Our system for electronic data interchange, ORiON EDI, has celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. And although it is now accelerating the electronic data interchange for thousands of companies including some of the big players in e-commerce or in the field of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), its beginnings were far from rosy. Read on to find out more.
At ORiON’s inception stood David Reichel, currently the Solution Architect of GRiT’s product portfolio. At the end of 2000, he met GRiT’s founder Dalibor Damborský and they agreed to create the first Czech cloud tool for electronic data interchange (EDI). They believed that the flexibility of the cloud system paired with its low price was exactly what will push companies to exchange documents electronically on a large scale.
And so it all started. In February 2001, they signed a lease for an “office” on the grounds of the former ZZN (Agricultaral Supply and Purchase) in Opava. The room was 3×4 meters and the rental cost less than two thousand including utilities, electricity and other fees. They bought three new computers on installments and David Reichel started working on the first version of ORiON.
„It was a wild time for me. Shortly before midnight on February 28, I brought the computers from Brno to Opava and unloaded them in the office. At 2 am on the next day, my daughter was born and, on that very same day, the colleague who had been meaning to work on EDI with me resigned. I was sitting alone in the office surrounded by the new computers, my mind buzzing with conflicting emotions. I would never have guessed that this was how ORiON’s history was meant to begin,” reminisces David Reichel.
In a few months’ time, David, with the help of two coders, developed a new software prototype and the first successful commission came in September. David’s team pitched ORiON to the shopping cooperative COOP MORAVA, for whom they had previously developed the solution for planning their purchases, iCOOP. ORiON connected the solution not only with the consumer cooperatives, but also, and even more importantly, with their suppliers. Some suppliers in the field of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) were already familiar with EDI because their international purchasers required it. Despite that, connecting COOP’s suppliers to EDI was challenging.
„The difference between connecting suppliers today and 20 years ago was enormous. Back then, most of the small and medium-sized companies had never even heard of EDI, so we used to visit every single COOP’s supplier in person and explain from zero what EDI means, what it can help them with and so on. The message portfolio was different, too. The greatest emphasis was on the electronic order interchange, whereas despatch advices weren’t even in use yet; and as for invoices, they were in their infancy back then, and as such weren’t usually accepted as a legitimate tax document. So, we had much fewer arguments than today,” reminisces David Reichel.
In October 2001, COOP Moravia started exchanging orders with their suppliers electronically, and ORiON began gaining new customers. Back then, CCV (today known as GRiT) transferred ORiON from their own hardware to an external data center, entrusting their customers’ data to professionals.
Walmark, a company which produces ecological food supplements, marked a turning point for ORiON. At the time, Walmark was doing EDI using an obsolete solution from a different EDI provider. Despite that, their transition to ORiON went smoothly, which is how our historically first case study was born - about how we replaced an old solution with a modern service without a glitch. The company went on to attract numerous new customers to ORiON and David’s team gained valuable know-how.
Thanks to COOP Morava, David’s team was also able to reach their supplier Mlékárna Kunín (Dairy Kunín). This company, too, was using a complex server-based solution from a rival company, which cost them a lot of work, thus preventing them from wanting to use the new EDI solution to communicate with their other purchasers. For this reason, David Reichel made a deal with the dairy: „I offered that we would implement ORiON for free and connect it with their ERP system. If it works, they will migrate to us; if not, they won’t have to pay for anything. This cost us a lot of effort and consultations, but everything worked out in the end and we learnt how to take over complex competitors’ solutions.”
Afterwards, ORiON was invited to a tender organized by Nestlé (already a multinational corporation at that time). "It was the first time we had to negotiate with such a large company. When I arrived at the presentation, I felt like Cinderella at the royal ball. Nestlé was checking whether there were more interesting solutions on the market, both in terms of price and functionality. That's why my experience at Walmart and Dairy Kunín turned out to be very valuable for me. In the end, Nestlé was so amazed by the possibilities of our modern and flexible solution that they decided to change EDI providers and switch to ORiON."
Nestlé’s implementation went smoothly whilst the company was in full operation, gaining ORiON a glowing reference from a multinational company. This triggered an avalanche of new commissions.
One of ORiON’s larger EDI providers and competitors ceased operations in 2010 and only gave its clients a few months' notice. As a result, companies started issuing tenders on a massive scale, bringing about 50 new customers to ORiON, including the supermarket chain Globus and hobby market OBI. “Compared to previous years, when we had had to try hard to convince potential clients that we could do all sorts of things for them, the situation changed. Both Globus and OBI were already familiar with us because we had connected some of their small suppliers to the webEDI solution,” explains David Reichel. The above-mentioned webEDI is a simplified version of ORiON accessible from a web browser, which can be launched in a very fast and simple manner.
Thanks to OBI and their suppliers, ORiON was able to penetrate a new hobby segment (DIY = Do It Yourself). Subsequently, ORiON gained Plzeňský prazdroj as a new customer, after first negotiating with them back in 2002. Due to organizational changes, which had led the company to rethink their position on EDI, they decided to outsource it. “Their purchaser Ahold, which runs the Albert supermarkets, among others, was at first wary of the transition due to the large volume of documents they were exchanging with Prazdroj back then. In the end, Ahold was pleasantly surprised that the solution change went through without losing the company a single order,” reminisces David Reichel.
Up until then, EDI was widely used mainly in the field of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), but with the e-commerce boom, a new opportunity opened up for EDI providers. The ORiON team didn‘t sit back and started to actively reach out to the biggest e-commerce players out there. And they were successful - MALL.CZ was the first one to switch to ORiON, closely followed by Alza and Datart.
„These companies have a large part of tools at their disposal internally within their own IT departments; for example, they often run their own e-shops. So, the key was to convince them that if they outsourced EDI to a cloud service, it would save them a lot of costs and get suppliers involved in electronic communication much more quickly. Our experience with many ERP systems on the Czech market and our webEDI solution, which easily connects a large number of small suppliers, helped us a lot,“ explains David Reichel.
During its first decade in business, ORiON became a well-established player on the EDI market. It continues to grow in FMCG, pharmaceuticals and e-commerce, and is currently penetrating the construction industry. It is used by K&V Elektro, Sonepar, Elfetex and Elkov, among others.
During its 20 years on the market, ORiON’s team has grown substantially. These days, it consists of a lot more people than just David Reichel and a couple of coders. In ORiON’s Opava offices, there are over 20 people working on ORiON. However, it is also the company as a whole that has undergone a few major changes. In 2019, we rebranded from CCV Informační systémy to GRiT and shifted our focus exclusively to developing our own cloud products, as opposed to implementing systems from other developers.
GRIT now operates as a guide to automating internal processes. Our goal is not only to supply tools, but we are also making it our mission to rid companies of paperwork and other routine tasks. Besides ORiON, we are now also developing the guided warehouse management system, LOKiA WMS, or the tool for automating the processing of received invoices, iNVOiCE FLOW. We are also providing the service Roger Platba for invoice financing. Also coming soon is a new role for ORiON's "grandfather" David Reichel: „From my role as an EDI Architect, I will be moving on to a different position in which I will be developing all our services and looking for new ways of interconnecting them.”