in kind direct
On November 7th 2010, Crimsonwing successfully completed the In Kind Direct project, which entailed updating the charity’s current line of business ERP system based on Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and implementing an eCommerce site, built on the Magento Enterprise Edition. The eCommerce site comprises an extensive catalogue, as well as online ordering capabilities. Both systems are integrated via Crimsonwing’s new Magento/NAV integrator add-on, which was customised to develop an In Kind Direct API (Application Programming Interface). The API meets In Kind Direct’s unique integration requirements and enables them to offer enhanced services in the future.
In Kind Direct is a registered charity that redistributes surplus goods from some of Britain’s best-known manufacturers and retailers to UK charities working at home and abroad since 1996. In Kind Direct makes it easy for companies to donate their products to good causes, avoiding waste and landfill. Since its foundation, In Kind Direct has redistributed £100 million in value of goods from over 850 donor companies. Over 8,000 charities have joined their network to benefit, helping millions of people in need every year. In Kind Direct is part of the largest multi-cause charitable enterprise – The Prince’s Charities.
background and requirements
As In Kind Direct re-distributed surplus goods, the individual items are free of charge, and only a handling fee is collected for shipment, administration etc. Hence, the traditional term “online sales channel” is not applicable in this case and “online ordering channel” will be used instead.
In the last few years, In Kind Direct has rapidly progressed from being a paper catalogue based organisation with a monthly ordering cycle into a completely online based service with fast movement of goods. This realignment has presented opportunities and challenges and within a relatively short space of time, In Kind Direct had outgrown their first online system. Consequently, they were looking for a reliable supplier to provide a solution that would take them to the next level of being an online enterprise.
The charity approached Crimsonwing to enhance their previous online ordering channel by implementing a new eCommerce site based on the Magento Enterprise Edition, through which the surplus goods could be ordered. The previous site was not performing as In Kind Direct wished:
- The existing website was ageing rapidly, with an increasingly disproportionate effort required to maintain usability, accessibility and browser compatibility;
- It was expensive to enhance and limited by proprietary methods of development, effectively tying In Kind Direct to one supplier, their abilities and charges;
- Further development was entirely bespoke and therefore slow, potentially causing delays to marketing initiatives;
- The single database architecture had reached the limits of available performance, and despite mitigating counter measures, retained an element of risk.
Crimsonwing proposed to develop the new eCommerce site on Magento, which is the world’s fastest growing eCommerce platform, based on open source. Hence, it has a particularly low cost of ownership. It offers merchants complete flexibility and control over the look, content and functionality of their online ordering channel, which is exactly what In Kind Direct was looking for. Neil Chawla, In Kind Direct’s Head of IT, acknowledged that “many offerings can satisfy some of these, but to satisfy all is something special.” Magento gives In Kind Direct access to a developer platform to grow their business at a very low cost and also the security of having a fully supported platform. Neil Chawla said further that “the working life of this web solution is also extended beyond normal expectation as the Magento product is an independently supported product with an upgrade lifecycle. Taking advantage of new features and maintaining compatibilities and standards should therefore be much easier and cost effective.”
This Magento front-end also needed to be integrated with their ERP system, which required an update. In the past, In Kind Direct already implemented Navision Attain 3.10 as their ERP system with their previous IT provider, who enhanced the platform with some bespoke development. As Navision is an older version of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009, upgrading the old system was an obvious choice, not only due to cost savings, but Microsoft Dynamics NAV is also ideal for businesses of In Kind Direct’s size and business requirements. The upgrade also allowed Crimsonwing to remove a lot of the surplus custom code and gave In Kind Direct access to the latest Microsoft Dynamics NAV features, which are more user-friendly and kept In Kind Direct’s system current. However, as unnecessary business process change wanted to be avoided, some of the old custom code had to be reused and merged in a way to compliment the new Magento system. In Kind Direct’s Microsoft Dynamics NAV license allows for 20 concurrent users.
In Kind Direct’s Head of IT commented that after thorough evaluation of possible suppliers, “Crimsonwing had already delivered several NAV 2009 implementations and upgrades, and excellent references were available. The Magento product was clearly the strongest eCommerce solution for Navision offered by any of the potential suppliers seen.”
David Simonds, Crimsonwing’s eBusiness Solutions Manager, explained that “Crimsonwing was the ideal partner for this project, as we are one of the few Magento/NAV partners who have in-depth knowledge on both products putting us at an advantage over the competition and de-risking the project for In Kind Direct. During the development process, the Magento and NAV experts sat next to each other, reducing integration efforts and timescales.”
In a nutshell, based on the above requirements, Crimsonwing implemented the Magento Enterprise eCommerce site, upgraded the ERP software to Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009, integrated the two and made the necessary customisations for the solution to suit In Kind Direct’s business needs.
Neil Chawla explained that “first impressions of Crimsonwing were very good, when they visited to assess our current systems and significantly, understand our business. This was carried through to the consultation phase when several workshops shaped the project and defined the plans. Although In Kind Direct is not a conventional retailer and has specific operational processes and restrictions, it was impressive how quickly and easily our bespoke requirements were incorporated in to the new system. The development team used available functionality wherever possible and always managed to deliver exactly what was required without compromise.”
The Crimsonwing team started the development process by making all the required changes to the line of business system, which needed to be tested and stable before it could be interfaced with an external system. This ensured that In Kind Direct’s day-to-day operations were not interrupted. Thereafter, the Magento/NAV integrator was put in place.
The Magento/NAV integrator was of particular importance for this project in order to assure real-time communication between the different technologies. The core Magento/NAV integrator is applicable to any other business using or wanting to use those technologies. Crimsonwing has developed this standard add-on, which is available to be customised according to the specific requirements of each business. This provides a fundamental basis for the integration process. The integrator was developed using Navision Web Services to provide quick responses and batch processing requirements of stock, customers and credit balances, addresses, orders and registrations/renewals. Achieving seamless real-time data synchronisation between the different platform breeds proved to be a challenge.
Magento/NAV integrator features:
|Generic features||In Kind Direct specific features|
|Customer Creation and Credit Balances||In Kind Direct Charity Registration Process (before creation of a customer)|
|Billing/Shipping Addresses||Charity Renewal Process|
|Orders and Order History (incl. Status Updates)||Multiple Magento Customers Per Charity|
|Stock||Stock Breakdown (packs) and Linking to Magento|
|Message Logging System in NAV||Category Synchronisation (3 levels)|
|Batch Processing Capabilities||Supporting Web Service Information for In Kind Direct (e.g. campaigns, country info etc)|
Besides all the general functionality and features that Magento and NAV support, Crimsonwing implemented the following additional features to enhance the platforms and to cater for In Kind Direct’s specific requirements:
- Improved automation to the renewal process for charity organisations registered with In Kind Direct;
- Order injection and real-time stock checks – this was vital to In Kind Direct’s business model, as once stock is gone, it is gone;
- Custom development to “control” product availability across charity organisations, helping with a fair distribution especially for in-demand products;
- Message logging system in Dynamics NAV – which was completely new functionality as well.
One of the inherent challenges that needed to be overcome was the integration between the ERP system and the web. This includes accommodating well established ERP business processes online, without introducing unnecessary business process change, re-mapping of data and overcoming standard integration issues, such as reliability and performance.
“Communications and co-ordination were particularly good. We had a dedicated project manager who kept everything in tune, which is no easy task in a multi-strand project such as ours. We also had direct access to the technical team which kept progress fast and efficient. Further testing workshops and a comprehensive pre-launch training programme kept all staff in touch with progress and eased the migration. The go-live itself was a completely smooth experience and the support provided then and subsequently was thorough and professional” commented Neil Chawla, Head of IT at In Kind Direct.
“The In Kind Direct project represented challenging objectives in terms of concurrent development, integration and deployment of multiple technology platforms to address both the back and front end business requirements. Crimsonwing’s perpetual investments in new technologies and staff training, coupled with years of experience in the market, have largely contributed to the success of this project.” said Silvio Mifsud, Project Manager at Crimsonwing.
Crimsonwing puts great emphasis on successful project delivery by implementing rigorous Prince2 procedures and, in line with its ISO accreditations, ensures that testing, quality and communication are all paramount. The rigorous testing schedule also ensures a smooth go-live process by delivering a quality and “right-first-time” solution. A good working relationship with the client is also key to the success of the project.
Immediately following the launch of the new site, In Kind Direct received some excellent feedback from customers, who experienced the site to be easier to navigate, faster to order and more responsive in performance:
- “Looks great!! I wanted to order when I went on it!! Best regards” Brian McBride, Managing Director at Amazon
- “Wow! What an improvement. Great to be able to see at a glance what’s available. This will be so much easier to use. Congratulations!” Mrs Jo Grey, CEO and Chair of Trustee Board
- “I placed a small order last night and love the new site. It’s so much quicker and easier to find what you are looking for. Cheers, Jackie.”
- “Wooooowww – love the new web site – I have just had a quick look and whiz around it. Everything looks so good. Congratulations and well done.” Val Keight
- “I have already spent a bit of time on the website last night and thought it was great and liked the new look. Hope I will be using it more. Kindest Regards” Neil Quinn, Mairead White MBE (Director)
By successfully implementing all the functionality above, In Kind Direct is now running on a streamlined solution, helping both staff and registered charities with enhanced usability, inventory management, and goods distribution. The new Dynamics NAV system utilises Microsoft SQL Server 2008, which strengthens In Kind Direct’s reporting requirements, and offers greater support with Microsoft products, like MS Office. The Magento/NAV integrator, which was the core of the project, offers quick responses to Magento in order to provide accurate stock, order and customer data.
“The charity partners also have comprehensive self-service facilities, allowing them to manage their own accounts at a time that suits them, which has the further benefit of freeing up the In Kind Direct customer service team. From an operational perspective, In Kind Direct staff can manage the catalogue and the order process entirely from within NAV thanks to the tight integration between the front and back end. These processes have been further optimised since go-live to make daily operations extremely efficient and rapid. The Magento administration facility also offers access to the enhanced web features and further reporting tools” said Neil Chawla.
Crimsonwing has created a web services framework, allowing the easy addition of new messages between Magento and Microsoft Dynamics NAV, as In Kind Direct’s requirements evolve. The creation of a web services layer in NAV will also allow third party systems to easily communicate with In Kind Direct in the future, via a standard In Kind Direct API (Application Programming Interface).
In Kind Direct’s Head of IT, Neil Chawla, commented: “The upgrade of our Dynamics NAV system and the launch of the new Magento website represent a huge leap forward for In Kind Direct. With both aspects of the project going live simultaneously, there were many critical factors involved, but with Crimsonwing we have felt in safe hands at all times, and we are already receiving great feedback from our customers. I am very pleased to say that this project has enabled In Kind Direct to become a far more effective online enterprise, with all the very real benefits this brings for our organisation and thousands of charities working in the UK and abroad.”