The overall framework envisioned by the IS Division manager should efficiently support interaction and cooperation between various types of partners (customers and suppliers), while the required functionality should be delivered over the Internet. There was no doubt that the need to exchange information was critical within the company's business community (Sodhi, 2001). As expected, the manager was earlier convinced that, by integrating computers and data communications into the business process, the company could benefit from exchanging information electronically, in that they reduce paperwork, minimize cost and improve response time.
Securing the approval of the company's executive board towards going ahead with the associated project development and the recognition of the need to reconsider the existing organizational structure in order to involve more parts of the business in it were the first big challenges emerging. During his meetings with the members of the executive board and the managers of all divisions involved during the implementation of the project, the IS Division manager was giving particular emphasis to the major issues listed earlier in this paper, in the section of analysis and design issues.
The system was implemented in about 15 months. For its implementation, all employees of the IS Division were involved, while two more experienced people, working at a big software house, were hired for part-time work. The system integrated a set of off-the-shelf tools, thus assuring a robust, scalable and fast development cycle. The major challenge during the implementation was to provide the company with new levels of flexibility, while helping their partners rewrite the rules of their business, and ensure the functionality needed to respond rapidly to future changes. The component-based approach followed was in line with current trends of the development of e-business enterprise systems (Fan et al., 2000).
Both during the implementation and at the completion of the project, the employees of the IS Division had to make all users involved in the system aware of what is going on and recognize the advantages and prospects of the new approach. They had to attract their interest and cooperate with them in order to result to a fine-tuning of the system. Upon completion, a two weeks training program was performed. The confirmation of the executive board members and all users involved in the system that the approach followed was the right one was certainly of highest importance. All of the above were asked to evaluate the final system through a set of carefully imposed criteria. Moreover, a set of performance indicators for supply chain management was established. Having defined such measures, one can continuously monitor the behavior of the system in order to evaluate it in detail and improve its efficiency.
The first evaluation results show that the development of the system was a success and a reward of the IS Division manager expectations. Cooperation of all parties involved during the project's development, exploitation of their expertise and adoption of well-tried and open solutions were certainly the major factors that led to that. The system is able to serve strategic goals of the company, such as embarkation on e-business, efficient data management and integration of supply chain. Project management was also successful; no unforeseen events changed the initial development plan.
Moreover, managerial implications have been only positive until today. The serious involvement of the company's personnel (from all operational, knowledge, management and strategic level) from the early development phases gave them the opportunity to reconsider their traditional work practices. Even these that were not fully convinced about the necessity to go ahead and develop the system have only good comments to make today. System users acknowledge the appropriate synchronization of the internal and external work and data flows, improvement of supply chain management, reduction of transactions costs through the appropriate process automation, reduction of errors occurring during the handling of business documents, existence of accurate and on-line information, reduction of the company's inventory levels and, finally, establishment of a highly cooperative environment between the company and its customers and suppliers. The close cooperation of the development team with all parties involved, both during and after the project's development, eliminated any misrepresentations of what the system could deliver and in what frame.
Perfective and adaptive maintenance of the system impose problems and challenges the company has to currently address. Most of it concerns the Supply Side Transactions Module. As stated in a previous section, one problem was that the supplier companies should have a satisfactory level of information technology infrastructure. Regarding this module, the next version is planned to be fully Web-based (in line with the Demand Side Transactions Module). There is also ongoing work in improving the user interfaces of the Demand Side Transactions Module; such improvements concern the, as easy as it could get, completion of the related forms and the expansion of the services offered. Finally, much attention is being paid in both redesigning the reports currently offered and offering additional ones (to all company's division managers), the aim being to fully exploit the data now stored in the system's database and further aid decision-making processes.