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ENABLING 20 BUs FOR DIGITAL GROWTH

 

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ABOUT B&S

B&S is one of those Dutch, world-class B2B organizations with a truly global scope, that is still unknown to the general public. B&S trades and distributes more than 40,000 products of food and non-food goods in over 100 countries and are supplier to the largest organizations such as Amazon, Otto and Wehkamp. They serve special need markets such as; cruise lines, government and defence and remote industrial sites applying state-of-the-art logistics and expert knowledge in international trade and customs. 

THE CHALLENGE 

Building a future-proof E-commerce platform that can mirror B&S's ability to focus on the needs of very specific markets, and a differentiated assortment of food and non-food products posed serious challenges for B&S:

  • How to design a single platform that will be capable of serving the needs of their +/- 20 independent business units?
  • How to translate all internal processes to a global, digital environment?
  • How to deliver on the internal promise to give each independent business unrestricted functionality to model their online solution, so it will support their current (often still offline) business practises?
  • And last but not least: How to accomplish this while business unit after business unit is lining up to express the urgency of having their new and improved shop online, preferably yesterday!

Having built their own ERP system from scratch, the expectations of B&S on the flexibility and stability of the new platform were high.

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THE APPROACH

Being a pragmatic organization, B&S decided early-on to go for a ‘Best of Breed’ approach. Commercetools was chosen as the headless backbone for assortments, prices, promotions and transactions due to its ability to scale without limits and its flexibility to connect to all front-ends. On top of that Bloomreach CMS and -Search were selected to provide a rich customer experience.
Instead of starting with an organization-wide intake and analysis process, the internal dynamics required SQLI to immediately start with the implementation of the first webshop: Ankeramsterdamspirits.nl. But while building the Anker shop, we made sure that most of what we developed would be future-proof and re-usable for other businesses coming later.

THE SOLUTION

We designed an architecture that combines maximal flexibility with minimal duplication of data and assets. The 3 main ingredients of the architecture are:

The ERP Layer

The in-house built ERP consists of 4 separate instances. Each instance has different prices and business rules that apply to one of the 4 main business areas: Liquor / Perfume / Food / Retail. The ERP feeds the system with Product data, Prices, Promotions and Customer data.

The Experience Layer

  • An architecture that is capable of supporting multiple Bloomreach sites. This allows different business to create their own unique experience OR to cooperate on the same if their business is very similar.
  • A completely component-based frontend functionality.
    From the start we added each component to a library that can be reused across the organization, in all Bloomreach channels. When necessary, we add configurable options to the components to support specific needs of different BU’s, minimizing the nr. of different component versions.
  • Decoupling of visual design and functionality.
    Since each BU has its own look and feel we start the design-process for each BU with a brand-intake. In fact, for several BU’s we created a completely new branding: https://www.ankeramsterdamspirits.nl/, https://www.bs-htg.com/, https://www.hellwege.com/ and https://www.squaredranken.nl/. Each BU-specific branding is applied to the generic components, resulting in a unique look and feel for each of the BU’s.

The Commerce Layer

Consisting first on a headless, service-based, E-commerce foundation based on the Commercetools’ ‘PaaS’ solution that serves up to date, customer-, product-, price- and stock data coming from the ERP and is in charge of transactions.

In addition, a custom ‘B&S Commerce layer’ that combines the data from Commercetools and business rules from the ERP -instances. This layer makes sure that all data that is served to the frontend is specific for the BU that requests it. The commerce layer is based on the following principles:

  • Reusability: Bases on a generic data model that can be extended to provide specific business unit context.
  • Statelessness: Commerce Layer is not connected to any database.
  • Loose Coupling: All services are exposed using an API
  • Extensibility: All modules should be extendable to apply specific BU functionalities. (e.g. Cart validation rules that are different against BUs). To achieve this, the Commerce Layer is Business Unit aware.

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THE BENEFITS & RESULTS

It has been an exciting and rewarding adventure reaching milestone after milestone with new requests still continuing to pour in. While there is still room for improvement in different areas, we are proud of what we managed to deliver so far:


  • Golive of 9 different webshops and a corporate website since the launch of the first site for ankeramsterdamspirits.nl in H1 2019.
  • A platform that supports very different types of business and that enables ever quicker launches of new websites.
  • A solid base that enables B&S to continuously enhance their functionality.

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