Consultants making IT happen:

Luke Beer creates pre cartonisation API for Ironmongery Direct.

Ironmongery Direct is the UK’s largest supplier of specialist ironmongery products. Having started out over 50 years ago as a traditional hardware shop, the company now sells via ecommerce, a call centre and a trade counter. It stocks more than 18,000 products, all of which are ready for next day delivery to trade buyers, including builders, joiners and shopfitters.

Ironmongery Direct is one of 25 subsidiary companies that form the Manutan Group. Several years ago, Balloon implemented Accellos WMS (now K.Motion WMS) for the business.

Luke Beer joined Balloon as a Software Development Consultant in early 2019. This is his second role, having previously worked programming touch-screens and interfaces for controlling on-screen graphics for use in television programmes and the corporate environment. He studied Computer Science at university, focusing on games development and C# programming.

Offering customers a choice of carriers.

Luke was working with Ironmongery Direct to integrate a new shipping service. He explains, “Ironmongery Direct already had an integration, but they wanted to save money by switching to Sorted, a lower cost platform.”

Sorted is an intermediary carrier service. It receives parcel data from Ironmongery Direct, and returns the most appropriate carrier to use, based on some pre-set criteria. Explains Luke, “It may not always be the fastest or the cheapest option. It may choose a carrier according to consignment size or destination, for example. Effectively, Ironmongery Direct supplies its shipping rules and logic to Sorted, which implements them and returns the best shipping carrier for that package.”

So, Balloon’s task was to integrate Sorted with K.Motion WMS. However, it wasn’t that simple. Normally with a shipping integration, Balloon will implement the carrier API straight into its own Springboard Ship application. In this way, the warehouse management system (WMS) sends the information to Springboard Ship, which sends it to the carrier, which then returns the necessary information and a label is printed.

But Ironmongery Direct needed a slightly different solution. Luke describes the requirements: “They wanted to give their customers greater choice, by providing several options of carrier to choose from. But to offer those choices, the system needs to know the prices of each. This can’t be done using a standard implementation, because the cartonisation had not yet been done. So, we had to find an alternative method of doing it.”

Creating a bespoke pre-cartonisation API.

The solution was to pre-cartonise the consignment. This would allow the prices to be returned, subsequently enabling the customer to make their choice of carrier.

To achieve this, Luke had to make two additions. Firstly, he created and implemented an API that would be accessed before any information even reached the WMS. This was integrated with Ironmongery Direct’s web store and also with SAP, the company’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Ironmongery Direct’s own in-house development team handled the ecommerce integration and another provider, the existing ERP partner, managed the SAP integration.

Creating this new, bespoke API depended both on Balloon’s knowledge of the WMS and on Luke’s expertise with creating an XML structure. This API approximates the cartonisation and is done before the order reaches the K.Motion WMS system. The API is hosted on a local web server within Ironmongery Direct’s own network.

Effectively, the API fake cartonises the order, sends the order to the Sorted API and then returns a list of carriers and prices. That information is then output to SAP and to the website, allowing the customer to choose a carrier.

After that is where the second addition comes in. Luke created an implementation for the Sorted platform within Springboard Ship. Balloon has created implementations for many carriers – including DPD, Fedex, DHL, Yodel, TNT, Royal Mail and UPS. But no integration to Sorted had been created before, so Luke needed to build it.

This integration is used at the end of the process. Once the customer has chosen a carrier, that selection is sent to Springboard Ship and the label is then produced.

Making IT happen.

Familiarity with how warehouse systems work meant that the Balloon consultant had the requisite knowledge to suggest this as a solution.

Luke had accomplished straightforward shipping integrations with Springboard Ship before. But this was new to him. He says, “It was really interesting to implement my own API and create an implementation for the Sorted platform. It was not something I’d done before, so it was a fantastic learning experience.”

He continues, “Now we’ve written this API that allows customers to pick a carrier up front, we can deploy it for other clients in future, if needed.”

Ironmongery Direct were pleased with Luke’s solution and his pre-cartonisation API is now being put to good use, handling something like ten thousand orders a month.

Development consultants like Luke help drive the realisation of Balloon’s internal slogan: ‘Making IT Happen’. His innovation delivered a tangible solution. With staff successfully ‘making IT happen’ for customers, Balloon delivers value and helps customers improve productivity and increase profit.

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