the long buildings on the estate is Mohr Morawa, Austria’s leading book wholesaler. Just inside the entrance to the building is a 24,000 square metre warehouse which holds more than 100,000 titles from 260 different publishers. This is where the books pause on their way to readers’ living rooms or bedside tables. Millions of books from Austrian, German, Swiss, British and American publishing houses pass through Mohr Morawa’s warehouse every year. From its Sulzengasse site Mohr Morawa supplies booksellers and other stores that sell books all over Austria and in the neighboring province of Southern Tyrol. Within Vienna the books are transported by the company’s own eight trucks, but outside the city the wholesaler uses a transport company to dispatch the books, generally within 24 hours of the order being received, provided that the titles are in stock and do not have to be ordered from the publishers.
As well as providing regular supplies of books to its customers, Mohr Morawa also has to handle large numbers of enquiries. The booksellers’ customers may have read book reviews in the daily papers or in magazines or have seen a book reviewed on television and, as a result, would like to buy a copy. However, their local bookshop does not have the book in stock, perhaps because it has been very popular and the shop has sold out, or perhaps because the title is relatively obscure. For many years the next step was for the bookseller to call the wholesaler Mohr Morawa to find out “whether the book was in the warehouse, whether it could be delivered in 24 hours, whether it had to be back ordered from the publisher who might be based abroad, and, in that case, when a delivery could be expected.”
In order to answer all these questions, the employees at Mohr Morawa had to search the database of the company’s merchandise management system. Even though it was possible to find the required information relatively quickly, it was often not fast enough for the customer. “Instead of waiting for an answer the customer would simply leave the shop and go to the next bookstore in the hope of finding the book there or, in the meantime, would have changed his mind and decided not to buy the book at all, because the whole process was taking too long,” says Christian Langer, IT manager at Mohr Morawa.
Progress® OpenEdge® as a Platform for Web Services
Many booksellers therefore wanted to be able to search Mohr Morawa’s stocks online via the Web, instead of having to call the company to find out about the availability of different titles. “As a company with a major focus on customer service, we took up the idea and put a solution in place,” says Langer. Two areas needed work: a Web interface had to be added to the booksellers’ merchandise management system, and Mohr Morawa had to modify its own applications based on Progress technologies. As an extension of the original solution it is now possible for booksellers to start an inquiry with Mohr Morawa using the list of available books on the Web rather than the merchandise management system.
For several years the wholesaler has been using a business-critical solution based on Progress technologies which runs on the AIX operating system on IBM RS/6000 servers. The application includes functions such as order entry, procurement and fulfillment and coordinates the flow of goods between suppliers, customers, the warehouse and logistics. “The good news for management was that we didn’t need any additional hardware. Only our merchandise management system had to be Web-enabled,” explains Langer. Together with a Progress consultant, Langer developed a concept and implemented it in the space of only one day.
The initial stage involved an employee from Mohr Morawa’s IT department installing an Apache Web server, with Tomcat as the Java servlet container. These were the only products which Mohr Morawa needed to acquire. The two open source products, Apache and Tomcat, run on Windows XP and are used as an environment for executing Java code on Web servers. A module called “mod-jk” is responsible for communications between Apache and Tomcat.
The Progress® Web Services Adapter (WSA) acts as a container within Tomcat and communicates with the Progress® OpenEdge® Application Server on the IBM RS/6000. “By taking a few easy steps we were able to implement a fully functioning Web services environment in a very short period of time. Within a few hours we had created a 4GL procedure with input and output parameters that extracted the necessary information from the Progress database, installed all the new software, coded and deployed the Web services and successfully tested the whole new solution,” says Langer in summary.
In order to be able to use the new service, the booksellers had to install a new Web-enabled release of their merchandise management system. The developers of the industry software integrated the necessary module into their product in advance. The complete solution has been in full operation since November 2005. Booksellers can now easily find out about the availability of books at Mohr Morawa online. Of the 170 customers to whom Mohr Morawa sends electronic delivery notes, around 40 were using the new service after four months. The aim is to bring this figure up to 100 within twelve months and, in the final stage, to reach almost all of the customers who do business online with the wholesaler.
Focus on Service
Even after only a few months everyone is benefiting from the online enquiry system. Booksellers can provide the customers in their shops with a better service. Instead of having to wait several minutes for information on the telephone from the wholesaler, the shops can now provide their customers with a response over the Web in just a few seconds. “The shorter the time the customer has to wait, the more likely it is that an enquiry will become an order,” says Langer. In his opinion the quality of the service is a major competitive factor, because this is the only way for a wholesaler.
At Mohr Morawa the volume of telephone enquiries fell significantly in the first few months after the online system was introduced. According to Langer, “In quiet periods we had several hundred calls and in busy times a few thousand. The drop in the number of calls of this type was immediately obvious because of the fall in telephone costs. In this respect alone the investment will have paid for itself in a very short time.”