Written by Elisabeth Wurm, IT Recruiter
An exciting and huge undertaking at Dot this past year has been to upgrade our ecommerce website, currently called the Expressway, to a fully new platform that creates a better experience for our customers—DotFoods.com/shop. Many departments have been collaborating on this initiative, including several of our IT teams. I was curious to learn more about the work being done behind the scenes, so I sat down with Product Manager Kevin Baum and Lead Software Engineer Eric Cunningham.
What’s been your career journey like at Dot Foods? How long have you been with the company?
This is year 18 for me at Dot. I started in Sales, worked in National Accounts for six years, moved into an intersection between Sales and IT where I led the Salesforce initiative at Dot. From there, I transitioned into Supplier Marketing. Now I am the product manager of the Expressway.
I’ve been at Dot for 13 years now. I started as a software engineer on the App Dev team supporting the warehouse. I spent three years there, then moved to the Expressway team, which morphed into the Digital Commerce team. I worked my way up to senior software engineer, and most recently, I was promoted to the lead software engineer for this team.
Tell me more about why Dot is moving from the Expressway to DotFoods.com/Shop?
We acknowledge the reality of how valuable the Expressway is in the industry—but it’s 25 years old. It’s not as agile as we’d like it to be for our business partners. The original version didn’t give us the ability to pivot as quickly as we’d like to, so we’re moving to more modern technology to take care of our partners faster.
How will our customers interact with our new ecommerce website?
Dot sells 150,000 items from 1,000 suppliers to 5,000 of our customers world-wide. We are building an ecommerce platform where we can help our customers find items that will make the most sense for their business. This will help them manage their relationship with Dot and it will allow us to communicate with them in a more modern way.
Give me an idea of what’s happening behind the scenes? What type of technologies are we using?
EPiServer is the ecommerce platform we’ve purchased. It is cloud-based and not installed on any of our Dot servers. It’s built on .NET – ASP.NET MVC structure, and we use C# as the language on the back-end. The front-end uses Vue.js is brand new to Dot. It allows us to design features quickly and flexibly. The code is clean and simple to understand.
We also prioritized building the platform so it’s responsive, meaning any device you use should be easy to look at and scale appropriately.
We are also working with the Enterprise Service Layer (ESL) and brand new microservices architecture. With our original Expressway site, all the logic was baked into the site itself.
For DotFoods.com/Shop, we are using EPiServer (Optimizely), where the business logic is extracted out and belongs to the ESL. Many times, when we need data from a Dot system, we go through ESL. Also involved is our customer relationship management (CRM) and our Product Information Management (PIM), which stores most of our item data. Our PIM is intended to be the single source of truth. Any time an item changes, that’s where it will happen—making the PIM the primary source for data. If the data is changed in the PIM, it is pushed to Epi. Then Epi Importer translates the data and updates the catalog, so the new product information shows up correctly on the Shop search page.
During this initiative, our Digital Commerce developers learned how to use Vue.js and EPiServer (Optimizely) platform as a service (PAAS). Our Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) teams began using our EnterWorks PIM and Seeburger. The Sales Enablement team transitioned from COBOL to .NET / C#, and the ESL team learned how to deploy APIs to the cloud using Azure. Our teams continuously adapt to keep up with the latest technologies. There is always something we are learning!
What new features are you most excited about?
The Search feature is enhanced with resized images that load quickly; whereas with the old version, you had to click into the item and wait for it to load.
Layering on top of machine learning so search results are personalized. We send lots of purchase history records, so even if our customer purchases a product from us offline, we can personalize their search and make recommendations. We hope this will make their job easier.
Digital Notification Service
This used to be handled manually through our Customer Service department, but now item availability updates are shown in real-time. If something about a product changes, we have a way to tell customers almost instantly.
The microservices architecture allows the customer to interact with and view the progress on all their orders at Dot, both past and present—not just ecommerce orders.
One feature of EPiServer allows us to add microsites to be brought underneath one umbrella, using components from our site. There are blocks built for existing functionality, which can be reused for microsites. For example, our Dot Foods Careers microsite will be able to reuse existing blocks without rebuilding it over again. This will help us meet customer expectations and drive consistency better than before.
What have some of the challenges been in launching this initiative?
One broad challenge has been taking a website that ran for 25 years and starting over from scratch! The business logic of the 1.0 site is complex, so that’s been a challenge to translate.
We are working alongside a very high-quality third party who assists in our development work. They are a leader in their industry, but we still have to figure out our rhythm of collaboration.
Learning new tech is always a fun challenge, but it can slow progress down. However, our company has a history of solving complex technology problems over the years. The work we are doing now will be a good foundation serving our team for the next five to 10 years.
Anything else we should know?
Kevin – In the past, we’ve had the mindset of being a supply chain company that specializes in technology. However, our company vision puts us in a position where we’re envisioning a future of being a technology company that happens to be an expert in the supply chain. Will this be the product that flips us? It’s exciting to think about.
Eric – I really admire that Dot is willing to spend the resources needed to launch this new product. I’ve talked with developers at other companies who are managing on a shoe-string budget and must make it work with what they’ve got. But at Dot, our leaders are willing to invest in the necessary financial and people resources for this product. Knowing the company you work for is invested in what you do—that’s a great thing.