When you were a child, you or a younger sibling probably owned a toy robot that was designed to “intelligently” avoid falling off a table as it careered around on a seemingly random path. Nine times out of 10, the little swine seemed to drop those four feet and smash sickeningly into the kitchen lino.
The robot was probably made by Tomy, and even though kids today probably prefer an iPad to throw on the floor over a plastic automaton, the Japanese company has moved with the times.
From talking, walking T-Rexes to app-connected railway sets, Tomy is still riding high in a competitive market, second only to Lego in terms of European toy company profits.
But Tomy has only recently realised the technical limitations of its own back end. Stuart Kahn, IT manager at Tomy’s Europe business, was alarmed to discover that a large number of phone calls to the company’s general customer services lines were from the firm’s own sales representatives.
Luckily, Tomy had already been running an SAP-based B2B sales website – one of the first among toy manufacturers – and Kahn hit upon the notion that they could create an entirely new system to aid sales people, with an emphasis on mobile devices such as laptops and tablets.
“For our B2B to work, we [originally] had to do custom development within SAP – custom tables and things,” Kahn told Computing.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to redo all that, so when we do our app it’ll use the same tables and same routines to calculate stock levels’.
“It just happened to work because it’s all SAP – we’d already developed it in there, and the functionality of stock just works. So we said, ‘Let’s just grab it and use it here’. We developed this in HTML 5, and it’s just basically a website.”
This was early 2013, and so it was time for Kahn to begin shopping around for solutions to speed production along.
At first, Tomy was in talks with web development firm Pixel, but a glaring problem was identified early on: Tomy sales people, explained Kahn, generally work on a commission-only basis, and could be employed by multiple companies.
“Say if you represented Tomy and Lego, and both used Pixel. Pixel would have been unable to cope with both companies on the device at once,” he said. Talks had to end at this point, as siloing the databases would prove impossible.
Kahn made sure he “got the word out” that a solution was still needed, and Tomy was soon approached by IT solutions firm Itelligence.
Itelligence is a huge fan of Sybase – the data management platform SAP acquired in 2010.
“We are using Sybase as the middleware, with SAP’s mobile management platform Afaria added to the mix,” said Khan.
“We were already producing catalogues within SAP anyway, so [Itelligence] asked why we’d not considered Sybase.”
The answer, it turned out, was “because Sybase is prohibitively expensive”.
But Itelligence was so keen on the project it agreed to split the development costs with Tomy, leaving Itelligence with the ability to reuse the bespoke system with other customers – “Except those in the toy industry for the next two years,” said Kahn.
Due to the BYOD nature of the commission-only sales teams, Kahn said Afaria’s management systems are perfect, siloing space on any device to work, with remote wiping a possibility.
There are still some security concerns. “The last few dots need joining,” Kahn admitted, including compatibility with anti-virus applications, but the new year should see the already-implemented Sybase infrastructure working happily next to Afaria’s mobile management.
Kahn is also very proud of the other three-tiered security systems in place with the mobile application.
“In the SAP back end, because people have usernames and passwords and sales person numbers, we have the middleware where this authorisation combination is in place,” he explained.
“On the front end, there is a policy to create a lockout process after 10 or 15 minutes.”
There is also a username and password for the app itself.
Itelligence, meanwhile, is “already in talks” about using the Tomy database software with UK and Dutch companies, who for now cannot be named.
On a usability level, Kahn is happy with the application’s performance across any system, although he still favours Windows machines – particularly enjoying Windows 8 as an operating environment for the app.
“I think it’s the processor. I’m very much more a Windows person,” he said, while adding that iPad 2 is still being seen as the standard for the slightly chuggier iOS version of the sales app.
So if Santa brought Tomy toys to your house at Christmas, you can rest assured he was informed by a robust ordering system.
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