|Publication number||WO1997022943 A1|
|Publication date||26 Jun 1997|
|Filing date||18 Dec 1996|
|Priority date||21 Dec 1995|
|Publication number||PCT/1996/20751, PCT/US/1996/020751, PCT/US/1996/20751, PCT/US/96/020751, PCT/US/96/20751, PCT/US1996/020751, PCT/US1996/20751, PCT/US1996020751, PCT/US199620751, PCT/US96/020751, PCT/US96/20751, PCT/US96020751, PCT/US9620751, WO 1997/022943 A1, WO 1997022943 A1, WO 1997022943A1, WO 9722943 A1, WO 9722943A1, WO-A1-1997022943, WO-A1-9722943, WO1997/022943A1, WO1997022943 A1, WO1997022943A1, WO9722943 A1, WO9722943A1|
|Inventors||Bruce R. Hitchcock, Todd M. Ostrander, John F. Keane, John W. Ortman, Lorna M. Jones, Francis A. Aiello, Kirk W. Lockhart|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (6), Referenced by (13), Classifications (3), Legal Events (7)|
|External Links: Patentscope, Espacenet|
ELECTRONIC ORDERING AND ROUTING SYSTEM
Field ofthe Invention
This invention relates to methods and apparatus for product ordering between multiple customers and multiple suppliers and customized order routing and, more particularly, to methods and apparatus that allow for a customer to operate an order routing system through a single graphical user interface (GUI) with customized routing rules.
Background ofthe Invention At the present, corporations, small and large alike, are continually searching for more effective and efficient ways of doing business both in-house and outside the company. Historically, purchasing departments create a bottleneck in the business process. Purchasing order (PO) agents process employee PO requests by searching through multiple hard copy catalogs for the items identified in the PO requests. The PO agents need considerable time to search and process the POs. Computer use in purchasing departments has enabled PO agents to greatly improve their efficiency. Many suppliers store catalogs of their products on CD-ROMs and send the CD-ROMs to their customers. The PO agents electronically scan through the CD-ROMs to find the products they need. However, the PO agents can only use the CD-ROMs to search for products and cannot use the CD-ROMs for placing direct orders or routing the orders electronically for approval. Also, the PO agents must have multiple CD-ROMs for multiple suppliers. As a result making the task of searching for products from multiple suppliers inconvenient and not user- friendly. Even more inconvenient, the supplier must continually update the CD- ROMs and send them to every customer. Recently, some large telecommunication companies and computer resource companies have developed systems that allow multiple customers to access databases of other companies over a public data network. AT&T and Lotus produce one such system, as shown in FIGURES 1 and 2. AT&T's Network Notes provides a public data network 30 that is a central platform for communication between multiple suppliers and multiple customers. Lotus Notes supplies the software for creating the interactive databases 34A-E in the servers 37-39 within the supplier 32, customer 31, and public data network 30 systems. As shown in FIGURE 1, suppliers create, in Lotus Notes, separately accessible databases defining various information. The supplier-created databases 34A-E auto-load into corresponding databases 34A-E on the public data network server 37, as shown in FIGURE 1. The loaded databases 34A-E are accessible by the customers at the other end of the system.
FIGURE 2 illustrates Lotus Notes' graphical user interface used at the customer's end. Lotus Notes provides access to the multiple supplier databases 34A- E located on the public data network 30. As shown in the envelope window 41, the three blocks 42A-C represent three different databases on the public data network 30. The customer enters any of the databases by selecting a database block 42A-C. This system is a drastic improvement over the CD-ROM technology, since the customer can access databases from multiple suppliers and send and receive information through the databases over a public data network 30. However, the customer can only access one database at a time in a not-so-user- friendly manner. For example, "database 2" 42B represents a catalog database and "database 3" 42C represents an order database. If the customer is searching within "database 2" 42B for the product, the customer must separately access "database 3" 43C before ordering products found in the search. Interacting with databases in this manner is anything but smooth. If a customer found in the catalog database a large number of products to order, the customer must remember the name of the products when placing an order in the orders database. Also, the Lotus system described fails to provide any method for intemal customer order routing. The present invention is directed to overcoming the foregoing and other disadvantages. More specifically, the present invention is directed to providing a GUI for fluid user-friendly access to multiple databases that are represented on a public data network and to providing a customer, rules-based routing system.
Summary of the Invention In accordance with this invention, method and apparatus for accessing multiple databases for multiple suppliers in a user friendly manner over a public data network is provided. A user's GUI displays a list of suppliers that link to the supplier's databases via a public data network. A customer selects a supplier from the supplier list displaying a product list from the supplier selected. The suppliers on the list link to corresponding databases on the public data network or on the customer's local network. The displayed product list is part of the electronically stored catalog database that the supplier prestores. The customer selects desired products from the product list. The selected products are automatically entered into a Preformatted order form. Upon completion ofthe order, the order form automatically routes through a predefined routing approval process. After successful completion of the routing approval process, the order form is electronically sent to the selected supplier.
In accordance with other aspects of the present invention, the routing approval process includes customer defined rules, each rule contains a minimum rule type, a minimum total dollar amount and a routing destination. A single routing designation can be different for an identical order originated by two different user's within the customer's system.
Brief Description ofthe Drawings The foregoing aspects and many of the attendant advantages of this invention will become more readily appreciated as the same becomes better understood by reference to the following detailed description, when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:
FIGURE 1 is an illustration of the system of the present invention; FIGURE 2 is an illustration of a graphical user interface ofthe prior art; FIGURES 3-17 are window screen shots of the GUI of the present invention; FIGURES 18-20 are window screen shots of user display messages of the present invention; and
FIGURES 21A-21B are window screen shots used for customizing the routing system of the present invention.
Detailed Description of the Preferred Embodiment FIGURE 1 is an illustration of the background architecture and databases of the present invention. The essential base architecture creates a system for communication between customers and suppliers over a public data network 30. The customer 31 , supplier 32. and public data network 30 each has respective servers 39, 38 and 37 for storing multiple databases and interactively communicating. For the purpose of this invention, five databases provide an essential platform for the GUI. A supplier database 34D stores information about suppliers accessed by the customers. An arrow points one-way from the supplier database 34D on the supplier system 32 through the public data network 30 to the supplier database 34D on the customer system 31. According to the arrow, only the supplier edits the supplier database 34D. A catalog database 34B stores a list of the products and product prices in supplier's catalog. A company database 34A stores information regarding the companies that produce the products listed in the catalog database 34B. A user profile database 34C stores customer billing and shipping information as well as information on every user within the customer's system 31. A user profile database 34C also stores purchasing preferences and other user related information. An orders database 34E processes electronic orders and mail. Data, within the orders database 34E, passes through the public data network 30.
Visual Basic™ (VB) is the preferred GUI programming language of the present invention. However, almost any event-driven GUI programming language can substitute for VB. Lotus Notes' application programming interface (API) provides the communication link to Lotus Notes' dynamic linked libraries (DLLs). Because VB accesses standard dynamic linked libraries by using declare statements that are unable to communicate with Lotus Notes' DLLs, a linking program such as VB Link, available from Brainstorm, provides the necessary communication link between Lotus Notes' DLLs and VB. It can bc appreciated to one or ordinary skill in the art of software programming that the linking software used in the present invention can be substituted by other DLL linking programs, such as Hightest, or by programming the link at a C based software language level.
FIGURE 3 is an illustration of the first interactive window that appears upon activation of the GUI of the present invention. A first non-interactive screen, a splash screen or advertising screen, appears while the customer's system is initiating the GUI. This first interactive window, as shown in FIGURE 3, is a main menu window 50. On the left side of the main menu window 50. a supplier or supplier list box 52 displays the suppliers who at present are listing catalogs accessible by the customer. For example, in FIGURE 3, the customer has access to catalogs from Egghead Software, Frank's Deli, Joe's Office Supply, Mary's Computers, and Reggie's Bike Shop. In the center o the main menu window 50 is a graphics area 53 displaying graphic designs associated with the highlighted supplier in the supplier list box 52. If the supplier Egghead Software is highlighted in the supplier list box 52, the graphics box 53 displays the graphically designed word "Egghead Software" or other graphic design associated with Egghead Software. Other available suppliers not directly accessible by the customer and on the public data network 30 are listed in the other suppliers list box 56. Customer access to supplier catalog databases is not automatic and must be preapproved through the other suppliers list box 56. The other supplier list box 56, located below the supplier list box 52, has scroll capabilities in a pull-down menu style. Highlighting a supplier in the other supplier list box 56 accesses a request information button 56A. The request information button 56A appears in the center of the main menu window 50, below the graphics area 53. Selection of the request information button automatically activates a Preformatted, preaddressed message for the customer to edit and send electronically to the supplier. Double clicking on a supplier name or highlighting the name and pressing the Enter key displays an icon for that supplier.
As shown in FIGURE 4, a buttons area 54 in the main menu window 50 displays vertically arranged buttons linked to separate functions relating to a highlighted supplier in the supplier list box 52. Selection for all buttons is performed by activating the cursor over the button, and by depressing the button on the keyboard that relates to an underlined letter of a word on the button or by selecting a corresponding function from a pull-down menu 55B.
An approvals button 54A, located at the top of the buttons area 54, accesses window 1 10, as shown in FIGURE 17A. Window 1 10 displays a list of orders requiring approval or disapproval by the user. The list displays who authored the order, when the order was entered and the supplier of the order. When the user selects an order from the list of orders, window 1 12 is displayed, as shown in FIGURE 17B. Window 1 12 is a read-only version of window 80 in FIGURE 12 except for interactive buttons 1 13 and 1 14 at the bottom of window 1 12. The order is approved or disapproved by selecting either approve button 1 13 or reject (disapprove) button 114. As shown in FIGURE 17C, comments window 116 appears after selection of either button 1 13 or 1 14 and allows the user to insert a comment regarding the approved or disapproved order. A comment is required after selection of the disapprove button 1 14. All comments inserted are placed on an electronic mail message, shown in window 1 17 of FIGURE 18. The electronic mail message is sent to the originator of the order and it includes a statement describing what action, approval or disapproval, was performed on the order, who performed the action, when the action was performed and who is next in the routing process.
A what's new window 60, illustrated in FIGURE 5, appears upon selection of a what's new button 54B from the main menu window 50. The information displayed in the what's new window 60 is supplier supplied information or news about various products and prices the supplier wants to highlight to the customer. The supplier database 34D provides storage of the data in the what's new window 60. A reporting window 61, shown in FIGURE 6, appears upon selection of a reporting button 54C from the main menu window 50. In the reporting window 61 , the customer selects from various reporting display options of past orders. The customer selects the sorting of past orders by date, supplier, user, or item.
Activation of an order status button 54D located below the reporting button 54C in the main menu window 50 displays an order status window 63, shown in FIGURE 7. An order list window 64 is displayed in the upper left portion of the order status window 63. The order list window 64 displays a list of all the orders that are in process, complete, or rejected. Single clicking on an order in the order list area 64 displays an order number, PO release number, status, process date, shipping method, number of line items in the order, subtotal of the order, tax, freight, miscellaneous charges, and total in a display area 65 to the right of the order list area 64. Also within display area 65 is a delete status info button for deleting the displayed order from the order list window 64. Upon double clicking on a purchase order in the order list area 64, an item display area 66 is presented in the lower portion of the order status window 63. The item display area 66, a scrolling window, displays some details of a highlighted purchase order. The information displayed includes each product ordered, quantity of each product shipped, quantity back- ordered, and a process date of each product ordered. If an order was rejected, a reason for the rejection appears upon selection of the rejected purchase order in the order list area 64. The orders database 34E stores the data supplied to the order status window 63. Selection of an e-mail button 54E in the main menu window 50 provides for reading or sending memos of a supplier highlighted in the supplier list window 52. FIGURE 8A is an illustration of a read memo window 68, and FIGURE 8B is an illustration of a send memo window 69 displayed upon user designation. The read menu window 68 displays common electronic mail fields such as date, time, to, from, cc's, and subject, as well as the body of the message. Buttons within the read memo window 68 allow the customer to move to the next or previous message, return to the main menu window 50, or reply to the message that is presently displayed in the read memo window 68. Customer selection of send memo or a reply button in the read memo window 68 displays a send memo window 69. A main portion of the send memo window 69 provides a place for insertion of a message. Generally, the "to" field in the send memo window 69 is a default setting for the current supplier selected. Activation of a send button in the send memo window 69 sends the message to the supplier. The orders database 34E provides the communication platform for all electronic mail transactions.
A preferences button 54F, on the main menu window 50, provides customization of various features of the application through user preference windows 70A and 70B, in FIGURES 9A and 9B. A user preference window 70A provides user definable titles for comment lines displayed later in a comments section of an order form. Another user preference window 70B provides user customization ofthe background and foreground ofthe application windows. The customer accesses a catalog database by double clicking on the supplier name within the supplier list window 52 or highlighting the supplier name and pressing the Enter key. After the selection of a supplier, a catalog menu window 72, seen in FIGURE 10, for the supplier appears listing the products that are currently available from the supplier. A product window 73 within the catalog menu window 72 displays a description of the product, a product's stock keeping unit (SKU). a unit price of the product, a quantity of the product selected by the user, and an extended price calculated from the quantity selected by the customer. The supplier customizes product prices in the product window 73. In other words, a reliable customer of the supplier may negotiate for lower prices on certain products. Each product and the related information are displayed line by line within the product window 73. The product window 73 has a scroll bar for accessing products above and below what is currently displayed in the product window 73. A sort order window 74 provides the user with a number of options for product display order in the product window 73. The sort window 74 is a scrolling pull-down window and is located above the right portion of the product window 73. A scrolling pull-down category window 75 located above the left portion of the product window 73 displays the present category of products displayed in the product window 73. The pull-down category window 75 also provides for quick jumps to different categories of products within the catalog. A product data area 76 below the product window 73 displays supplier-supplied data relating to a highlighted product in the product window 73. As shown in FIGURE 10, the product data area 76 displays information relating to the Xtree Gold for Win product highlighted in the product window 73. If more information is available for a highlighted product, a product info button 77 lights up and shows a magnifying glass icon on the button. To view extra product information, the customer selects the product info button 77 to display a product information window 79, as shown in FIGURE 1 1. The product information window 79 displays a product's part number, description, and price for the product, as well as a scrollable list of product highlights and a scrollable list of system requirements. Also, an image of the product is available. The catalog database 34B stores all the information displayed in the catalog window 72. The customer begins order processes by first single clicking the cursor on a desired product in the product window 73. The customer enters desired quantity of the highlighted product after selecting the Enter key. The bottom right corner of the catalog menu window 72 displays a running tally of the number of line items selected and the cost. As shown in FIGURE 10, the customer has selected four Xtree Gold for Win products at a total price of $258.96. Since the Xtree product has been the only item entered so far, the number of line items selected are displayed at the bottom right portion of the catalog menu window 72. The order total is displayed to the left of the number of line items selected. When the customer completes selection of the desired items, the customer selects a complete order button 78 located above the number of items and cost, to the right of the product information button 77, and below the right side of he product data area 76.
The selection of the complete order button 78 activates the complete order window 80, as shown in FIGURE 12. At the top of the complete order window 80 is a bill-to-address area and to the right of the bill-to-address area is a ship-to-address area. The bill-to-address block 83A within the bill-to-address area displays the name and address of the entity being billed. The billing address is unchangeable for the preferred embodiment of this invention. However, the window provides multiple billing addresses accessible through a scrolling pull-down window in a bill-to- address block 83B. A bill-to-attention block 83C allows the customer to specify a billing entity or person at the billing address. The ship-to-address area is very similar in layout to the bill-to-address area. A scrolling pull-down ship-to block 83B is located at the top of the ship-to-address area. A ship-to block 82B provides for selection of or entry of shipping addresses. Below the ship-to block 82B is a ship-to- address block 82A. The customer identifies shipping location in the ship-to-address block 82A. The user profile database 34C stores shipping and billing information. Below the ship-to-address block 82A is an attention block 82C for identifying a person at the shipping address. A shipping and payment area 86 are located immediately below the bill-to and ship-to areas. Cost center, purchase order number, and release number are user field blocks included in the shipping and payment area 86. The customer supplies information for these blocks or the information is preprogrammed into the system. A ship via block within the shipping payment area 86 contains selectable shipping methods in a pull-down scrollable window. Located in the center of the shipping and payment area 86 is a credit card button for accessing a credit card window 90, as shown in FIGURE 13. In the credit card window 90, the customer enters credit card type, card number, and expiration date into separate fields. The credit card type field provides manual insertion of a credit card or selection from a pull-down scrollable window. The orders database 34E stores credit card information.
A PO number is entered, for alternate payment means, into a purchase order number field block within the shipping and payment area 86. A credit card or a PO number must appear for the application to place an order. Below the shipping and payment area 86 is a line item listing area 84A. In the line item listing area 84A, the products are listed line by line including a part number, description of the product, the prenegotiated unit price, the quantity ordered, and the total amount of the quantity ordered for that product. Below and to the right of the line item listing area 84A is an order subtotal block 84B that automatically lists the total of all products with a quantity selected within the line item listing area 84A. Within the complete order window 80, the customer can access product information by highlighting the product in the product area 84A and selecting an item information button 89 located at the bottom of the complete order window 80. Also at the bottom of the complete orders window 80 is a comments button 88. A user preferences window 91 appears upon selection of the comments button 88, as shown in FIGURES 14A-C. The customer enters comments for each line item product listed in the line item listing area 84A. Comments regarding line item products are entered in a line item page 92. Multiple lines are presented with line titles previously entered by the user in the user preferences window 70A, as shown in FIGURE 9A. In the upper right portion of the line item page 92 is a horizontal scroll bar for scrolling through the products listed by line item in the line item listing area 84A. In the lower left portion of the line item page 92 is an indicator block showing the product's item number and the total number of line items. As shown in FIGURE 14B, a shipping page 93 has a large scrollable text area providing entry of comments directed toward shipping. Finally, in FIGURE 14C, the customer enters PO comments into a PO page 94 in a large scrollable text area. Also, in FIGURE 12, an SKU info button 89 to the left of the comments button 88 accesses the product information window 96, shown in FIGURE 15. Selection of a catalog selection button 81 located left of the SKU info button 89 returns the customer to the catalog menu window 72 for placing more items on the order. Left of the catalog selection button 81 is a main menu button 98 that returns the customer to the main menu window 50.
Once the order is complete, the customer selects a send order button 87, located in the lower right corner of the complete orders window 80. The order is sent directly to the supplier or through the preprogrammed order routing process within the customer's system prior to being electronically sent to the supplier. If an order needs approval, window 1 19 appears after activation of the send order button 87, as shown in FIGURE 19. Window 1 1 9 displays a list of who must approve the order before it is sent to the supplier and prompts the user to begin the routing process or return to the order for further order editing. If the user chooses to continue the routing process, the first user on the approval list automatically receives an electronic mail, shown in window 120 of FIGURE 20. The electronic mail indicates that an order awaits approval. The electronic mail process is repeated as the order travels to each approver indicated in window 1 19. Once every approver on the approver list approves the routed order, the order is sent to the supplier.
Prior to execution of the routing process, certain parameters must be preprogrammed into the customer's system. A user of the GUI is defined as a customer employee, uniquely defined within the databases of the customer's system. Each user is defmed by the department in which the user works, the role of the user, and the user's authorization level. The department is the company's department or division where the user works, i.e., accounting, sales, downtown branch, etc. According to the present invention, the company can create as many department titles and authorization level titles as needed. However, presently there are only three differently defined user roles. The three user roles are requisitioner, buyer and administrator. A requisitioner is defined as a user all of whose work orders go through a requisition approval process. A buyer is one that may not need approval for some orders and the administrator sets the rules for the requisition routing.
Predefinition of an approvals list is necessary prior to creation of routing rules. The present invention provides a list of eight hierarchical slots for entering position titles of users involved in the routing process. For example, an administrator would enter the term "employee" into slot 1 , "division head" into slot 2, "department head" into slot 5, "vice president" into slot 7 and "president" into slot 8. This list of titles entered by the administrator is accessible by every user within the customer's system. Each user enters the name of the employee into the slot number that corresponds with the administrator entered title of the slot number. For example, if the user's division head is John Smith, the user will enter the name John Smith into slot 2. The administrator also has the ability to assign numbers to a specific user. For example, if user John Doe is a special purchasing agent, the administrator may assign a number, beginning with 100, to John Doe.
The final predefined data is the administrator entered customer or company routing rules. As shown in FIGURE 21 A, rules window 125 provides adding, deleting and updating of rules. Every rule is defined by one of three rule types: cumulative; best; and override. Defined by the letter "C", cumulative rules apply together and all the approvers specified by those rules are added to the routing list. Defined by the letter "B". when more than one best rule is true, the best rule that tests true with the highest dollar amount is the only rule that applies. The override rule is defined by the letter "O" and when an override rule applies, the routing process ignores all applicable best and cumulative rules and routes to the approver(s) of the override rule. The type information is contained in a customer data database.
The rules contain six different sets of field data that apply to the either the data describing the originator of the order or the data within the order being routed. The six sets include the department where the order was placed, the role of the originator of the order, an amount by which the order must be greater than or equal to, the authorization level of the originator of the order, the cost center and the supplier of the order (see Table 1). TABLE 1
User Attribute Order Attributes
Authorization level Amount
Department Cost Center The user attributes are stored in the user profile database 34c and the order attributes are stored in the order database 34e. The administrator enters the desired field data into blocks 127 through 132, located below rules list 126, thereby creating requirements for a rule. If a field is not to be limited by any restriction, the administrator selects a field title with the word "any" preceding it from a list of titles in a pull-down window. The field titles are listed across the top of rules list 126. The final value entered for each rule is a route number(s). The route number(s) identifies where the order is routed to if the rule is found true. A rule is true if all entered field data blocks 127-131 of that rule are true for the order being processed and the rule type, block 132, allows the rule to remain true. Below and to the right of the rules list 126 are an add button 136 for adding rules defined within blocks 127 through 133, an update button 135 for editing rules listed in rules list 126 and a delete button 137 for deleting rules.
As shown in FIGURE 2 IB, the administrator tests the rules in test window 140 to ensure the entered rules adhere to desired company policy. Role, authorization level, department, and cost center information are entered in corresponding blocks in an employee information section 144. To the right of section 144 is order information section 145. Section 145 provides blocks for entering order amount and supplier name. Once the test information is entered, a get route button 147. located at bottom center of window 140, when activated displays the route of the rule(s) that applied to the entered test information. The route appears in block 146 to the left of button 147. Below sections 144 and 145 and above block 146 and button 147 is a rules list similar to rules list 126 in window 125. Plugging numerous scenarios into sections 144 and 145 provides an adequate check ofthe customer's predefined rules. The user can retrieve and edit disapproved order(s) he or she originated.
Retrieval is performed through main menu window 50. The user can perform edits on a disapproved and resend the order through the routing approval process. The disapproved orders are located in a in pull-down menu of the GUI.
After the user chooses to start the routing and sending process, a selection window 97 prompts the customer to perform one of three tasks, as shown in FIGURE 16. A create new order button 99, located at the top of the selection window 97, provides the user the option to create a new order for the same supplier just previously accessed or create a new order for a different supplier or from a stored template. A name this order button 100 located below the create new order button 99 gives the customer the option of saving a copy of the order just sent as a main template so it can be recalled at a later time. Finally, an exit program button 101 provides the customer the option to exit the electronic order system.
As shown in FIGURE 3, many of the windows of the present invention display a title bar 55A, a menu bar 55B, or a status bar 55C. The title bar 55A displays a title for the window it represents and common interactive window buttons. The menu bar 55B contains drop-down menus providing performance of many of the functions performed by the activation of the cursor within other parts of the window. As shown in FIGURE 3, the status bar 55C displays date, time, and a title of the program. However, as shown in FIGURE 10, the status bar 55C displays the number of line items selected, total price of the products selected, and the name of the supplier the products are being ordered from. Many of the display windows contain a return button located in the lower left corner of the window. Activation of this button returns the customer to the previously displayed window. It can be appreciated to one of ordinary skill in the art of windows programming that the customer or program designer has the ability to manipulate display of bars 55A-C.
While the preferred embodiment of the invention has been illustrated and described, it will be appreciated that various changes can be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.
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