About the project
In today’s business landscape, building a name is not an easy task – and preserving it to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving market makes such a feat even more remarkable.
Our client, Plato Woodwork, has managed to do just that – uphold a tradition of excellence for 130 years (and counting). For five generations, they have been committed to building high-quality cabinetry to create functional and beautiful spaces. Built with sustainability in mind, their products reflect a unique blend of respect for their heritage and dedication to future generations.
To ensure the tradition is kept alive for many more years ahead, Plato approached HTEC to modernize and optimize their business.
Plato’s business model is based on collaboration with 100+ dealerships nationwide. To achieve optimal lead time and ensure all tasks in a chain are completed seamlessly and timely – from order placing to manufacturing and delivery – the client needed a robust and comprehensive system that would improve collaboration between all the stakeholders involved – dealers, sales representatives, customer service representatives, etc.
The biggest obstacle to achieving this was using deprecated desktop software written in an obsolete programming language. This meant that the business relied on using on-premise equipment. There was no centralized source of information, and issues would sometimes arise, e.g., due to software instances incompatibility. Ordering custom cabinetry is a very involved process, so some refinements were due to allow for, among other things, better ways to track the progress of current orders.
In addition, Plato is dedicated to maintaining optimum lead time and nurturing customer satisfaction, with a special focus on unparalleled customer experience relying on five generations of industry knowledge. To achieve this goal, they needed some refinements on the frontend side as well – a modern digital product catalog that would offer an excellent UX to truthfully reflect their craftsmanship and significantly streamline order placing and validation.
To address the client’s pain points, HTEC implemented a range of improvements that can be classified as “backend” upgrades – pertaining to infrastructure transformation via AWS cloud services – and “frontend upgrades” related to developing a modern digital catalog offering premium UX/UI design. The major enhancements brought about by refinements in these two categories are as follows.
AWS and infrastructure enhancements
Upon starting the project, the HTEC team’s main focus and end goal was to deprecate the desktop app used for collaboration between the client and dealerships and switch to cloud services – primarily AWS. In the solution HTEC developed, the backend application runs seamlessly on AWS ECS, ensuring efficient containerized deployment, while the frontend is delivered with optimal performance through CloudFront’s content delivery network.
Switching to cloud services brought a whole range of improvements, including:
- Centralizing information to improve real-time collaboration – Prior to introducing cloud services, data was “trapped” in the desktop application, which often created silos among different stakeholders and departments as there was no single source of truth. The implementation of AWS infrastructure enabled quick access to synchronized, updated, and congruous information, significantly increasing the velocity across the entire scope of business.
- Resolving compatibility issues – Since the client cooperates with a lot of different dealerships, having to install a great number of software instances on on-premises equipment sometimes led to version incompatibility. Switching to cloud services took these discrepancies out of the equation, which notably expedited the entire ordering process – from placement to processing and validation.
- The ability to learn from data –Prior to HTEC’s engagement, there was no centralized data storage, and the client could not make informed decisions based on data. Now, they can use insights from previous orders to proactively plan future business and track current orders’ progress more accurately in real-time. In addition, Plato personnel can now see draft customer orders to prepare for large orders and arrange procurements upfront. AWS services transformed the way data was stored and managed. HTEC’s project employs RDS (PostgreSQL) for robust relational database management, DynamoDB for Terraform state locking to ensure seamless infrastructure deployments, and S3 for scalable and secure object storage.
- Authorization and authentication – Introducing AWS’s Identity and Access Management service (IAM) improved security and enabled easier access to the information needed per particular role, further optimizing business processes.
- Automated backups – Employing Amazon RSD automatic backups and AWS Parameter Store brought manifold benefits to Plato, including data security and availability, as well as backups and disaster recovery, paving the way for scalability.
- Scalability – Shifting from desktop to a cloud-based model will allow the client to seamlessly scale their business without affecting performance, facilitating, among other things, new workforce and client onboarding. Employing services like AWS Auto Scaling groups, AWS Lambda, and AWS CloudFront laid the foundation for autoscaling, resilience, and cost optimization.
Being a family business from Minnesota, relationships mean more to us than anything. HTEC certainly has put forth great effort to care for that relationship through all the highs and lows of development. I can’t say enough about our development team’s extensive attention to the product’s performance and prompt response to bugs/improvements. The order-entry system residing in the cloud has allowed us to get ahead of orders with dealers in the “draft” stage before they’ve submitted them to our knowledgeable customer service team. Our sales reps have been able to support, predict, close, and service sales opportunities leveraging order visibility. Like the talented HTEC team members on this project, Plato strives for service and partnership over all else. This system will be a cornerstone for providing services to our end customers for years to come. International business collaboration is a fairly new concept to our small-town company. HTEC has shown us how much talent is out in our world! The people have been great to work with and a pleasure to get to know!
– Mitchell Pinske
Corporate Development/Owner at Plato Woodwork
Digital catalog enhancements
To streamline ordering processing and validation before production starts and upgrade user experience, the HTEC team introduced a modern and intuitive digital catalog, which allows for easier navigation through Plato’s product offering. Catalog items are arranged into user-friendly categories and incorporate visual aids, thus improving the UX and facilitating order validation between Plato personnel and dealership representatives.
In addition, interactive elements such as tooltips, pop-ups, and hover effects provide additional information without cluttering the screen. The newly designed catalog also enhances customization capabilities by featuring elements such as colors, materials, textures, grains, patterns, etc., and allowing combining these within defined rules and limitations, thus preventing back-and-forth communication in case certain elements cannot be combined.
Understanding each other was paramount for success and maintaining a long-lasting relationship. Plato was the first furniture manufacturer that HTEC worked with, and it was the first time for Plato to engage an IT partner in this capacity, which obviously can be challenging. Although we’ve had a great multi-year collaboration, there were things about each other’s business that we didn’t understand. We invested a lot of time in asking each other questions about the business environment, goals, ambitions, and internal challenges—and we built trust through this transparency. The solutions HTEC built will allow Plato to continue raising the satisfaction of their customers and partners and optimize internal processes. We’re glad to be able to complete our mutual vision of the digital transformation of Plato’s IT products while being part of another success story
– Aleksandar Marin
Engineering and Delivery Manager at HTEC Group
Another paramount upgrade was introducing the quoting system. This eliminated extensive communication (often done via email) and potential errors and inconsistencies, thus optimizing the whole process and leaving the client with more time to focus on crucial business aspects.
Finally, using state-of-the-art technology to update the catalog product offering has accelerated the implementation of major project offering updates, thus making their time to market significantly shorter.
To sum up, these are the benefits of the new digitalized catalog offering:
- Improved UX/UI
- Easier offer placement and validation
- Enhanced customization
- Improved quoting system
Shorter time to market for new offerings
The client’s unparalleled craftsmanship and domain knowledge in this industry are reflected in a 130-year-long tradition of manufacturing extraordinary custom products. To keep up with the highest standards set forth a century ago, they acknowledged the need to modernize the technology behind their offering. They recognized HTEC as a partner whose technology expertise matched their woodwork artistry. The impact of this collaboration is already evident.
From more optimized collaboration and communication to streamlined and automated processes, faster time to delivery, and a centralized order framework, migrating their business to a cutting-edge cloud-based platform not only brought value for Plato’s current operations but also paved the way for further scaling.
Having businesses like Plato around is a testimony to what can be achieved through years of honest and diligent work, unwavering dedication to quality and customer experience, and a lifetime commitment to creating a positive impact. HTEC is proud to be a part of keeping that tradition alive.