Suva – online plattform for security products and health protection

01. September 2001

As Switzerland’s largest accident insurer, Suva has an important additional role in the area of accident prevention and in occupational and leisure safety. As a result of a customer survey in autumn 1996, in 1999 Suva set up Switzerland’s first virtual specialist marketplace for security products as an internet pilot project. Following a successful trial phase, the offer was officially launched a year later under the brand name Sapros (Safety Product Services) since which time it has seen continuous development.

Sapros offers visitors to its offering platform a comprehensive overview of the market, the opportunity to order security products and health protection as well as access to around 25 product suppliers (incl. Suva).

1. The company

Suva, the Swiss accident insurance corporation, is an independent company under public law with its headquarters in Lucerne and 20 agencies all over Switzerland. As the most important institution for mandatory accident insurance, Suva insures around 1.8 million employed persons in 108,220 companies for occupational and non-occupational accidents as well as occupational diseases. Suva is a non-profit organisation and receives absolutely no subsidies. Suva’s Administrative Board, which was elected by the Federal Council, stands out due to its social partnership-like composition. It is comprised of 16 employee and 16 employer representatives respectively and eight representatives of the federal government.

The agencies and headquarters have medical services with specific expertise and a wealth of experience in occupational and accident medicine. The entire company also includes the two rehabilitation clinics in Bellikon and Sion. At the end of 2000 Suva's workforce was 2444, including 468 in the rehabilitation clinics.

Suva’s services include prevention, insurance, and rehabilitation. Suva supports its insured companies not only with personal consultation, but also with a wide selection of information and education.
Here, information about personal protective equipment for work and recreation as well as its quick availability is an important element of prevention.

Industry Sector
In addition to Suva, there are numerous other providers of personal and technical protective equipment for work and recreation operating in the Swiss market. In part, they are organised in the Association of Swiss Accident Protection Companies (VSU). It was important to Suva to implement Sapros as a joint cooperation project with all interested safety product providers, in order to guarantee greater customer benefits as well as the greatest possible market compatibility.

The Sapros e-business application is a brand-name protected service for the safety products line of business of Suva's Health Protection Department. Sapros has two objectives:

  1. to create in the Internet a daily updated product overview of the safety products that are available on the Swiss market for interested parties and customers and to guarantee a direct ordering possibility for all the products that are offered (= to create the greatest possible customer benefit),
  2. to give all qualified suppliers of standard-conforming safety products in Switzerland the possibility to present their products and offer them for sale (= guarantee the greatest possible market compatibility).

Achieving both of these goals is in the interest of increasing occupational and recreational safety in Switzerland.

As a first step, personal protective equipment for work and technical machinery protective equipment was shown on the Sapros platform to begin with. This was then supplemented by the recreational safety products and products for “first aid”. This has now continued with products from the ergonomics and rehabilitation sectors. The objective of the planned final stage is to be able to offer the extensive Swiss range of products for safety and health protection in the Internet.

Target Group
Sapros is primarily a B2B solution. It is aimed at company owners, safety experts, and product buyers in the approximately 100,000 companies that are customers of Suva, i.e. small and medium-sized companies. However, on a secondary basis, Sarpos is used by sportsmen and women, home owners, and other private persons who are looking for optimum safety products for work and recreation.

2. e-business vision

Suva’s short but demanding e-business vision for the e-business solution Sapros is as follows:

The Sapros online platform is to be Switzerland's leading, virtual, specialty safety products market.

This objective is to be achieved by exploiting the potential found in Suva, but mainly also through partnership-based cooperation with other safety products suppliers.

3. e-business strategy

Derived from the vision, Suva developed a detailed concept, which constitutes the objectives and basic conditions for implementation.

The Supplier’s e-business Concept
In summary, the e-business concept can be described as follows: Sapros is to be the creation of an information platform with a product overview (“virtual shop window”) and a way to order standard-conforming safety products for work, technology, first aid, recreation, ergonomics, and rehabilitation from various Swiss suppliers for the benefit of companies and private persons.

Scope of Services
In accordance with the e-business concept, Sapros is primarily a prevention tool for companies that are customers of Suva, They can use Sapros to obtain an overview of the latest range of safety products on the Swiss market in an easy, non time-consuming and economical way. Secondarily, Sapros is a complete e-business solution through which the safety products are sold.

That means a virtual specialty market is to be created in which the visitors (interested parties/customers) can inform themselves on the one hand as well as choose the appropriate safety products based on the complete product overview and pay at a single checkout independent of the supplier. Subsequently, the selected safety products are to be delivered to the recipients address.

The following schematic diagram shows the individual service areas and their responsibilities in the virtual specialty market, Sapros:

Fig 3.1: Overview of virtual marketplace for specialist security products
Fig 3.1: Overview of "virtual marketplace for specialist security products"

For the implementation, a fulfilment partner and an Internet agency were evaluated and involved in developing the solution.

Fulfilment Partner
Depending on the specific strategies and the available resources of the individual product suppliers, there are two alternatives for providing the fulfilment services in connection with the Sapros online platform. Either by:

  • the product supplier itself, which means company-specific invoicing and collection as well as organisation of logistics services

or by

  • yellowworld as a fulfilment partner with call centre, carehousing, and chipping services as well as payment (incl. management of outstanding items and reminders).

ERP Supplier/ Existing IT Partners
IPEC, the “e-commerce Internet platform” from yellowworld contains elements of Simultaneous Business Solutions (SBS) and adopts the required ERP functions of the e-business solution. All information required by yellowworld customers for marketing, procurement, finance, etc. is prepared in IPEC and made available to the customer’s ERP system, for example the Suva internal SAP system, in the desired format for further processing.

Internet Agency
Programming of the Sapros website including the shopping solution and the housing for the web server was handed over to the e-business agency FirmNET in Lucerne. FirmNET was founded in 1994 and is one of the first Internet companies in Switzerland. Since then, it has implemented websites and e-commerce platforms for over 150 companies.

4. Fulfilment solution

The fulfilment solution covers the fulfilment of services for payments and logistics as a complement to the online shop.

Fig 4.1 Definition of online shop – Fulfilment services
Fig 4.1 Definition of online shop – Fulfilment services

The design of the online shop makes two alternative fulfilment solutions possible. On one hand there is a direct connection to the fulfilment platform IPEC from yellowbird, and on the other hand an email can be generated to initiate “traditional” order processing by the respective product suppliers.
Suva - with the products from Velohelmen (bicycle helmets) – was used by yellowworld as a pilot partner for the development of its fulfilment product. These yellowworld services are now also available to other product suppliers.

The Type of Fulfilment Service
The individual sub-processes of the yellowworld fulfilment solution cover the following operations:
Order Acceptance
Orders placed in the online shop (shopping cart) are transmitted directly to the fulfilment solution. Traditional ordering options such as telephone, fax, or card can be accepted on behalf of the respective product suppliers and directly entered into the fulfilment application IPEC.

The orders are forwarded to the warehouse at the company Serlog (logistics partner of yellowworld). Serlog receives the information and prepares it for its own purposes (e.g. bill of materials). In parallel, a delivery note with an integrated payment slip is printed from IPEC at the logistics service provider and enclosed with the corresponding packet. Afterwards, the deliveries are passed to the appropriate transport companies (e.g. the post office) at least once per day.
The inventory levels are managed in IPEC and in the warehouse in parallel and synchronised daily. As a result, it is possible to show the effective inventories in the shop via IPEC.

Payment Solution
Payments that are remitted are credited directly to the appropriate accounts of the respective suppliers. Information about receipt of payment is transmitted to IPEC and there it is updated along with the open items. If payment is not made in time, then up to three reminders are sent, depending on the supplier's stipulations. If the account is still not settled, the product suppliers will decide individually on further measures.
The fulfilment solution from yellowworld (IPEC) provides another extension primarily dealing with online payments (SET) by means of “Postcard” and credit cards, in addition to the e-payment functions explained above. However, this is not used in the current version of Sapros.

The development costs for the Sapros platform came to CHF 800,000. The annual operating costs including ongoing development is CHF 600,000 per year. This means a major commitment is continuously made towards further developing the platform in line with the current requirements of suppliers and customers. By means of outsourcing, it was possible to make order processing costs variable to a great extent. This mainly concerns fulfilment services within the framework of order processing by falling back on the various suppliers and IPEC as the fulfilment solution of yellowworld.

5. Implementation

Resulting from the conceptual requirements, the following sub-processes were defined for updating the products and for order processing:

Processes / Redesign

Figure 5.1: The major sub-processes of the Sapros platform.
Figure 5.1: The major sub-processes of the Sapros platform.

The individual sub-processes of the e-business solution were integrated into all the affected business processes of the specialty market operator Suva and documented according to ISO 9001.

Software Solution/Programming
The virtual online platform Sapros was developed by the e-business service provider FirmNET in three phases.

Phase 1 included the development of a functional model (GUI only) which could be used as a discussion basis for designing the Sapros platform and for attracting additional product suppliers.

In phase 2, a functioning prototype (Sapros Light) was developed in the MS scripting language (*.idc) without a connection to the fulfilment solution. Based on the experience from the two project phases, the productive version of Sapros was designed and programmed within the framework of phase 3.

Technical Platform
The infrastructure for developing and operating Sapros is mainly based on Microsoft products. Visual InterDev was used to programme the individual server functions (IIS Webserver with Active Server Pages).
The Active Server Pages of the web server access the mail server (SMTP) and the central relational database system (SQL server), which provide the website and online shop with current safety and product information. A leased line is used to access the IPEC server (order processing and payment), which in turn is connected to the warehouse server (logistics).

Architecture [system architecture]

Figure 5.2: Topology of the Sapros e-business solution
Figure 5.2: Topology of the Sapros e-business solution

The components of the Sapros e-business platform are located on the premises of FirmNET, while the fulfilment components are located at yellowworld.

6. Operation

Besides technical support and a guarantee of smooth operations by the Internet service provider FirmNET, it is mainly the target-group orientated updating and ongoing development that is an important success factor for a visit to the virtual specialty market by interested parties/customers.

Suva gives editorial support to the Sapros online platform. The individual suppliers manage their safety products themselves within the scope of structural stipulations and with the possibility of obtaining support from the Suva hotline.

The platform was financed 100% by Suva as a pre-investment with the goal of being self-financing. The break-even point should be reached after 5 years, whereby the costs are to be primarily financed by sales commissions on the safety products that are sold in the online shop.

Based on the figures that were presented, the virtual specialty market achieved a turnover of CHF 1 million for the first time in 2001. The goal is to at least double the annual turnover every year until the break-even point in 2006.
Individual safety product suppliers above all benefit from the reduction in time spent dealing with customer inquiries and orders, in addition to the additional turnover from new customers. Individual customers obtain a prevention benefit from the rapid availability of up-to-date information about safety products and the possibility of ordering them online. With around 7000 visitors and 600 orders per month at present, this produces an overall additional benefit which at least doubles the directly quantifiable return from the product sale.

7. Success factors

Specialities of the Solution
The online platform for safety products and health protection is convincing because of the following special features:

  • a comprehensive information platform with a discussion forum and virtual specialty market with protective equipment for work and recreation with the primary goal of prevention at Suva’s customers’ companies.
  • The incorporation of additional product suppliers makes it possible to gain a fast and above all comprehensive overview of the current range of safety products. That means that through the joint appearance (coopetition = cooperation by competitors) in the virtual specialty market Sapros increases customer benefits and consequently also the benefits of the individual suppliers through access to new customers and additional product sales.
  • Individualisation even on the supplier side: This means that the individual suppliers can choose between internal and external order processing (through the fulfilment partner yellowworld). In addition, the individual suppliers are present in the virtual specialty market without any risk, as the “rent” consists exclusively of the sales commission on sales of their products.
  • The shopping solution was designed in such a way that only one shopping cart exists for the customer, independent of the product supplier and fulfilment solution.
  • In the design phase, a detailed risk analysis with a security concept was developed which accordingly influenced cooperation with external e-business partners.

Thus, for example, the copyright of the entire e-business solution including the source code and detailed technical documentation, belongs to the platform operator, Suva. As a result, there is an option of running the Sapros platform on Suva’s own web server if the need arises.

Unique Selling Proposition
The overview of this sector, which is the most comprehensive in Switzerland, provides the visitor with all relevant information, including offer and price comparisons and the option of ordering personal and technical safety products and other products that promote personal health online.

Due to the continuous and rapid availability of comprehensive and up-to-date information about safety products and health protection, considerable cost savings can be achieved by customers and suppliers plus a prevention benefit due to improved information and increased purchase/use of safety products.

Lessons Learned
Thanks to professional project management and the availability of the necessary financial and personnel resources, serious errors could be avoided and minor errors could be corrected as they went along. The small, highly-motivated project team was managed with clear objectives and sufficient creative freedom. A pragmatic approach with an integrated, continuous improvement process (KAIZEN), very little paperwork and only a few meetings, and intensive networking with internal and external partners formed the basis for the project’s success.
Other important success factors were/are:

  • consistent tailoring of project activities and platform design to achieve optimum customer benefit,
  • clarification of copyright powers before the contract was awarded as well as the definition of programme documentation, source code, and data depositation,
  • the creation of a detailed risk analysis as a mandatory part of the design phase, resulting in a risk catalogue with the appropriate security measures for data and operational protection as well as the respective requirements to be met by e-business partners,
  • the possibility of choosing between an external and internal fulfilment solution as well as a suitable connection to the order processing systems of the individual product suppliers,
  • the support and partnership-based involvement of product suppliers, who are sometimes also competitors of Suva.

Owner/s of the solution

Jules Kaufmann, unit manager
Industry: Public authorities/Social insurance/Police/Armed forces, security products
Company size: large-scale enterpriseSuva

Solution partner/s

Roland Wolleb, project manager
yellowworld AG
Roger Gomol

Case study author/s

Bruno R. Waser
ITZ InnovationsTransfer Zentralschweiz

01. September 2001
Waser; Bruno R. (2001): Suva case study in: Dettling; Walter; Schubert; Petra; Wölfle; Ralf (Eds.; Fulfillment im E-Business – Praxiskonzepte innovativer Unternehmen; pp. 117-129; Munich; Viena: Hanser Verlag; 2001

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