National Envelope Corporation, founded in 1952 by William Ungar, has grown to become the largest envelope manufacturer in the world and one of the largest woman-owned businesses in the United States. Based in Frisco, Texas, the company operates facilities across the US and produces more than 180 million envelopes per day. National Envelope uses Visual LANSA and WAMs to provide browser-based access to its ERP systems, LANSA Integrator for a variety of data assimilation tasks and LANSA Commerce Edition for eCommerce.
Scott Steinacher, Web/Data Architect at National Envelope, says, "We used Visual LANSA and Integrator to develop a sophisticated, browser-based application that provides our user community with a unified view of enterprise data. The system has improved customer service, reduced license fees and simplified training. Using the same tools from LANSA, we can also publish and consume Web services, exchange XML documents, and perform many other tasks without intensive coding."
With LANSA we have developed a sophisticated browser-based application
- The Need to Integrate
- Integration Across Multiple ERPs
- Better Customer Service
- Lasting Success
- Productivity is Key
- Company and System Information
The Need to Integrate
National Envelope has grown dramatically since the nineties through acquisitions and as a result, it maintains two ERP packages (JD Edwards and Baan) and two homegrown legacy solutions. The company relies heavily on the IBM i and logical partitioning and even runs its Informix-based Baan application on the platform.
"Integrating data from diverse systems was one of the challenges faced by the technology group", explains Aaron Brown, IT Director at National Envelope. "Users on both sides of the firewall wanted a unified view of data from across the enterprise."
However, the unique characteristics of each system made it difficult to provide a cohesive view of that data. To help minimize transportation costs, customers can place orders at a location nearest to them. Since customers also often have offices across the country, their orders may reside in multiple systems.
"We wanted to provide a better service experience, especially for those customers who chose to use the phone. They should only have to place one call to their nearest National Envelope office and their questions should be answered immediately," adds Brown.
With that goal in mind, the technology group used Visual LANSA Web Access Modules (WAMs) and LANSA Integrator to create a system that provides browser-based access to order, production, inventory and shipment data across the company.
Users wanted a unified view of data from across the enterprise
Integration Across Multiple ERPs
The new system, aptly named "Unity", culls data from four ERP applications and three databases (DB2/400, Informix and SQL Server). What’s more, it gives users access to millions of PDF documents such as invoices, statements and work orders. Unity runs natively on the IBM i under Apache.
Unity’s main focal point is a single Web page with just four tabs. The Shipments tab displays delivery information, the Production tab provides manufacturing details, while the Order Header and Detail tabs present information about the customer and orders. Within each tab, data appears in grids that can be re-sorted by clicking on any column. Each grid also features subject-sensitive links that can be used to drill down to more detailed data.
In addition to viewing data on Web pages, Unity users can generate and distribute spreadsheets with a wide variety of selection criteria, including date ranges, order types, customer and product attributes. The spreadsheets are not simple 'CSV dumps' that contain flat text data, either. Thanks to LANSA Integrator’s Excel services, columns contain true dates, numbers and so forth, and are professionally formatted with multiple fonts and colors. LANSA Integrator’s SMTP service then delivers the spreadsheets to one or more recipients via email.
As the project progressed, a small group of pilot users helped fine-tune Unity. Most LANSA development and JDE integration was performed by Steinacher, while several programmers provided integration support for the other backend systems. From concept to pilot, the project required roughly three months.
"Overall, LANSA exploits the IBM i and Windows beautifully. It’s really the best of both worlds – the ease-of-use of Windows coupled with the reliability, security, scalability and performance of the IBM i."
Without having to code at sockets level we can populate spreadsheets and Web pages with data from multiple backend databases
Better Customer Service
Sales reps, customer service personnel and other users rely on Unity to access data from across the company. A staff member in an East Coast plant can easily view orders at a facility in California, for example. The need to call around has been greatly reduced.
"Unity is much easier to use than green-screen systems," says Steinacher. "With LANSA WAMs and Weblets, we created an intuitive, modern application that offers lots of context sensitive help and instructions. It even has its own FAQ to answer common questions. There is virtually no need for training. If you can use Amazon.com, you can use Unity."
Theresa Kasesnik, an Account Executive at National Envelope's New York facility, agrees. Kasesnik piloted Unity and contributed to its success. Given that most of her business revolves around custom orders, she receives lots of phone calls about envelope specifications - sizes, colors, materials, prices, availability etcetera.
"With Unity, I can locate orders instantly," says Kasesnik. "For example, if a customer calls about the release or repeat of a specific order, but all he or she knows is that it was for a 9-by-12 white wove envelope, I can find all the orders that match that specification, regardless of where they were processed. I can then zoom in on the results with other criteria. Being able to view what was ordered at other locations and at which price really helps me to make more informed decisions and give better advice to customers."
"Even inquiries where the order number is known are much easier to handle," adds Kasesnik. "In the old system, I would have to navigate through multiple screens to get shipping information and then navigate through another set of screens for invoice information. Now, I can click a tab to get that data. I can even view the actual invoice in PDF format! And when I am in a tab, I can sort the information any way I want, which makes it easy to analyze data right in my browser."
"I estimate that Unity has increased my efficiency level by 20% to 30%", she concludes. "For the customer, that means getting all their questions answered in one phone call."
Ed Ringer, Senior Vice President of IT at National Envelope, points out that from a cost perspective, it is a big plus that Unity is browser-based. "Both Baan and JD Edwards charge license fees per user. With LANSA, we developed a solution that reduces our need for additional licenses. Technology that improves service and helps the bottom line is sorely needed in today’s climate", adds Ringer.
With LANSA we developed a solution that improves service and helps the bottom line
National Envelope's introduction to LANSA was in 2001, when the company wanted to provide its customers with Web-based access to their orders. At that time, the company selected LANSA Commerce Edition and then connected the solution to JD Edwards. In addition to placing orders directly, customers use the site, dubbed @National, to view orders, shipments, inventory, product attributes, invoices, statements and other critical information. The Commerce Edition solution also emails order confirmations and shipment notifications to customers.
"LANSA Commerce Edition was very appealing to us because it came with the source code," explains Steinacher. "We didn't want to build an eCommerce site from the ground up because shopping cart functionality is essentially a commodity service. At the same time, we didn't want to be dependent on a vendor for maintenance tasks. LANSA consultants showed us how to maintain the site ourselves."
"Additional criteria were that the site had to run natively on the IBM i and integrate with JD Edwards. Again, LANSA stood out. It can snap onto JD Edwards and it gave us the option of integrating with other ERP packages should that need arise. So, after an extensive evaluation, we chose LANSA Commerce Edition. And here it is, seven or eight years later, still running strong and meeting our needs."
LANSA Commerce Edition was very appealing to us because it came with the source code
Productivity is Key
Going forward, National Envelope will continue using LANSA to deliver innovative solutions. "Our focus is always on the customer", says Brown. "For the technology group, that means using our expertise to help the company build tighter relationships with its customer base. Whether it’s letting customers view data over the Web or integrating their systems with our own, LANSA helps."
"In lean times, productivity is more important than ever", concludes Steinacher. "We can’t afford to spend hours writing low-level code if tools can do it for us. LANSA’s IDE comes with an editor, compiler, debugger, data dictionary and page designer; and because it supports frameworks, it provides a structured, rapid-development environment. It’s the most pragmatic development solution I’ve seen for the IBM i."
We can’t afford to spend hours writing low-level code if tools can do it for us, in lean times productivity is more important than ever
Company and System information
- National Envelope Corporation, headquartered in Frisco, Texas, is the largest manufacturer of envelopes in the world, with facilities located across the U.S. The company leads the industry in its environmental platform and in the design, print and production of direct mail envelopes.
- National Envelope uses a System i 570 (IBM Power 570) for its operational systems, Unity and ecommerce site.
- Unity is integrated with JD Edwards, Baan (with Informix database) and several homegrown applications that reside in logical partitions on the IBM i. In addition, it integrates with several Microsoft SQL Server-based applications.
- For more information about National Envelope Corporation, visit www.nationalenvelope.com
- Download this Case Study
- Article – IBM Systems Magazine: National Envelope Corporation uses LANSA to glue disparate systems together