May 24, 2021
Infor Innovation Showcase
With the COVID-19 pandemic driving record-high demand for freight transportation and pushing supply chains to their limits, Midwest Wheel has been able to sustain growth and innovate thanks to the robust Infor cloud technology platform that underpins its core Infor business applications. The successful partnership between Infor and VP of Technology and Marketing, Steve McEnany, has led to the newest innovative service for Midwest’s sales organization – an AI-driven vehicle parts recommender which has resulted in improved sales productivity while enabling customers to save money and improve the experience.
Midwest Wheel is one of the largest truck parts distributors in the Midwest, supplying more than six million top-of-the-line quality brand name parts per year from its network of 400 manufacturers. To clearly differentiate in the highly competitive truck parts distribution market, McEnany has utilized Infor’s modern data architecture to create a great customer experience when placing orders in any of their seven store locations or through the call center.
A typical scenario that can arise when ordering a part to repair or maintain a truck is that there may also be related parts that are similarly worn or break during the repair process, which a customer should purchase simultaneously. Midwest Wheel prides itself in delivering high-quality solutions to its customers, and so each salesperson is trained to find the right interdependent parts. However, the process is manual, and it naturally takes time to undertake the research required to present the right solution to the customer. Sometimes, an inexperienced salesperson may not offer the additional parts, resulting in an extra trip to the store to place a second order for a dependent part and a potentially dissatisfied customer.
Working with Infor, an AI parts recommendation engine was created for the Midwest Wheel sales team to optimize the ordering process while providing their customers with a high-quality customer experience.
“Everything is integrated, so we didn’t have to go through a lengthy development cycle or hire a team of data scientists. Infor CloudSuite Distribution (CSD) is where we process sales orders, and all this data is pushed automatically into the Infor OS data lake. I’m a big user of Infor OS so bringing in an additional three years of historical purchase data into the data lake was simple. Infor Coleman is doing the machine learning on the data lake to create a recommended set of parts based on past purchase data. Each time a new sales order for a particular part is initiated in CSD, Coleman recommends additional parts, with API calls to bring in the part pricing. Then all this data is pushed back into the CSD screen where the salesperson is placing the order. The Coleman AI solution was developed, tested, validated, and deployed to a 75-person sales team in just under four weeks,” says McEnany
Now when a customer comes into the Midwest store or places an order over the phone, the sales team can instantly suggest the right set of associated parts to include in the order. Not only do customers get the best value from their purchase, but Midwest Wheel also gains efficiencies and adds to its bottom line with:
- Up to a 30% reduction in time processing sales orders using machine learning recommendations for the right dependent or commonly bought together parts
- Improved customer experience with lower waiting times on the phone and over the counter
- Customers save money with the right set of related parts leads to increased product lifespan and fewer repairs
- A real artificial intelligence application deployed in 4 weeks without hiring data scientists or developers
- Improved sales productivity with clear recommendations embedded within the sales order screen
- Validated results – for example, ten correct additional parts for a spring order was recommended, based on order history
Midwest Wheel’s partnership with Infor began in 2014 because Infor applications are made for the distribution industry, and because Infor was investing in cloud innovation. Now, seven years later, McEnany attributes the Infor partnership to delivering sustained growth, citing the recent opening of their seventh store location.
“We just opened our seventh location. I really don't see us having a seventh location if we hadn't made the move to Infor. We would have been on a much slower growth path,” says McEnany. Furthermore, Steve believes that “We wouldn't have been able to deal with COVID-19 as we did. We built dashboards using Infor Birst that showed us our average daily sales. We could see immediately when sales started to change and made sure our fill rates were maintained, as well as see where sales were changing and where we needed to adjust our ordering and delivery patterns.”
Moving to the cloud has freed up time for McEnany to focus on innovation. No longer does McEnany have to spend a weekend each month doing upgrades; instead, the Infor cloud technology platform streamlines processes, and he can introduce new services such as the AI-based Coleman parts recommender.
“Infor’s cloud technology platform has been vital as we move to 100% cloud. You can look at building applications in two ways. You can modify the ERP system to meet your specific requirements and severely limit your ability to upgrade. Or you can utilize Infor OS and build an API workflow that would accomplish the same thing and not impact the ERP. Each time I have a problem to solve, I look first to Infor OS to solve it. It’s a powerful solution, especially for me, because each time I extend or customize our system, the goal is to add value and differentiate our business,” says McEnany.