What do you do when you’re a B2B company with a website that needs to expertly, instantaneously get large amounts and different types of complex information to different types of customers?
BioIVT found that out when it turned to Zaelab, a digital commerce advisory and solutions provider that partners with best-in-class platforms. With guidance from Zaelab, which also brought on Algolia, the organization was able to successfully create an excellent B2B digital experience for its customers.
BioIVT is a leading provider of biospecimens: control and disease state samples, including tissues, cells, blood, and other biofluids. It sells primarily to clinical research organizations, major pharmaceutical companies, and academic research institutions.
Craig Williams, director of product design and research at Algolia, hosted a webinar about BioVT’s project. Evan Klein, Zaelab’s CEO, joined Craig for this discussion, along with Andrew Thomson, vice president of Innovation & Technology at BioIVT.
Digital transformation objectives
BioIVT’s business goals with this transformation were to:
- Grow the business. The organization was acquiring companies and growing rapidly; it needed the right technology to expertly incorporate and provide all the information it was collecting in a single consolidated platform
- Differentiate. The company was intent on augmenting its established reputation for being “high touch” and “human” and translating that into a digital experience
- Automate. They needed to eliminate manual business processes that were inhibiting their ability to scale
- Modernize. They prioritized keeping up with customer demands and staying ahead of competition in the future
Critical tech stack components
Zaelab helped BioIVT identify the components needed for the transformation. First and foremost, the company, which had an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system running in the background, needed an architecture that would provide flexibility and agility.
In creating BioIVT’s digital commerce stack, Zaelab implemented SAP Commerce Cloud and a truly headless approach.
For content management, the team chose Contentful, another cloud- and API-based platform.
To deliver an exceptional customer experience, Zaelab used its own headless ZCommerce framework. They natively integrated it in the BioIVT platform to create a modern, progressive web experience.
When Zaelab evaluated BioIVT’s search needs, they realized that the company needed a very robust, fast search engine that could excel at searching for inventory as well as products. BioIVT has a complex product, and the team needed to be able to let customers find what they were looking for in a seamless way. Search would be a critical piece of the digital transformation.
Challenges with implementing search
The challenges the transformation team faced when designing a search solution included:
- Having multiple source systems: BioIVT had acquired many companies and had many sources of data.
- Having a complex data set. “We’re not just talking about selling T-shirts,” says Evan, “we’re talking about selling animal and human tissue.”
- The lack of a typical product catalog. BioIVT has a real-time, continually changing set of inventory.
- Having a vast amount of marketing and scientific resource information that needed to be indexed and easily searchable by customers
BioIVT also had opportunities to improve on its existing search technology. They wanted to improve their search performance, improve search-result relevance (different types of users needed certain information tailored to their roles), and give their customers access to complex, continually changing inventory data.
Zaelab evaluated a number of search engines and determined that Algolia was the best-of-breed choice based on several factors:
- Diverse content types: “We weren’t just talking about searching for products,” says Evan, “we were talking about searching for products, scientific content, inventory, accounts.” They needed a search engine that could allow customers to find various types of content.
- Results and relevance: Based on search queries, Algolia was providing the right content at the right time.
- Speed and performance: Algolia was “almost instantaneous” when providing results—which is what customers expect.
- The ability to let the business manage search. They didn’t want to have to initiate a technology task any time the search functionality needed to be optimized. Algolia’s cloud-based tooling empowered the business to be able to personalize, tweak, and tune search results.
- Real-time inventory updates: They needed an API-based platform that could scale and handle the volume of updates.
- An existing Algolia plug-in for SAP Commerce Cloud: In working with Algolia earlier, Zaelab had built a plug-in that allowed them to quickly go to market with Algolia.
When taking these factors into consideration, it was clear to the team that Algolia would meet BioIVT’s search needs better than any other solution.
Two years later…
BioIVT created a two-year digital transformation roadmap that started with an advisory phase, during which they requested input from their customers. The process ended with three successive releases of the new solution, then a period of optimization and innovation.
Here’s BioIVT’s new search bar dedicated to educational content:
This search functionality was especially timely in the era of COVID-19, notes Andrew.
BioIVT also now has a separate search bar for its complicated inventory set of more than 140,000 biosamples. There are more than 50 attributes for each sample, as well as more than 30 search facets on the Algolia platform:
Success indicators and learnings
In quantifying the success of the transformation, one indicator was platform adoption by customers (e.g., the number of quotes and orders). The team also measured increases in revenue, cost savings, and customer loyalty.
Andrew identifies six key takeaways from the project:
- Ensure executive alignment and communication. It’s important to have crystal-clear synergy between all stakeholders.
- Go with incremental deployment. Do one thing at a time to help manage expectations.
- Focus on data quality. “Never underestimate the amount of data quality work you’re going to have to do with projects this size,” advises Andrew. “We have hundreds of thousands of samples of material, information coming from multiple systems with our ERP…the data needed to be consistent across the board…in a format that was ready to show at a moment’s notice to any customer on the website.” Before, the company had been focused on making sure the data looked nice, now they were relying on it being stored nicely.
- Change management is a bear. It can be difficult to get buy-in from the entire organization; dedication and good communication are key.
- Put API first. The API-focused approach and headless architecture allow for flexibility and faster innovation.
- Identify program governance early. In the preliminary stages of a longer project, put strong leadership in place.
The customer is right (always)
Evan pointed out one final learning: Start with your users. BioIVT’s digital transformation began with reflecting on and gearing the work to meet their customers’ needs.
“We’ve traditionally been a very high-touch organization: a boots-on-the-ground sales force walking around clinical research companies and pharmaceutical companies, talking to scientists about their research needs,” says Andrew. “We’re very much in a personal, one-on-one relationship with these bench scientists, and as we’ve pushed forward with digital transformation, we didn’t want to lose that aspect of our client service…. It wasn’t always easy asking every question with ‘How will the client respond to this?’ But it was important for us to keep that focus.”
What’s next for BioIVT?
Andrew’s to-do list includes:
- Expand to encompass additional lines of business, as well as more product and sample types
- Utilize Algolia to improve internal initiatives, such as inventory search for internal users
- Continually optimize search and the digital experience
- Continue driving current clients to the site as the preferred buying channel
Solving for gaps in SAP Hybris
Craig has a follow-up discussion question: what gaps was the team trying to solve for in the SAP Hybris native search solution?
“SAP Commerce Cloud provided search capabilities, which makes sense if you’re just thinking about search across products,” replies Evan. However, search is distinctly different for BioIVT customers.
“It’s not just products but an incredible amount of complex attributes related to those products; there was search across inventory that was moving very quickly, changing very frequently, there was search across documents and scientific content. Algolia presented a solution that was going to better meet the needs of BioIVT’s customer experience.”
“Once we saw how quickly Algolia could take a large number of complex records and search them and display them, we were sold on that solution,” adds Andrew. “Our experience with other solutions in just trying to search our inventory historically has been a long and difficult process, nothing that people would want to sit through and wait for on a website.”