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Farplants is a co-operative joint venture of 7 grower companies, and one of the UK's largest wholesale suppliers of garden plants. Twenty-five specialist production sites are operated by the members, who grow over 9 million plants a year on 103 acres

Orders come in from customers to the head office. These orders are then compiled into a requisition. Each requisition is likely to contain stock items that need to be sourced from various nurseries and delivered to the despatch center in order for timely delivery to the customer.

Each nursery needs to be notified of the requisition and the lines of stock for which they are responsible for. To date, this has been done by faxing every nursery to let them know that a requisition has been compiled. Each nursery then uses FTP to connect to the head office computer network via dedicated ISDN lines. They would then download the appropriate files in CSV format and then load them into a spreadsheet so that they can see which, if any, part of the requisition they are responsible for fulfilling.


This method has worked well for a number of years but due to the success of the company the number of nurseries and requisitions has increased and this is no longer a practical solution.

The main problem is that as each nursery is notified of the requisition at around the same time, they all try to dial in to head office simultaneously. There are a limited number of inbound ISDN lines at head office so the majority of nurseries get the engaged tone and have to keep on trying to connect.

All nurseries are notified of each requisition, regardless of whether or not there are any stock lines on the requisition for which they are responsible. This means that sometimes a nursery can spend a while trying to connect to head office to download a requisition, only to find that they do not need to fulfil any part of it.

It is also expensive for each nursery to have an ISDN line just for this purpose.


The way in which requisitions are created can not be modified as a part of the solution because it is part of a larger legacy system.

Each nursery would like to be able to analyse the orders they receive over a long period, so they can see what their best and worst selling lines of stock are for instance.


To get a deeper understanding of the problem we spent time at head office, a nursery and the despatch center. We proposed and developed a multi-tier solution that would remove the need for maintaining ISDN lines, stop notifying nurseries of requisitions that are of no interest to them, and also introduce a number of side benefits. During the planning and development phases we worked closely with Farplants' own IT department

The new system now works as follows:

Orders are compiled into requisitions and the resultant CSV files are automatically uploaded to a secure web-based FTP server.

Each nursery is running a client program that will check the FTP server for new requisitions at user specified intervals. When a new requisition is found it is downloaded and merged into an access database.

The client program is highly configurable and allows the automatic printing of required paperwork upon receipt of a requisition.

Previously, the first time nursery managers were made aware of a new requisition was when they received a fax. Under the new system they know they have a new requisition because all of the relevant paperwork has been printed for them and they are notified via email.

As the data is stored in an Access database it is relatively easy for nursery owners to produce reports to analyse the data. We provided a few built in reports to get them started and provide ongoing support and assistance in developing new reports.

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