Success Story - Alfa Aesar

Project Details  

Alfa Aesar

B2B Order Entry


mobile, e-procurement

WebSmart ILE

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Mobile-friendly, multilingual website allows customers to order products from PCs, tablets and smartphones

Alfa Aesar first partnered with BCD Professional Services in early 2009. The initial requirement was to design a new corporate web site. The project blossomed into the development of a full-featured site using WebSmart that allowed Alfa personnel to customize the content. The site included secure B2B and B2C ecommerce and supported a multilingual environment. Since then, Alfa Aesar and BCD have collaborated to introduce many new enhancements including a site for mobile devices, secure delivery of MSDS information, e-procurement "PunchOut" and much more.

BCD acts as an extension of our team in every way, helping us continue to enhance our website, participating in customer meetings to develop bespoke programs, and providing support to our global locations. Without BCD, we never would have been able to achieve the progress that we've made over the last four years.

Mara Nieuwsma, Marketing Manager, Global Development


Alfa Aesar required a modern-looking public website that made it easier for customers from around the world to order products from whatever device they were using. The solution needed to minimize impact on their existing business operations on the IBM i.

The new website required:

  • Seamless integration with existing applications and DB2 database on the IBM i.
  • Direct integration with order fulfillment processes.
  • A modern design with content management and unique geographic regions.
  • A mobile-friendly order entry system.
  • Multilingual support.
  • "PunchOut" functionality that allows customers to order products from e-procurement software.
  • The ability to maintain the site going forward.


Alfa Aesar contracted BCD Professional Services to assist with the design and development of their public website. BCD used WebSmart ILE, BCD's rapid web application development tool, to fulfill each of Alfa Aesar's requirements:

Integration with existing applications
The goal was to minimize impact on current operations. The solution integrates directly with the existing ERP system and DB2 tables on the i. Order processing feeds directly into Alfa's order fulfilment process. The alternative was a non-IBM i hosted solution that required data propagation and ongoing synchronization of data. With help from Alfa developers, much of the business logic and complexities were handled by RPG program calls which allowed the web application to leverage existing infrastructure.

Mobile-friendly shopping cart
In addition to the main shopping cart on the site, customers can use tablets and smartphones to add products to Alfa Aesar's mobile shopping cart. The mobile application builds a quote on the system. The customer then gets an email with the contents of their mobile cart. The email includes a link that merges the mobile cart with the cart on the global site. This allows the customer to switch from one site to another while retaining the details that they had previously set (e.g. country, cart items).

Multilingual support
The text on the site is dynamically translated based on the user's current location (their IP address) or based on a language preference they've previously selected. The translation process is facilitated in part by a translation utility that BCD developed. In addition to dynamic language translation, the site also displays dynamic content based on the user's geographic location.

The website serves customers who use e-procurement software to "punch out" to Alfa's online order entry system. The PunchOut process enables clients to create requisitions and purchase orders using software such as Oracle's iProcurement, Ariba and Parabalis. The PunchOut process exchanges data using cXML and provides a seamless integration with each customer's own e-procurement application.

Knowledge transfer
Alfa Aesar uses WebSmart ILE to manage and maintain the website. Over the years, BCD has provided informal mentoring services to assist Alfa Aesar's IT team with the ongoing maintenance of their website. BCD Professional Services acts as an extension to the Alfa IT team and are then when needed for a variety of tasks.

Other website features
The website also includes a comprehensive search facility, secure login and the ability for customers to create accounts and view orders. It also has a facility that allows users to search and access MSDS information secured by a CAPTCHA phrase.


Alfa Aesar's relationship with BCD has allowed the organization to maintain a current, functional web presence that retains their competitive position in their industry. This relationship has enabled Alfa Aesar to fulfill their web and mobile development needs without hiring a full-time web application developer, which has translated to significant cost savings over the years.

According to Mara Nieuwsma, Alfa Aesar's Global Development Marketing Manager, "While we originally partnered with BCD Professional Services to design our new website, we have continued to rely on them over the years for their expertise in our highly specific requirements. BCD acts as an extension of our team in every way, helping us continue to enhance our website with new features and functions, participating in customer meetings to develop bespoke programs, and providing support to our global locations. Without BCD, we never would have been able to achieve the progress that we've made over the last four years."

About the Organization

Part of the Johnson Matthey group of companies, Alfa Aesar is a leading manufacturer and supplier of research chemicals, metals and materials in a wide span of applications. Their product line consists of a comprehensive range of inorganic, organic and organometallic compounds, pure metals and elements, precious metal compounds and catalysts, fuel cell products, nanomaterials, rare earths, analytical products, and select laboratory equipment.


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