In this LinkedIn Live episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, I’m joined by Tim Yates, the CEO of DataXstream for a conversation around how wholesalers are benefitting from DataXstream’s OMS+.
We’ve been talking a lot about supply chain here at Futurum, and with good reason. A global pandemic has shown us in no uncertain terms how important supply chain is and, in some instances, how precarious ours is. That’s especially true as it relates to some 415,000 wholesale distributors out there, with a combined annual sales of some $7.8 trillion.
We kicked off the show with Tim sharing some background on how a career start as a mechanical engineer morphed into technology and ultimately founding and leading DataXstream.
Before diving into technology solutions, we discussed some common challenges wholesale distributors face, including:
- The wholesale distribution ordering process, which can be a nightmare. Think multiple supply chain locations, different prices for different customers, based on agreements that vary across the board, large orders that often span over a hundred lines — complex is an understatement when it comes to describing that challenge.
- Inventory management difficulties.
- The (sometimes massive) learning curve related to ERP solutions within the organization, and the fact that front line and field salespeople often have to spend a lot of time trying to learn the nuances of those platforms.
We explored how we’re seeing customers impacted by COVID-19 and how things like inventory visibility have played a role in the transformational shift that many wholesale distributors are undergoing.
We talked about the importance of rapid digital transformation, in the wholesale distributor industry and beyond, some of the roadblocks customers face, and what we see ahead.
We then shifted to discuss DataXstream’s OMS+, which is an order management solution that helps wholesale distributors offer customers fast, reliable service, and Tim shared some key benefits of OMS+, along with some customer/industry use case examples.
We closed the conversation with a preview of some new features coming to OMS+ that Tim is especially excited about, especially those related to the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) into the platform and the exciting benefits that will afford users.
For SAP wholesale distributor customers, using DataXstream is truly a game-changer. You can find DataXstream on the SAP Store, along with an Infosheet that our team produced, How Wholesalers are Benefitting from DataXstream OMS+.
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Shelly Kramer: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. As part of our interview series today, I am thrilled to be talking with Tim Yates, the CEO of DataXstream and even better, we’re taking this conversation to LinkedIn Live. We are excited to have you with us and I’m really looking forward to this conversation. I know that all of us at Futurum have been talking a lot about supply chain and with good reason, a global pandemic has shown us in no uncertain terms how important supply chain is. Everything from, toilet paper, shortages in the grocery stores and all other things that we kind of never thought about before, but the supply chain is actually more precarious than most of us think about and this pandemic has shown us that. And that’s especially true as it relates to some 415,000 wholesale distributors out there who have a combined annual sales of some 7.8 trillion, no small audience-based there and no small customer base. And those are the people that you work with Tim, right?
Tim Yates: Yes, absolutely.
Shelly Kramer: Well, it’s great to have you here, before we get started, tell us a little bit about you, about your career path, what you’ve done during the course of your career?
Tim Yates: Sure. I’m a mechanical engineer by training and I started off in manufacturing working with companies like Siemens Automotive and Mercury Marine. Turns out that at the time, I was one of the only people not afraid of computers, and so I found myself being routed in the direction of things like robotics and systems and ERP to support manufacturing operations. And that kind of gave me the nudge into the SAP world, where I’ve spent my last 20 to 25 years focused in on a SAP customers and SAP technologies. And when I’m not working, I like to spend my time as ski race coach with my kids on the snow.
Shelly Kramer: And you’ve got but not only snow but cold weather right now in Virginia where you’re located, so you’re a happy guy.
Tim Yates: It’s been a good season so far, so good. Very happy.
Shelly Kramer: We like that. Talk a little bit about your company DataXstream and what you and your team are focused on these days.
Tim Yates: Yeah. DataXstream origins really were around SAP technology and integrating other solutions into SAP. And as we grew as an organization, we moved more into the Core ERP solution space and delivery of all things ERP, both from a technical perspective, all the way through functional. As part of that journey, we really started to see particular areas or niches where we were doing kind of the same customizations over and over again for customers. And we felt like we could do those customizations in a product, and we started pivoting 10 years ago in the direction of not only doing services, but building complimentary solutions. And then in the last five years, really the team has focus down on building those solutions in OMS+, our flagship product is really our primary focus these days.
Shelly Kramer: That’s awesome. I always love sort of hearing about the progression of… I have kids who are 15 year old freshmen in high school, daughters and I’m constantly talking with them about how sometimes the path you think you’re going to go down, like being a mechanical engineer can lead you into something entirely different. I personally was focused on that pre-law program.
Tim Yates: Absolutely. I mean, at one point I looked at starting a robotics company because I really enjoyed that part of my engineering background, but I can’t. It was like a tractor beam there was so much need for figuring out how to… It’s right around the Y2K change to that I was moving from engineering into IT. There was so much need there in that space and I kind of recognized the importance of just how much data would transform how manufacturing and businesses worked and so I just started radiating in that direction. All of a sudden, all those mechanical engineering skills had to get shifted to programming and a whole bunch of different skillsets.
Shelly Kramer: Well, I think that that to me is probably a big lesson here. At least one that I try to preach to my kids and other young people it’s that, being adaptable, being open to change. Part of my career success has been predicated on the fact that I realized early on the role the internet was going to play in business and pivoting from an analog business model to a digital business model long before people were really kind of thinking about it and so much like you, I like change, I pay attention to what’s ahead, what’s happening and that sort of thing. I’ve always thought it was, kind of, I mean, I’ve loved every part of my career path and it sounds like you have as well.
Tim Yates: Well, it’s been great.
Shelly Kramer: Before we talk anymore about OMS+ and technology solutions. I want to talk a minute about the common challenges that wholesale distributors face. And I know there are many, one of the ones that I’m most familiar with is the ordering process and we don’t think about that. I think as consumers, but when you’re talking about wholesalers that have multiple supply locations and you have different agreements with different customers in different pricing related to those customers and tracking those agreements across the board and you have very large orders that sometimes span across many lines. I think that complex is kind of a little bit of an understatement when it talks about the ordering process of wholesale distributor. I know you would agree on that, what are some of the other challenges?
Tim Yates: Yes. It’s interesting that that is a core challenge and it has always been a challenge for wholesalers and a secondary one is really inventory management and inventory visibility. While that’s been a challenge in the past, COVID is really, I think, highlighted it and put a spotlight on it for wholesalers. And the reason being is everybody’s kind of been used to a normal, everybody’s getting used to Amazon and being able to go online, order something and have it show up the next day.
And then all of a sudden, as you mentioned in the opening, like you couldn’t get toilet paper in the stores or on Amazon where you’re able to get everything the next day and wholesalers are seeing this same exact issue across their supply chains because COVID is disrupted the supply chain and has created kinks in the system as it works. Its highlighted the need to be able to have an adaptable system where if you’ve been sourcing from one place for a long time and you can’t get it from that source anymore, how do you fulfill the customer’s demand and pivot to a new place. So really I think inventory visibility in being able to see what you have as well as see what’s inbound and how you can adapt what’s coming inbound is a really key point for wholesalers today, surviving in this market.
Shelly Kramer: Right. Another challenge I think that we encounter all the time is the learning curve that’s associated with ERP solutions. And the fact that a lot of times solutions aren’t really developed with frontline workers in mind with frontline salespeople in mind. My husband’s been in sales for a million years, and I get to hear his complaints on a regular basis as a leader of a sales team and somebody at corporate decides to buy a new piece of technology, but they haven’t really thought through how it’s used or how to train people and then what happens is that people don’t use it because it’s frustrating. They don’t know how to do it. I know that that learning curve is an issue definitely, you have any thoughts on that and what you’ve encountered along the way?
Tim Yates: Yeah. Well, as he described, order processing for wholesalers is not your traditional go to the grocery store, ring some things up and walk out the door. They’re generally complex order requirements, very large orders with different delivery schedules, often a mix of stock and non-stock items. Sometimes even items that you’ve never sold before to make a full order for a particular customer so you are going out and engaging new vendors or engaging new products. And if you think about all the things that would go into that type of order, it brings a high level of complexity.
And one of the challenges with all ERP is in the market is that, while they have the ability to do all these things, they’re typically disconnected in 10 to 20 different steps. And the key to really making wholesale, ordering easier is around like two primary things, automating the steps and the pieces that can be automated in between them and aggregating all the data. Instead of having a user move through 10, 20 different places to actually accomplish the work stream, they go to one place and it’s aggregated there and it’s automated to simplify their work.
Shelly Kramer: And it doesn’t take hours and hours and hours to learn.
Tim Yates: Absolutely. That’s absolutely one of the advantages of the aggregation is, you take your training times from, in terms of weeks and months down to hours and days. And that’s a huge benefit to organizations because if you think about an employee taking a month plus to become productive, that’s a lot of cost and expense. And you’re also tying up typically another employee who knows what they’re doing, training the employee that’s coming up to speed. If he can do that in hours or days, obviously there’s a huge benefit there for customers.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah, I agree. That’s awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about the COVID-19 pandemic. How have you seen your customers being impacted over the course of the last year?
Tim Yates: Well, it’s interesting. For prospective customers, they all hit the pause button and said, let’s just see where this is going and what we’ve seen as the pandemic has moved along, they’ve all started to now get used to the new norm and everything is opened back up, especially with the vaccine coming online and hopefully we’re seeing the end of this or the beginning of the end of this. With our existing customers, it was really interesting, they had a certain way of looking at their businesses and with the pandemic hitting, they had to pivot many things. We saw a lot of pivoting within our solution to change, selling patterns at the counter shelf, disconnecting a sales person from being at a counter to being able to take product that was received via phone call and actually walk it to the car and finish the transaction by just hand delivering the items to the customer themselves, try to limit that interaction.
We’ve seen a shift in more ordering via phone. Instead of the customer coming in to the counter, they placed the order via phone. Now we have to change kind of the tools and how we approach the transaction because we’re not interacting with the customer face-to-face. It’s really a shift or a blend of kind of the counter call center and a mobile all working together. And because OMS+ supports all three of those use case scenarios from the same interface, it was easy for our customers to just kind of, “well, how do we want to re-imagine selling and go and do it.” And that’s the primary thing we saw. The other thing we did see is that the customers that had the solution continued to invest in improving during this time. They’ve put a lot of energy into improving processes or even taking on new challenges within their organization and pulling them into the solution to streamline things. I’ve seen a lot of investment from those customers that are running the solution in the past 12 months.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think that many times we are adverse to change and a lot of times the best laid plans, we’re going to do this, this and this, and this budget is allocated here. And I think that what we’ve seen across the board is rapid shifts, rapid pivots, rapidly finding budget to do things that you know are critically important to business continuity, business resilience, customer experience, serving your employees, serving your customers.
And as many negatives as a global pandemic has brought, I think it has also showed us very clearly what we’re capable of and what’s really important for business and it is a lot about continuing to serve customers, keep them safe, keep employees safe. And some of it is just kind of a no brainer, we could have always done these things. It just didn’t occur to us because we didn’t have to and we were used to operating in a physical environment and then when we had to shift, we had to learn to do things differently. I think it’s fascinating to kind of watch that play out and to see what we’re learning almost a year in, right?
Tim Yates: Yes. COVID absolutely put a microscope on weaknesses for organizations, right? Or magnifying glass. It showed them where they needed to put attention into, either the tools or the processes they have. And it has accelerated transformation in companies at a pace that we haven’t seen before.
Shelly Kramer: And I, a lover of change and transformation, think that’s a good thing in this instance. Let’s talk about, what roadblocks are you seeing in terms of talking with your customers about their transformation efforts?
Tim Yates: Well, there’s kind of two. One is, running a small organization that’s growing fast. For me as a CEO, I see the need to continuously transform our systems because we’re growing and the system we had, doesn’t meet the needs of the future. I think for more established organizations, with the less rapid growth, steady growth kind of organizations, it’s a little harder to see the need to keep transforming. You get complacent. I think you mentioned people don’t like to change, and that happens with leadership teams. They get complacent with the technology stack, they’re running on it, doesn’t fail them, no need in changing something, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it kind of mentality. And I think that leads to not having a solid three to five year plan for, what am I doing with the technology foundation that my organization sits on and am I continuously moving it forward. Because I think often people look at it as a destination, and it isn’t, it’s a journey. You’re always on this journey because the technology is always advancing and it’s always moving. And so that plan is important.
I think that’s the first thing that I see that trips organizations up, is not having a three five-year outlook and being committed to that constant looking at renewing processes and so on. I think that’s a big challenge. The other one is just the level of customization that organizations have done to their existing systems. It’s unfortunate, but many customers think all their processes are super unique. And what’s really interesting is, they aren’t all that unique to one another. Selling from one customer to the other, within a particular industry is 80, 90% common and even across industries, it’s 70, 80% common and often companies have in the past, gone in and customize their system a lot.
And what that’s led to in this transformation phase or where they’re trying to now get back on the path and get on a journey towards newer technology is those customizations tend to anchor them. There’s a lot of things customers can do or organizations can do to, I fell at pre-gaming. Maybe not make a big digital transformation move today, but what are the things I need to do to prepare myself to make a big step. And I think there’s many pre-gaming things organizations need to do on their plan to get on that path, to moving their organization to a better place.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think that’s a whole separate discussion?
Tim Yates: Yeah.
Shelly Kramer: That will be an interesting one. Well, I wear a number of hats within our family of companies. I’ve been a brand strategist for 20 some years so I’m used to looking at things from a strategic standpoint and thinking about, even when it comes to a strategic plan, you can make a one-year plan and a three-year plan and a five-year plan, but especially those three and five-year plans. I mean, there’s no way that any of that is actually not going to change.
And I think that to me, business success today is all about being agile and being adaptable and letting your data guide you, making smart technology decisions, making smart people and culture decisions, because technology isn’t the key to successful digital transformation, it’s both people and technology and then watching and tweaking and constantly going on this journey and seeing what are our results? What does our data say? What are we seeing happening? What are the problems? What are the challenges, the roadblocks and again, I find myself continually grateful. I think that we are wired how we’re wired and when you’re not wired for change, it’s much more difficult to embrace the business world that we live in today, because change is a given. And when you are wired for change, it’s kind of just like, awesome.
Tim Yates: Well, why wouldn’t you change, right?
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Tim Yates: Yeah. That is absolutely the case with people. I agree.
Shelly Kramer: Now I want to talk a little bit about DataXstreams OMS+. I think it’s a game changer for wholesale distributors and why don’t you walk us through a little bit about OMS+ and what it is you’re able to deliver as a result of this solution?
Tim Yates: Sure. OMS+ is a sales overlay for SAP ERP, and that includes both the S4 product and the ECC product. And I think the best way to describe it is, it allows SAP customers to enable their sales teams to have much better sales outcomes for their customers, By streamlining the process, giving them in and visibility into the entire sales process, insight into the customer and understanding their buying patterns, understanding their specific needs quickly. And then finally, it really lets an organization adapt and in the COVID environment, adaptation in sales processing is absolutely [crosstalk].
It was a huge benefit to those customers running OMS+, the ability that they could turn their sales process on a dime and change it to the new norm. I think agility is a very important thing. And COVID is a disruptor today and many have talked about Amazon being a disruptor in the marketplace in terms of how things are selling and that was pre COVID and I’m positive there’s other things that are going to disrupt, I see AI and machine learning, playing a huge part in not disrupting how we sell in the future as well. I think organizations need to be prepared for those kinds of changes and OMS + certainly is designed to allow you to rapidly change your approach to your customers.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think that’s really the most exciting thing about it for me. And I couldn’t completely agree rapid change and today it’s a global pandemic. It’s going to be something tomorrow and Amazon has been out there for a long time. That’s not going away anytime soon ever, but that’s really the key I think to success when it comes to business building, digital transformation is understanding that disruption is always only a heartbeat away and really looking at all your operations and all your technology stack and all of your processes and figuring out how you can build a resilient business and build one that is constantly evolving and that is agile and adaptable. I feel like I’m beating the agile and adaptable drums, but it really is. I mean, that’s really the key to success, I think.
Tim Yates: Well, in my sales pitch, agile is kind of my main point that I hit on because I believe that an organization that has agility in their sales process as the ability to adapt when the customer demand or when the market moves or when there’s a disruptor and that’s a strategic advantage for an organization to have that agility.
Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. Absolutely. Do you have any customer use cases that you can share with us, people who are using OMS+?
Tim Yates: Yeah, certainly. I mean, the range of use cases is pretty broad. We have specialty retailers using it and kind of my definition of a specialty retailer is, an organization that will sell over a period of time so it isn’t the buy and carry and you leave and you’re done. It’s a transaction that lives for weeks or months as the customer picks up product, installs it, makes that up stations to their order, so the order is always changing. The amount of money you’re collecting is always changing. That’s one use case and OMS+ is very successful in that sort of application. On the other end, we have complex wholesale distributors selling into large complex projects, orders and quotes that are hundreds to thousands of lines. In fact, we have one that we were prepping to be able to handle quotes that are up to 10,000 lines of materials.
And if you think about it, there’s all kinds of challenges in developing any kind of quote that’s got 10,000 items on it, or even a thousand items. And the use cases we’re seeing are how do you rapidly identify customer materials? What’s the best way to pick out those 10,000 things out of your system and put them on an order and how do you price them? How do you set margin? How do you make sure you go back to inventory management we were talking about earlier? How do you procure all those things and ensure that they come in on time, because as you know, if you’re doing a project and you get 90% of the things you need for the project, you still can’t do that project. Generally you need all of the things to accomplish that.
Those are kind of the two ends of the spectrum, your more complex retail transaction all the way through to complex coding. And then there’s a lot that sits in between whether it be a traditional pickup at the counter type orders for a wholesaler or calls into a call center. Those are all traditional things that we see our customers doing and wholesale industry is very broad. We have customers selling home building products. We have customers selling food products and even customers selling complex materials with it so very, very broad capabilities. And a lot of that comes from the underlying ERP capabilities, right? SAP is very, very capable of running almost any sales process. The trick to it is, how do you make it so that it’s consumable, repeatable and very easy for our customer to buy from you.
Shelly Kramer: Right. Absolutely. And that’s the beauty of OMS+?
Tim Yates: Yes, really.
Shelly Kramer: That’s the beauty of OMS+. As we get to the end of our conversation, tell me, are there any new features of OMS+ that you’re excited about?
Tim Yates: Sure. We have a couple of things we’re working on. We’re continuing to expand our coding functionality, which gives us the ability to go out and actually solicit vendor bids and that’s some really cool technology that the team is currently putting the finishing touches on. The thing I’m most excited about is the work we’re doing with machine learning and artificial intelligence, kind of like S4 when it came out many, many years ago, I wasn’t quite sure how it fit and where it worked. And the more I learned about S4 and HANA, the more I became engaged with just how powerful and transformative it would be for organizations and artificial intelligence is sort of one of those things where it took me a little while to figure it out and understand it. And it took some smart people showing me, educating me a lot, but what we’re dealing with leads into that. Those very large orders where a customer provides you with a list of things they need to purchase.
How do you get to the answer very quickly? And I’ve had huge success with a customer that we’re working with right now, where we’re able to very quickly take customer requirements and translate them into orders, using machine learning and data science. And we’re looking at improvements of 75% faster to create those orders because of identification being that much faster. I see a million applications for it.
Customer searches, always one of those areas, especially if you’re in an organization where you create customers on the fly, big challenge is not duplicating customers because you have the customer in your system, you just couldn’t find them. Artificial intelligence plays a role there. And another big one that we see quite often with wholesalers is they often are larger organization spread out across country.
They may receive bidding requests from different organizations that are actually part of the same bid overall and effectively they’re competing against themselves. One of the things we’re looking to do with AI and machine learning is use it to identify where a company has two teams competing against themselves in a bidding process and highlight the both sides. “Hey, by the way you guys look like you’re bidding on the same project, you might want to compare your notes on this.” And there’s dozens of other use cases that I can’t wait to dive into. That’s probably the funnest thing and most exciting thing we’re working on right now and we’re putting a lot of energy into that.
Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think that I’m with you, the possibilities that AI and machine learning are showing us and how those technologies can work alongside humans and just make everything so much quicker, everything’s so much easier, fewer mistakes. I mean, these technologies have the ability to process huge amounts of information so much more quickly than humans ever could. I’m like you, I’m so excited about the possibilities and there’s so, so many of them, so that’s very equal.
Tim Yates: Yeah. And it’s really the perception that machine learning and artificial intelligence has been given by like the movie industry, right? Like you’ve got your Terminator robot, that’s going to take over the world, but it’s really not that and it’s very different. And when you boil it down to its practical use cases, it solves really challenging problems in a very unique way that if you tried to use traditional technologies to do it, it’s nearly impossible. I’m super excited about what it will do with order management and order processing for companies in the future. And so I’m very excited our organization got a big focus in this area right now.
Shelly Kramer: Well, I can’t wait to learn more about that as you roll that out. That’s really exciting. Well, Tim, thank you so much for joining me today on this LinkedIn live, that is part of our future in Tech Webcast, it’s been a great hearing about what you and the team at DataXstream are doing and learning a little bit more about OMS+, and I look forward to hearing more great things from you and your organization in the future.
Tim Yates: Thank you for having me. It’s been fun talking to you today.
Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. All right. And with that, thanks everybody for hanging out with us and we’ll see you again.
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