With a fresh, new customer portal, Hoval is all set for future digital customer communication in their B2B business segment. Daniel Bickel, E-commerce manager at Hoval, recently worked closely with us on the implementation of the new platform concept, at the heart of which is an SAP Commerce Cloud. Shortly after the go-live in summer 2022, we spoke to Daniel about the new customer portal and how we got there. Of course, we also asked him what the future may hold.
Jörg: Hello Daniel! You are now live with your recently upgraded customer portal – powered by the SAP Commerce Cloud. How does that make you feel as the owner of your e-commerce business?
Daniel: Of course, I am proud and happy about this. The past few months have been very intense and nerve-racking. In the end, it is thanks to the excellent performance of the entire team – internal and external – that it all worked out so well. With this update, we have caught up on four years of development and now have an entirely new technology platform to work on new features.
What was the goal of the upgrade?
The key goals were the upgrade of the SAP Commerce Cloud system including all surrounding systems and the migration of the SAP Commerce Cloud V 1 (SAP HANA) to the future-proof SAP Commerce Cloud V 2 (Microsoft Azure). According to SAP, all Commerce Cloud components need to be moved to the Azure Cloud by 2023. That makes a swift migration absolutely essential for all companies using the SAP e-commerce system.
So, there were certain expectations of this project. First of all, from the perspective of our customers: We have managed to bring down page load times significantly. We also increased the external stability of the system, and it is now more fail-safe than before.
From an internal perspective: We have increased the efficiency in many places. The new SmartEdit CMS system, for instance, really makes it much easier to edit our websites. Our marketing staff benefit from additional features after the switch to the CELUM cloud
From the technical architecture perspective: The upgrade lays the foundation for faster development of new features. By introducing the Angular framework in the Accelerator frontend, we have considerably increased our innovative capabilities.
In the context of the technical systems, we booked a lot of progress, such as a high-performing development environment with a CD/CI pipeline for faster development of features and quicker bug fixing, as well as the introduction of state-of-the-art system tools for backups, disaster recovery and monitoring of the entire platform. Where downtimes used to be inevitable during upgrades, we can now work seamlessly.
And you achieved all these goals?
Absolutely, yes! We did an exceptional job as a team and are now fit for the future.
How important is the e-commerce sales channel?
Hoval is one of the leading suppliers of technologically superior indoor climate control solutions worldwide. How important is the digital sales channel for you?
The channel’s popularity is increasing constantly, and it is becoming more and more relevant. The main target group of the e-commerce sales channel is the installation companies. People often wrongly assume that installation technicians still rely on pencil and paper. That is not true, of course.
During our periodic customer visits and workshops, we find again and again that our customers have top-of-the-line equipment and are very digitally savvy. That is why there was no doubt that we want to continue down the path we set out on in 2016 and further strengthen our digital sales channel. The myHoval login section remains the core of the customer platform.
Let’s take a look behind the scenes of the transformation project. What were the biggest challenges?
I would say the biggest challenge was the enormous complexity. We decided at the outset to do the optimisation step by step. After the kick-off, we soon realised that this approach had reached its limits. We decided to do the “Big Bang” instead – taking into account the entire e-commerce landscape.
For that, we switched over to the new SAP Commerce Cloud V 2. In parallel, we upgraded all the surrounding production systems to the latest releases. The switch of the database type in SAP Commerce and the transformation of the data format that came with it was essentially a relaunch. With regard to the Big Bang, one of the biggest challenges was to identify possible sources of errors during testing.
It was only thanks to the vast experience of the project members that we managed to master the challenges. They quickly understood what might be coming their way, and they often anticipated the cause and solution of a problem the moment it occurred.
What do you see as the crucial technological advantages that you are profiting from now?
Working in the old environment was very cumbersome. Some necessary activities were hampered by process constraints. Every deployment package, no matter the environment, had to be built manually.
Thanks to the high degree of automation, we were able to eliminate unnecessary time sinks. Manual interventions are no longer necessary during day-to-day operation. For instance, there is twice-daily automatic deployment to the test environments. We can fix any bugs very quickly.
That leaves more time for what really matters.
How is your e-commerce business doing in general?
In percentage terms, we are seeing high double-digit growth year-on-year, in every country where we roll out our e-commerce solution. Digital sales is an indispensable sales channel for us that opens up new channels of interaction and communication with our customers. Our shop and myHoval map out the pathway to integrated multichannel communication.
How is the collaboration with Unic?
Well, the result speaks for itself. The collaboration was and still is very pleasant, constructive, professional and, therefore, successful. But because of the complexity, we also had quite a few mountains to climb together. The kick-off with all the stakeholders took place in late August 2021, and in summer 2022 we celebrated the go-live.
After some finetuning, we officially wrapped up the project on 14 October 2022. But that does not mean there will be no further development of the platform. At Hoval, we are already looking towards the future, together with Unic.
Tips for e-commerce managers
And do you have any helpful hints for e-commerce managers in companies facing similar challenges?
The most important thing for companies that comes to mind is: Update your systems continually and avoid the Big Bang scenario. At first, we focused too much on the customer and the customer experience and did not pay enough attention to the technology. It all worked out fine in the end, but it requires a lot of expertise in all areas affected.
Regarding the collaboration with SAP, it is important to plan in enough time and be deterministic in your communication. One outcome of this project certainly is that in future, we will have a dedicated SAP customer engagement expert come on board for similar projects.
Let’s take a look into the crystal ball. What’s next?
We are setting up a monitoring system that will proactively alert us about potential bugs. At the same time, we want to introduce lifecycle management.
In future, Hoval aims to upgrade to the latest version of systems every two years at the latest. In line with this goal, we updated our DAM system shortly after the major upgrade project. This meant that it was just a small upgrade so it required very little time and effort.
From a business point of view, we will, of course, continue to expand the personalised myHoval customer area. We look forward to giving priority to the customer requests of the past few months and working our way through them step by step. We have already created new product detail pages that were designed in parallel with the upgrade. We are planning additional features and will be able to offer customers further increases in efficiency in the near future.
Daniel, thank you so much for the interview!
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