Hitachi Data Systems, a manufacturer of data storage equipment and related hardware and software, used to need about two days or more to configure a system proposal based on a customer’s specifications. But with its systems easily containing more than 1,000 components and costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, it was imperative for it to speed up proposals before customers opted for a competitor who could respond faster.
With several competitors in its market, HDS needed to find a better way to interact with customers and ensure they could quickly order the exact data management system they needed. “It was important for us to be able to configure proposals and do it fast—in minutes instead of days,” says Debbie Pinkston, vice president, business operations and global sales.
A large percentage of HDS’s sales go to companies—such as CRM software provider Salesforce.com Inc. and financial services company Wells Fargo—that place orders for large enterprise data storage systems. Customers usually place orders using a product configurator in collaboration either with HDS internal sales agents, or with outside distributors or resellers certified as HDS channel partners.
“With our old configuration tool, it would take a team of people two days to configure a product because they’re so complex,” Pinkston says. It could take additional days to review the complicated list of specifications, to ensure that each hardware component, for example, was matched with the right software.
A customer may need a unified compute platform, or UCP, for instance, that can be configured with more than 1,000 individual components. The components can include a large number of server blades designed to store and process data—and used, for example, to make web pages load quickly with a client’s own product or financial information—and each blade may require its own software and data storage capacity. “You don’t want someone to have to manually pick out of that” volume of options, Pinkston says.
But Hitachi’s old configurator was “clunky” and required customers to make too many decisions to match the right software for each server blade and other components. “You want the CPQ system to put the data storage system together for you,” she adds.
To get that level of automated product configuration, HDS deployed a new cloud-based configure-price-quote tool in 2015 from FPX, which makes its CPQ application available under a software-as-a-service model, or SaaS. The SaaS model lets clients access technology through a web browser without having to run it on its own network servers.
Now, instead of taking days or even weeks to configure an HDS data storage system, it can take as little as about 15 minutes, Pinkston says. The CPQ system is designed so that, as a buyer or sales agent clicks in the system to choose, say, data storage capacity, it instantly applies the correct mix of server blades, software and other specifications, including pricing.
HDS chose FPX for its high level of functionality and ease of deployment, Pinkston says. In addition, HDS also deployed an integrated FPX lead-management tool that helps Hitachi’s sales agents and channel partners follow up with customers according to their needs by emailing printed presentations of configured systems, including product images and a bill of materials. “This puts everything together for us,” she says. “It’s kind of fun to show customers.”
Pinkston declines to comment on the cost of deploying FPX technology, but notes that it paid for itself within 18 months by helping HDS win more contracts.
Dave Batt, CEO of FPX, says the cost of deploying FPX technology starts out at about $100,000, with ongoing annual SaaS fees ranging widely from about $10,000 into millions of dollars. FPX also offers a licensed version of its software, but most companies opt for SaaS, he adds.
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