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Product Divisions

Large manufacturers and distributors are sometimes organized in such a way that different divisions are responsible for different product lines. Although the entire company actually has only a single brand, the vast range of products sold by the company is partitioned into distinct independent divisions. For example, the IBM Corporation has distinct divisions responsible for software, storage, servers, semiconductors, and so on. Siemens Group based in Germany has divisions in several different sectors: fossil power, renewable energy, oil and gas divisions within the Energy Sector; imaging, diagnostics, and workflow solutions divisions in the Healthcare Sector, and so on.

Typically, in this scenario different divisions produce completely different products. Frequently, even the customers of the divisions are distinct; in other words, a customer might be interested in products of only one division or only one sector.

Each division has independent operations, and hence each division's business processes can be unique and different from other divisions. For example, some divisions can give their customers the ability to see the quantity of products in the inventory, whereas others do not. Some divisions can allow customers to request made-to-order products, but others do not. The terms of payment, fulfillment rules, and even customer registration procedures can all be completely different among divisions.

While the parent company might try to simplify all the different operations, it is virtually impossible to get the divisions to behave in exactly the same way. For historical reasons, the divisions' business processes and their internal systems are frequently incompatible with each other. It is therefore difficult to impose a change to make these divisions so similar that their needs can be served by a single site.

Often, the incompatibilities among the divisions cannot be blamed entirely on historical mistakes, corporate politics, and legacy systems. Rather, the differences in product lines inherently lead to differences in business procedures and in customer base, such as industrial customers versus small companies. After all, taking Siemens as an example, intuitively it is hard to imagine how a single site could be used both for hospitals to purchase MRI machines and for oil companies to procure equipment for oil platforms! Even though all these products carry the same Siemens brand, the different divisions do require separate sites to best address the requirements of their customers.

Companies have started to realize the proliferation of separate division sites causing confusion for customers who might be looking for products in multiple divisions. Therefore, some large manufacturers have started setting up portals that allow customers to access products in different divisions from a single starting point. In this environment, the company's portal gives customers a global view of all their purchases with the company and a convenient way to find and order products from multiple divisions.

Even within the environment of a portal, the business rules and processes of each division must be respected. Usually each division provides its services to the customers in its own unique way. In many ways, the portal brings together services provided by multiple divisions. For example, different divisions can provide services to view or search for orders, to search for products, and so on. Although the customer sees a single portal rather than multiple sites, from the company's point of view, there is still the need to provide distinct services, depending on the needs of each division.

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