Apex Supply Chain Technologies engineers social business behaviors

IBM SmartCloud Engage services help employees adopt effective project management practices

Published on 30-Sep-2013

"A major reason we chose IBM cloud services is the quality of the security. An effective level of role-based security is built right into its SmartCloud for Social Business collaboration tools." - Karolyn Schalk, vice president of IT infrastructure, Apex Supply Chain Technologies, LLC

Apex Supply Chain Technologies, LLC

Fabrication & Assembly

Deployment country:
United States

Mobile, Smarter Workforce, Social Business for Human Resources, Social Business for Knowledge Sharing and Innovation, Social Business

IBM Business Partner:


Headquartered in Mason, Ohio, Apex Supply Chain Technologies, LLC is a global leader in point-of-work, point-of-service automation systems to help companies track, control and manage the flow of supplies and other essential items that their workers need.

Business need:
Facing a major upgrade to its on-premises messaging platform, Apex Supply Chain Technologies, LLC sought a more cost-effective solution.

The company deployed a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution integrating the IBM® SmartCloud® for Social Business platform with project management tools to make it easier for team members to share information.

Apex estimates savings of at least USD200,000 for a functionally rich, flexible solution that fosters adoption of collaborative project management practices companywide.

Case Study

Headquartered in Mason, Ohio, Apex Supply Chain Technologies, LLC is a global leader in point-of-work, point-of-service automation systems to help companies track, control and manage the flow of supplies and other essential items that their workers need. The company designs, builds and supports industrial vending solutions, serving thousands of large and small businesses, including more than 200 Fortune 1000 companies.

Supporting growth

A young, high-growth company, Apex had exceeded the capacity of its messaging system, and the provider no longer supported the software version. With minimal IT resources, company executives began evaluating cloud solutions. “Because we offer a cloud product ourselves, we’re comfortable with cloud computing. We know it can be secure,” says Karolyn Schalk, vice president of IT infrastructure for Apex.

While low-cost system maintenance and reduced licensing fees were primary decision criteria, other factors were equally important. Some of the company’s growth had been through acquisitions, resulting in geographically and organizationally dispersed operations, which impeded collaboration. Also, employees in the same location did not always communicate effectively. “We wanted a solution that made it easier to share information, met our security standards, offered support for mobile devices, and could flex and grow with us,” says Schalk.

The evaluation team found that IBM offered a range of social cloud collaboration tools that other service providers it evaluated could not match unless some capabilities were provided on Apex’s premises. “As we continue to improve processes, we might want to go from cloud to a hybrid environment, but we didn’t want to start out that way,” says Schalk. “IBM SmartCloud for Social Business solution offers this kind of flexibility.”

Accelerating adoption of cloud-based collaboration services

Working with IBM and IBM Premier Business Partner CDW, the Apex IT team deployed a solution integrating IBM SmartCloud Engage social cloud collaboration services with project management tools. The team then used the solution’s integrated IBM Connections communities functionality to manage employee training and the rollout.

The team also enlisted the help of a knowledgeable employee as a technology advocate, who listened to what individuals and groups needed to do and showed them how they could do it using the IBM cloud services. “When you’re trying to encourage collaborative behaviors, you have to have the tools available and a person right there to assist when the teachable moment occurs,” says Schalk.

Providing greater access at reduced cost

“One of the beauties of IBM SmartCloud is how straightforward it is to leverage the authentication to aggregate our other tools and cloud-based assets—not just the IBM technologies,” says Schalk. In addition, IBM SmartCloud Notes® Traveler software extends access to most mobile devices, so that employees away from the office can stay engaged.

The improved access comes at significantly reduced cost. “We would have spent at least USD100,000 on software licenses to upgrade our previous messaging system, as well as another USD50,000 for hardware to run email and USD50,000 on servers to provide the necessary redundancy for online meetings or instant messaging,” says Schalk.

Other benefits include infrastructure simplification and access flexibility. Solution administration is straightforward. Business staff members are free to set up and organize communities without IT involvement. They can decide what information to share and with whom to share it. They can even invite external contractors or vendors as guests into their communities. For example, Apex marketing employees use the guest model to invite customers to view video records of site visits and to review documents.

Helping enforce privacy and security mandates

Apex serves customers from a wide range of industries who have different regulatory mandates that they must support. Sometimes prospective customers’ concerns extend beyond Apex’s production environment. They ask questions about the quality of back-office processes as well. With the IBM solution in place, it is easier for Apex employees to respond with confidence to customers’ security concerns.

“Security isn’t an afterthought for IBM,” says Schalk. “It’s a functionality that is considered within the interfaces, within the preferences and in how you use the tools. And it’s done in a way that it’s not overly obtrusive.”

For example, IBM has an effective level of role-based security built into its IBM SmartCloud for Social Business collaboration technology. Business owners can limit access to a community, activity or document, and they can set up people as authors or owners. In addition, with IBM SmartCloud Notes Traveler software, enforcing use of passwords and the access control on mobile devices is virtually effortless. “Apex employees that want email on their smartphones must set up a screen password, no exceptions,” says Schalk.

Encouraging more open communication

Apex employees now spend less time searching for information. When a recently hired vice president of application architecture needed information about the data center roadmap, for example, he simply clicked on the URL in the email inviting him to the IT department’s IBM SmartCloud community where the relevant documents are published.

The IBM solution also gives the company’s diverse and geographically dispersed employees a place to practice collaborative behaviors to identify and solve problems. Through the use of community comments and forums, people are having more open conversations about processes and policies. In one of the first uses of shared files, the human resources (HR) department posted a paid time off (PTO) request form. The author assumed that employees understood the purpose of the document and the method for calculating time. When people discovered that they could comment on the file and that their comments would be sent out as a broadcast email to everybody, they began discussing and asking questions about how PTO was calculated. This response led to more focused direction from HR. “It was a casual conversation; people were thinking out loud,” says Schalk. “It made the quest for understanding less intimidating for those of our employees who are hesitant to speak out face-to-face.” Apex has also begun opening communities to vendors, suppliers and customers to encourage ongoing exchange of information in a way that can be highly secure, managed and tracked.

Fostering a more consistent, collaborative approach to project management

Using the collaborative capabilities delivered with the IBM SmartCloud Engage solution, Apex is standardizing and enhancing people’s approach to project work across geographies. When projects are tied to a community, team members are fully immersed and they each have a voice. Even people external to the company who are invited as guests to the project can play an active role as designated content owners or authors.

“The IBM social collaboration cloud services are helping change behaviors,” says Schalk. “We’re starting to see a community open up for each project. People are using the tools in an intentional way, taking a more thoughtful approach to discovery work and document sharing. They’re deciding who the team members will be and including them in the project from the beginning.”

For more information

To learn more about the IBM SmartCloud for Social Business platform, please contact your IBM sales representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website: ibm.com/cloud-computing/social

For more information about Apex Supply Chain Technologies, please visit the following website: www.apexindustrial.com

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Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

IBM Connections, IBM SmartCloud Notes, IBM SmartCloud Engage

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2013 IBM Corporation Software Group Route 100 Somers, NY 10589 Produced in the United States of America September 2013 IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, IBM SmartCloud, and Notes are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. The client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. It is the user’s responsibility to evaluate and verify the operation of any other products or programs with IBM products and programs. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided.