Bloor Report: Netfira in Detail
A B2B Software Solution
Connecting Buyers and Sellers in real time
An InDetail paper
by Bloor Research International Ltd
Author: Simon Holloway
Netfira has identified a niche in the market place and produced a solution that solves the issue of handling all the suppliers or partners/dealers of an organization no matter what size they are. The norm has been that organisations have had to spend 80% of their effort on 20% of this network – these being the smaller organisations. B2B hubs have been around for a number of years in the form of value-added networks, but Netfira has used a different approach which makes the product sit in the cloud on a server and use web services at the Buyer and Seller ends to communicate with this cloud hub.
By working closely with a large customer, Electrolux, they have built an impressive set of interfaces to ERP packages from both the large enterprise perspective with support for SAP and Oracle, to the small enterprise with support for QuickBooks, Sage AccPac, Peachtree and Fishbowl.
The joins are seamless and therefore the Netfira solution provides a real-time aspect to the information that it manipulates. Couple the ease with which the product takes to install as well as use with the price charge for a transaction, makes this in Bloor’s view a product that you should consider carefully as it is quite compelling!
For many companies, all their trading of goods or services is with other companies. This is referred to business to business or B2B for short. This sort of transaction is typified by the transactions that take place between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer or between a manufacturer and its suppliers. These transactions are characterized by relatively large volumes, competitive and stable prices, fast delivery times and, often, on deferred payment basis. The first major step to provide computerized support was through the use of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), which is still in wide scale use. However the introduction of the Internet into the business world, has seen B2B blossom with many predictions about the size of the market beinggiven.
The introduction of the cloud and software as a service concept is now starting to be seen in the B2B supply chain market. The Aberdeen Group found in a report in 2009 that the interest in SaaS solutions was on the rise, particularly among top performing organizations, B2B integration as an outsourced service is nothing new. Vendors for the last 10 years or so have provided value-added networks (VANs) as shared, hosted services that integrate business partners using EDI and other protocols. However Bloor has just come across a new approach from Netfira, an Australian company. This solution has been aimed at the dealer and distribution network market.
In the opinion of Bloor Research, a prospective user should be aware of the following key facts:
- This is a Software-as-a-Service solution aimed at organizations which are involved in a dealer type network.
- The only cost is the number of transactions that are put through it and that cost is incurred by the “Seller”.
- The solution works with all the major ERP solutions as well as most of the major SME accounting solutions.
- It is both quick and simple to set up as well as to easy to use.
- It provides a real-time inventory lookup
- The hardware requirements to run the solution are minimal and there are options to use non-Microsoft browser software.
- There are flexible pricing options that allow bulk transactions available for a discounted price and fixed monthly or annual subscriptions for high volume sellers.
This innovative peer-to-peer solution allows buyers and sellers to connect directly utilizing a multi-user application that works with various accounting software packages. Netfira offers a two-way, real-time, e-commerce supply chain solution that provides point-and-click ordering capabilities, 24/7, with or without a website. Netfira found that B2B buying between large companies was largely automated, however between large and smaller companies it is not automated and relies on manual error-prone processes, as many of the smaller companies have limited or no IT and therefore fax, phone, and email is used to pass information and place orders, leading to human errors, delays, increased number of returns, sub-optimal inventory levels, and more.
Implementation of the product
A dealer signs up to the Netfira service and downloads the Seller side product and installs it. NetfiraSeller runs as a web service that integrates with the sellers’ back office systems (ERP, accounting, and inventory etc.). Only a small access module that communicates with the Netfira web service is installed on the sellers’ systems and there is no upfront cost to the seller to use the software. The seller invites and authorizes buyers to make purchases, and then configures each buyer’s access to their data (e.g. inventory and buyer specific pricing). This email invitation is sent through the NetfiraSeller product to all the buyers authorized to use the system. This invitation gives the buyer a link to follow which takes them to the location to download the NetfiraBuyer software and Netfira automatically connects the buyer to the seller. The whole installation process is extremely simple to use from both a sellers and buyers point of view.
All that a Buyer needs is a PC with 1GByte processor, running Windows 7, Windows Vista or Windows XP with an internet connection. Netfira recommends a high speed internet broadband connection. Port availability needs to be between 6000 and 6010, but if these ports aren’t open then the STUN protocol to contact the super node server via port 25 or 80 can be used. Any of the following browsers can be used: Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or above, Firefox, Chrome or Safari.
This is Software as a Service solution, in which nothing resides on the machines of the buyer or seller but small footprint.
The Netfira Solution consists of two products – NetfiraSeller and NetfiraBuyer, both of which come with support options. NetfiraSeller runs a web service that integrates with the Sellers back office systems, such as ERP, Accounting packages or Inventory solutions. Once the Seller has determined which suppliers to invite to join into their network, they can configure each buyer’s access to the seller’s data to cover product mix and special pricing.
NetfiraBuyer also runs as a web service that can be integrated to a Buyer’s back end systems but equally can work with no connection.
Netfira Control Center provides a number of administrative functions including:
- Putting the Server Mode to go into debug mode
- Authorizing Workstations that can access the Netfira solution
- Support for Order Transformation
- Migration of inbound and outbound data
Netfira supports the following protocols:
- EDIX12 and EDI EDIFACT document protocols ;
- AS2 Exchange protocol;
- HTTP, HTTPS, and Email transport protocols; and
- MIME and S / MIME packaging protocols.
The first step once the software has been downloaded is to configure the system to your company. Using the “Quick Links” tabs, the user selects Settings. The user then enters company information and shop description, before selecting business categories. These ar a set of standard business product names.
The next step is to link the Seller’s backend system to Netfira. Clicking on the “Getting Started” tab takes you through to the screen shown i below. The current version of the software has a certain number of solutions available where pre-configured adapters are available.
Now that the backend system is connected, the user can look at the inventory list that will be available through Netfira. To do this the user selects “List Items” on the Quick Links menu and goes to the Action Menu where they select “Item List.
Using the Netfira screen, the user can hide columns that they do not want visible to the buyers. The screen can also be used to adjust numeric or non-numeric values for stock level availability. Also available from the Action Menu is the ability to create Catalogues. This is an easier way for buyers to select the products they want.
Once all these activities have been completed, the invitation to the buyers to join the network can be sent. To do this the seller user goes Buyer Invitations on the quick link menu and then select the buyers he/she want to invite form the list displayed before pressing the invite button.
NetfiraSeller provides the ability for the Seller to choose a web skin from a set of preloaded library to use for his service to his buyers. Using this service a website is created of the http://yourcompanyname.netfira.biz/
The NetfiraSeller module offers the functionality to view Customer Orders. From this menu you can look at Orders Pending, Orders shipped and Orders Cancelled to get a list of all client orders which are pending, shipped or cancelled. When you receive an order from a client it will be recorded into Orders Pending. You will also get a message prompt to say that an order has been received into Netfira and, if successful, a message prompt saying that a new order has been received into your accounting system.
On receipt of the invitation email, the Buyer follows the link to download NetfiraBuyer web service. Makin g the selection from Quick Links and Action Menu of Seller List, brings up the Netfira Seller service that the buyer is associated with.
There is a search feature that allows the buyer to search for a particular product they are interested in having information about. This results in a display of the matching search criteria fields. The Buyer can then select the right product to add to their cart to order. Netfira sends the order to the Seller and a message “Your order was received by bicycles unlimited successfully” is sent to the Buyer. The status of any order can also be accessed from the Action Menu.
Netfira automatically updates the Buyer’s and Seller’s back end systems with the necessary order information. Below is an example of the sales order that shows up in Fishbowl.
NetfiraSeller is a free download and there is no upfront cost or installation cost to a seller. Netfira charges the sellers per order transaction ($1.50). Sellers can either pay per transaction, or buy bulk transactions at a discount. For high volume sellers Netfira also offers fixed monthly or annual subscriptions.
NetfiraBuyer is also a free download and once again there is no installation or upfront costs involved. Buyers can search inventory at no cost, and use the software to place orders for free.
A back-office accounting/inventory system is required for the Netfira Seller module to connect to. This is optional for the Netfira Buyer module. Netfira is compatible and supported with the following back-office accounting and inventory applications:
- MYOB Accounting, Premier, EXO, Retail Manager
- QuickBooks versions 2009 and 2010
- Fishbowl versions 2009 and 2010
- Sage Accpac versions 5.5 and 5.6
- Sage Peachtree version 2011
There are also interfaces to the major ERP systems such as SAP, JD Edwards, Microsoft and Oracle. Netfira provide an SDK that allows users to integrate to other backend solutions.
Users are able to make certain type of customizations to Netfira, but they are relatively minor. Users can change the skin interface where colour and company logos and names can be added
Customer Success Story
One of Netfira’s major customers is Electrolux. The biggest challenge that faced Electrolux was that too many manual steps were required to integrate its dealer and distributor network into its supply chain, leading to inefficiencies and increased costs. Electrolux has a large distributor network with some 250,000 individual lines of parts inventory. This network and inventory was handled by 20+ call centre staff, with 80% of transactions processed manually by phone, fax and email.
The project involved 60+ sites implemented NetfiraBuyer and NetfiraSeller as well the whole of the distributor network. The solution handles over 1.2 million transactions/day and not only produced a significant reduction in data entry time, but also a 26% reduction in product returns with 80% of transactions now processed automatically. David Buck, General Manager, Electrolux, stated that, “The Netfira platform streamlined our ordering process, resulting in lower costs for us while giving our dealers 24/7 access to the current prices and availability of our inventory.”
Netfira was founded by George Ruul in Australia in 2003, and introduced its first product in 2008. Their headquarters are in Sydney, Australia. Netfira entered the US market in 2009 and have an office in San Francisco, California. In June 2010 they opened a European office in Munich Germany.
Their major customer is Electrolux. The project resulted in automating over 1.2 million transactions and completely streamlined Electrolux’ dealer and distributor networks at an affordable price.
Netfira website lists a number of ISV partners including Sage, Lawson, Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, Oracle, MYOB, Attache, QuickBooks and Fishbowl. These partners are vendors of ERP, and accounting and inventory software. MYOB have tested and certified Netfira in March 2010.
2010 has seen an aggressive development of partnerships. In May 2010, Netfira launched a partnership with Global Supply Chain Solutions (GSCS) of San Jose, CA, a fourth-party logistics provider (4PL) offering integrated logistics and advanced supply chain management solutions on a worldwide basis to major international corporations with large global supply chains. In June 2010, Netfira announced it will partner with Development-X to integrate Netfira’s suite of products with the Development-X Ostendo Operations Software, the leading inventory and operations management add-on solution for MYOB, QuickBooks and Pastel accounting systems in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore.
The Netfira Professional Partners Program specialises in the sale, configuration, and implementation of Netfira’s line of inventory and accounting software solutions. The programme features a comprehensive training course around installation and sales and marketing education
The company is privately owned.
The Sleeter Group named Netfira as one of its 2010 “Awesome Add-ons for QuickBooks,” recognizing it as one of the most effective and transformational technologies to enhance QuickBooks.
Netfira have identified a niche in the market place and produced a solution that provides a solution to the issue of handling all the suppliers or partners/dealers of an organization no matter what size they are. The norm has been that organizations have had to spend 80% of their effort on 20% of this network – these being the smaller organizations.
B2B hubs have been around for a number of years in the form of value-added networks, but Netfira have used a different approach which makes the product sit in the cloud on a server and use web services at the Buyer and Seller ends to communicate with this cloud hub. By working closely with a large customer, Electrolux, they have built an impressive set of interface to ERP packages from both the large enterprise perspective with support for SAP and Oracle to the small enterprise with support for QuickBooks and Fishbowl. The joins are seamless and therefore the Netfira solution provides a real-time aspect to the information that it manipulates. Couple the ease with which the product takes to install as well as use with the price charge for a transaction, makes this in Bloor’s view a product that you should consider carefully as it is very compelling!