Posted by Bruce Copeland - 10 March 2020
In July 2018, we were asked by New Zealand’s largest food retailer, Foodstuffs, if we were interested in responding to an RFI to deliver a like-for-like replacement of eXchange, their supplier integration portal. This was a complex, highly available, high-risk enterprise system replacement project.
Initially we suspected we might be a wildcard entrant against the big end of town reselling overseas technology. Still, we were happy to be included and eagerly took to the challenge of responding; while also realising we were the local vendor up against a formidable lineup of international contestants, all with significant previous wins locally and in hometown USA.
Our byline at Sandfield is “Get an Edge”, and we typically deal with customers who want something different or better to what is available from a straight package. That’s not to say that the solutions they seek are hi-tech or bleeding edge. Often, it's providing exactly what a business needs, to suit exactly the way they do business. Capturing concisely what makes our customers’ service unique, and then giving them the software solution, they need - and nothing they don’t, has always been Sandfield’s point of difference.
How we won the business
Understandably, decision-makers in large organisations tend to avoid unnecessary risk. As Foodstuffs project lead Ana Connor said to us at the time, “if this project fails, there is no milk and bread in most supermarkets in New Zealand”. There is a lot at stake and these sorts of ‘mission-critical’ systems are not appropriate areas for risk-taking. The old wisdom of "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" comes to mind.
Our challenge was to convince Foodstuffs we were a safe choice, even though our proposal was based on entirely locally developed software. With Foodstuffs also being a locally owned business, we hoped being the local choice would have some value.
With this background and context, I’ve reflected on what contributed to us winning the pitch over the traditional vendors and believe it's a combination of the following:
We have our development frameworks, a standard capability that is common across our diverse customer base. Arguably these are standard packages, just as the re-sellers offer, but by a different name. A key difference is our focus on keeping the frameworks exactly the same over our whole portfolio and augmenting them with customer-specific add-ins. The appeal for Foodstuffs was their ability to leverage off our standard proven frameworks and to address the custom work they require. Essentially, we tailored our system to reflect their requirements, not the other way around.
Track record of scale and innovation
As part of the due diligence process, Foodstuffs needed to vet the capability of potential suppliers to deliver a project of scale. We were able to showcase our credentials including being multinational freight company, Mainfreight’s, IT partner for 29 years. I think the scale of our portfolio of clients and projects provided significant comfort that Sandfield was a realistic and prudent option for this type of project.
In-house integration capability (and good timing)
Integration was a critical component of the project. We were able to offer our own fully managed integration service, Crossfire, along with a custom-built portal to handle manual interactions with smaller suppliers.
Our in-house EDI expertise was an essential part of our pitch, and a unique point of difference for us verses the resellers. As it happens, we had only recently modelled Crossfire as its own managed service product, off the back of our many years of success and the growth of our EDI/API business. Timing was on our side.
Another key factor was a very practical consideration, we were able to create a customised set of commercial terms that was appealing to Foodstuffs. Because we own our own software stack, we weren’t hamstrung by the pricing structure constraining resellers of products from international vendors. We considered Foodstuffs’ commercial imperatives and future plans and we designed a custom set of commercial terms that met their needs.
The final factor that must be acknowledged is the courage of the decision-makers at Foodstuffs to select an independent New Zealand software house, rather than the well-established incumbent, and a number of traditional software resellers that came with a global reputation.
We recognised the senior management team’s professional reputations were at stake. With their intimate understanding of their previous platform, they were ideally placed to rigorously evaluate both quantitative requirements, but also the equally vital qualitative needs. Hats off to them for their due diligence in the pitch process and their openness to considering all options.
Project delivery and the afterglow
In July 2019, the Sandfield team successfully delivered a like-for-like replacement in the upgrade of their eXchange portal for Foodstuffs. This project was also delivered on budget, on time, and with minimal business interruption.
We succeeded in making Foodstuffs’ vision a reality. All 3,400 Foodstuffs’ suppliers are now able to manage their business transactions, product information and relationship contacts with Foodstuffs NZ with one login. This included purchasing, invoicing and delivery forecast notifications, through to advance shipment notices and supplier communication.
Sandfield won Foodstuffs’ business based on a combination of all the factors covered, in conjunction with an executive team at Foodstuffs that back themselves. And it's clear from the outcome of this project that Foodstuffs was happy with the decision they made. Further validation for us was Foodstuffs’ media release which was picked up by CIO magazine and FMCG Business.
The creation and implementation of Foodstuffs’ new eXchange portal signalled the end of Phase One of this project. With this new platform, Phase Two is now being scoped to include further integration and new features.
The Sandfield approach of not working within the confines and capability of a package arguably takes more care and effort, perhaps more risk. Because we operate without this constraint, the goals change. We aim for a result that is the best it possibly can be within the boundary of managing the trade-offs of budget, scope and timeframes, rather than the confines of the package itself.
We’re excited to further demonstrate our capabilities in Phase Two of Foodstuffs eXchange project.
Bruce Copeland is the founder of Sandfield. The now 90-strong team of developers at Sandfield focus on building and evolving custom software systems for businesses who use innovation to get an edge. When not discussing agile methodology and challenging conventional wisdom, Bruce is a bike advocate working for a Greater Auckland and a trapper for a Predator Free New Zealand. He likes to relax on and around the sea, surfing or sailing with his wife Janine, and their daughter.