Ecolab uses Microsoft Power Platform to create a unified HUB for Sales and Service teams
Headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ecolab has been providing water, hygiene, and infection prevention solutions around the globe since 1923. Servicing almost 3 million customer sites across over 170 different countries, Ecolab’s mission is to make the world cleaner, safer and healthier. From formulating powerful germicidal dishwashing rinse MikroKlene in 1930 (which is credited with helping to reduce the risk of dysentery in soldiers in World War II) to tapping into Wi-Fi sensors to provide customers with actionable insights in their systems, Ecolab boasts a rich history of technical innovation.
This legacy of innovation is being continued by Lori Jarchow and the Digital Solutions team, who partnered with Microsoft to realize their vision for digital transformation. They used Microsoft Power Platform to connect the many disparate systems used by Ecolab’s Sales and Services teams. Their solution was a single ‘HUB’ that combines everything field representatives need into one unified experience. It consists of Power Apps mobile and desktop apps, Power Automate cloud flows, and Power BI reports, all built on Microsoft Dataverse with integration into Dynamics 365 and Azure services. The solution is deployed to over three thousand users across five continents and localized in fourteen languages.
In this article, we find out more about how the HUB was envisioned and created, and how its use of Microsoft technologies has enabled the sales and service teams at Ecolab to save time, stay informed, complete tasks and view insights.
Watch the Ecolab presentation and demo at MBAS 2020 – https://aka.ms/MBAS/Ecolab
Successful Sales and Service reps spend their days gathering, consuming, analyzing and acting upon information. They need to know everything about their customers, their customers’ sites, orders in flight, their own sales performance and sales to budget goals, opportunities for follow-up, any flagged emergencies, and more – the sheer amount of information required is staggering. In many cases, however, gathering these details may require launching multiple websites or apps, each with its own user experience and set of instructions that new reps will have to become accustomed to through continual use and training. The inconsistency from one service to the next produces context-switching debt and reduces overall productivity.
Before Microsoft Power Platform
Such was the case with Ecolab’s Sales team. Lori Jarchow, Ecolab’s Digital Solutions Director, discovered that sales reps at Ecolab were spending more than 50% of their time on non-client facing, administrative activities. This meant that over half of their time was being spent not providing value to the customer, not engaging with potential leads, instead trawling through internally held data, incurring huge opportunity costs.
Lori and her team discovered that this undesirable situation was mainly caused due to valuable information being gated behind multiple manual, disconnected, and time-consuming systems. Sales reps did not have instant access to important customer information while on the go. They often had to phone Customer Service or wait till they were back on their laptop to get this information. These were some of the key challenges they faced on a day-to-day basis:
- Suboptimal user experiences in many of the disparate applications, with unintuitive features and designs
- Highly manual processes comprised of time-consuming steps moving information between systems
- Many apps running in silos causing redundant steps with multiple sources of information
- Decentralized processes forcing users to remember where to go to access certain information
- Lack of consistency due to freeform tools with no standardized templates generating training overhead
- Inability to work offline, preventing field representatives’ productivity where there is little or no connectivity
Microsoft Power Platform Solution
It was in November 2019 that Lori and her team started to envision the solution to this problem. Having recognized and identified the issues facing their colleagues, they theorized that a single point of entry for the Sales reps’ information gathering would cause a huge reduction in the time taken to achieve their goals.
Ecolab had previously adopted Dynamics 365, with two Dynamics instances present: one for the water division and another for the food & beverage division. Lori’s team’s first goal was to render the customer information from both instances into one seamless experience. It would transform the way they engaged with customers, providing a holistic approach to the customer which would allow field representatives to present to a customer as ‘one Ecolab’ instead of just a single sector of the company or a single part of the business, all through having ‘one place to go’ to access their data.
The question became: Could a Power Apps application be that ‘one place’ to go’?
Having a strong existing partnership with Microsoft – which had previously seen Ecolab break into the worlds of Power BI, Dynamics 365 Field Service and even HoloLens – Lori and her team were able to take part in a joint Power Apps hackathon, to find the answer to this question. During the hack, the seeds of this solution started to take root and, convinced in Power Apps as the way forward, Ecolab kicked off the project in earnest that same month.
Two months in and the team was already able to initiate a pilot run, releasing to 20 users across 2 different divisions in 2 different countries to complete initial testing. In another two months, the app had been fully launched to 2 divisions across the whole North American region, impacting 2,000 representatives. Today, the solution has reached 5 different continents, boasting over 3,000 users, and it is still growing. Ecolab continues rolling the solution out globally, adding more features and functionality, and enjoying the business benefits that have already emerged from the release of the product.
Cumulatively, in 2020, there were 18 releases, customized for 24 personas and localized in 14 languages. Each of these personas, such as an Account Manager or a District Manager, are specific roles in specific regions. Access to the specific sections or tiles in the app are based on the persona that is accessing the system. The Power Platform solution is also deeply integrated with the existing Dynamics 365 Sales and Field Service deployments.
The HUB is the realization of Lori and her team’s vision. It replaces the historic, incongruous mismatch of inconsistent systems with a single unified experience. The Power Apps mobile app is purposefully designed to be intuitive, user-friendly, and easy to navigate, with a header section displaying any emergency actions the user needs to be aware of, a static footer section so users can return to locations quickly and easily, and eye-catching tiles for users to navigate through to each section of functionality.
Below is a summary of some of the many features incorporated in the application:
- Notifications: Allows users to start their day by checking up on anything they may need to act on. Anything that is irrelevant for their day can be dismissed for a later date, or items can be marked as completed as users work through their ‘to-do list’.
- Key Performance Indicators: Instead of having to waste time trying to find the relevant Power BI report in order to track their performance, users can now simply press a single button within the app to navigate to the Performance screen to quickly and easily view vital analytics and metrics.
- Accounts: A Sales and Services rep can view and filter a list of accounts and, amongst other features, view, edit and maintain Opportunities related to each Account.
- Order Tracking: A sub-section of the Accounts page allows the users to check the status of orders, the products within those orders, when those products are expected to arrive with the customers in comparison with when the customers have requested the items to arrive by – all in one single-glance overview.
- Safety, Health & Environment: Easy step-by-step instructions, that guide an employee in the event of suffering a work injury, vehicle accident, etc. Each section allows the user to call the relevant agencies required to assist them, and to find their location if they are in unfamiliar territory.
- Sales Pipeline: Keeps users ‘in-the-know’ with regards to upcoming activities and business opportunities.
- Scheduling: A list of Service visits that the user has scheduled so they can see at a glance where they need to go today or plan out activities throughout their week.
- Alarms: From the home page the user can also see any alarms that they may need to handle. This surfaces information on what controllers at what customer sites need attention, and allow the Sales rep to determine whether or not they need to contact the System Assurance Centre (who control the remote alarms) or whether they can handle the situation with the customer directly.
Screenshots of the mobile Power Apps solution
In addition to the mobile version shown above, the team has also created a web version of the HUB, also built in Power Apps. This app surfaces the same information and actions in a user-friendly and intuitive interface that is optimized for a web browser running on a desktop or tablet device.
Screenshots of the desktop version of the Power Apps solution
Solution architecture and implementation details
The data and functionality listed above is all surfaced in the depicted Power Apps canvas applications, but there is far more going on here than at first meets the eye. As previously identified, the Sales and Services team’s data was historically strewn across multiple locations, and while the HUB provides a unified entry point for these different systems, in many cases the different systems are still in active use. The challenge then, was how to draw data from all these disparate elements into something the canvas apps could read and allow the user’s actions within the app to either directly affect data stored elsewhere or to guide them to the correct location.
High level architecture diagram of the HUB solution
The solution is elegant; data is flowed in through multiple routes to be displayed in the Power Apps canvas app. Power Automate cloud flows are used to bring change tracking information from the Dynamics 365 instances already present for Ecolab’s water and food & beverage divisions and create notifications with key dates in Dataverse. This, and other Dynamics data, is then consumed as read-only information by the application. Secondly, the application makes use of multiple APIs to obtain data, such as alarms data from the IoT controllers in the field, and order tracking data pulled on-demand from Ecolab’s external orders application. Power BI dashboards embedded within the app are used to visualize key performance metrics. Thus, the app acts as an interface layer, allowing for a highly customized and streamlined mobile data-consuming experience for sales staff.
Not satisfied with just feeding information in, however, Lori and her team wanted to also obtain useful analytics out from the application itself. By pushing all the telemetry data from the application into Azure Application Insights, Lori’s team can look at adoption metrics, understand where people are struggling with the app, and determine where they need to make improvements, all just from the usage data.
The following sections describe some of the integration points in additional detail.
Integration with Power BI
Ecolab had existing Power BI reports that were used to analyze the Sales and Services performances of individuals in their field team. As such, it only made sense to utilize this existing reporting within the application itself.
Using the in-built ability to embed tiles from Power BI reports directly into a Power Apps canvas app through the Power BI tile control, the team gave users quick and easy access to their vital analytics, all while retaining the single app experience. While these embedded tiles give a fantastic overview, for finer grain detail, the application makes use of the native OnSelect behavior of the Power BI tile control, automatically launching the user to the correct report in the Power BI mobile app to gain the full context and adjust slicers to see more data.
Top: Power BI tile running within Power Apps canvas app – clicking it launches the Power BI mobile app;
Bottom: Power BI mobile app allows user to interact with the report.
Integration with external APIs
Ecolab’s orders history is stored in an external application called ‘Athena’. To surface information from this application into the HUB, the development team created Custom Connectors to the Athena API which allowed the HUB application to make direct calls to the API. As a result, the last 45 days’ worth of orders for a given account are retrieved by the API in real time and displayed in the Power App.
Integration with Dynamics 365 Field Service mobile app
Similarly, a pre-existing asset Ecolab had available was its Dynamics 365 Field Service implementation. Using out-of- the-box connectors to populate galleries of data, the Accounts and Opportunities sections in the HUB allow reps to view and filter a list of accounts, giving the ability to provide a custom, user-friendly view of all the data typically locked away in Dynamics.
In order to enable the user to view additional details and edit an Opportunity, the application capitalized on the Power Apps Launch() function to deep link into the Dynamics 365 Field Service application.
Since parameters can be included in a ‘launch’ call, opening any opportunity in the HUB will launch the user directly to the selected Opportunity record in the Dynamics 365 Field Service mobile application, thus simplifying and streamlining the end-to-end user experience.
Left: Customer record in Power Apps canvas app; Right: The same record opened in Dynamics 365 Field Service app via deep linking
Deep linking into other native apps
It is not only other Microsoft or Power Platform applications that can be deep-linked via the Launch() function. The ‘Call’ feature in the Safety, Health & Environment section taps into the native phone capabilities of the hosting device. With a single button click, the user can make a call directly from the canvas app without ever needing to find and enter the recipient’s number, saving vital seconds in the case of emergencies.
Similarly, the ‘Find your location’ feature opens the device’s native maps application to pinpoint the users’ location in the event they suffer an incident in unfamiliar territory. This automatically opens the maps application with a request for the longitude and latitude of the device’s location, so that users can quickly and easily provide this information to emergency responders.
Impact and benefits
Ecolab have architected a complete transformation of the way their Sales and Services representatives interact with customer data:
- Access to the data is now centralized in one location where the users can go to access everything they need to efficiently plan and make the most of their day.
- Sales reps no longer waste time trying to remember which application to use for what data, and spend less time navigating between multiple tools or dealing with clunky interfaces as everything is now contained within the HUB as a single point of entry.
- Less training is required as new Sales and Services representatives need to learn just one intuitive tool.
- Representatives out in the field can access their information with offline compatibility, and users no longer need to go to or set up their laptops to consume information – it is instead at their fingertips, allowing them to provide a more agile service to their customers.
The effect of the time savings for field representatives because of using the app has been huge. It has transformed the way they spend their days – freeing them up for more engaging and valuable tasks, while also providing them with more insights to succeed. The adoption of the platform matches these Quality-of-Life improvements, and has helped smooth the roll out of the tool for Ecolab’s IT teams.
Quotes from sales reps that use the HUB solution
As representatives are now able to spend more time with their customers, Ecolab are also seeing benefits in their customer relations as well as the raw number of hours saved. The number of ‘at risk’ customers has been decreasing, and in their Food & Beverage division, the app has enabled an 18% improvement on meeting customer commitments.
Additionally, while most of the work has been about increasing productivity and user experience, the HUB has also managed to directly impact revenue by enabling a tracking system for analytical samples sent in by Ecolab’s customers. Previously this was a paper process of capturing physical water samples, sending them to the lab, posting the results to the customer, and it could not be tracked. Today Ecolab are using a bar-code scanner within the HUB Power Apps application to track the analytical sample – scanning in gives all the information about the sample and the sample history of that customer and allows them to track the sample through the process. Ecolab predicts a $3.5 – $5 million lift in revenue next year for this tracking service in the North American region alone and is planning to expand this globally.
Encouraged by the success they have seen so far; Lori and her team of internal developers are regularly distributing further improvements to their systems. They are committed to continuing to build out the HUB, continually improving the application with new features requested by their user-base, and in turn continually improving adoption as users see their own suggestions becoming realized in the application.
They have also started up a small team in India to build an Equipment Ordering project that will eventually be embedded into the HUB. This team was able to utilize their previous Dynamics experience to produce results in just 6 weeks – incredibly while learning the Power Platform – showcasing how rapidly a development team can get up and running when armed with an intuitive and accessible platform.
In just the last few months the team has translated the HUB application into 14 different languages and personalized the experience of the HUB, creating 20 ‘Personas’ that restrict the experience to just those tiles relevant to the individual currently using the application. Looking further into the future, the team plans to stretch the HUB’s capabilities even further to continue the increase in productivity and business benefits. Their plans fall into three core pillars:
- Features & Analytics: The team are working towards making the app more insights-driven, so they can be more predictive and proactive when they are servicing and accelerating sales for their customers.
- Global Expansion: The team are currently developing style guides that they will send out to other regions so that all regions can contribute towards the HUB and other Power Apps projects, following defined guidance to retain the cohesive nature of the application.
- Leverage: Currently the HUB is released to two of Ecolab’s five industrial sectors; plans are in place to reuse relevant components from the HUB app to service the remaining three industrial sectors, with Textile Care and Downstream Energy already on the docket to go on the HUB next year.
It is truly phenomenal to consider everything that Lori and her team have achieved over a mere 12 months, and strikingly clear that we are nowhere near the end of Ecolab’s journey with Power Apps and the Microsoft stack at large. The feature-set, uptake and benefits of the HUB have been truly inspiring, and we look forward to learning more about Ecolab’s future endeavours over the coming years.