Malcolm Wheatley follows the evolution of the ERP backbone at agribusiness manufacturer Origin Enterprises as it responds to the company’s growth.
In 2012, Origin Enterprises scooped the ICT in Manufacturing Award at The Manufacturer of the Year Awards.
Why? Quite simply, says chief information officer Derek Wilson, the judging panel had been impressed by Origin’s use of Microsoft Dynamics AX together with a number of associated ‘best of breed’ systems, which combined to help the group build an ERP platform that had delivered standardised processes, reduced costs, and higher efficiencies – all of which resulted in an impressive return on investment.
In the beginning
Yet when Wilson arrived at Origin at the end of 2007, as the company’s first-ever chief information officer, such ambitions lay a long way off.
Record of Excellence
Origin Enterprises was winner of TM’s ICT in Manufacturing Award 2012 and is shortlisted for the same award in 2013.
“It was very much part of my brief to find replacements for a number of systems that had served the business very well for many years, but which were no longer cutting-edge,” he recalls. “It had become very clear that we weren’t capitalising on what new technology could offer – either to us, or to our customers.”
In particular, explains Wilson, the business lacked a formal ERP system, relying on standalone ‘best of breed’ applications chosen for their fit with Origin’s needs at the time, and which had interfaces built between them.
“Finances were on one application, stock control on another, and sales order processing on another,” he says. “And in addition, we had two custom-built applications to handle the specific needs of our manufacturing process: a ‘least cost formulation’ calculator to develop formulae for particular fertiliser or feed requirements, and a distribution application to handle our transport and despatch requirements.”
Adapting to environments
What’s more, the disparate parts of Origin had very different requirements.
As a focused agri‑services group, Origin’s mission is the provision of sustainable and profitable food production solutions for primary producers such as farmers. This includes: fertilisers, seeds, fungicides, herbicides and advice. But the company also has interests in food and animal feed – and a reach that embraces Ireland, the United Kingdom, Poland and Ukraine.
Consequently, it was decided in February 2010 that all the requirements of the various
Origin businesses could be met by Microsoft Dynamics AX. What’s more, of the competing implementation partners that Wilson had been speaking to, Columbus stood out as by far the best fit for Origin’s needs.
“Columbus combined an in-depth knowledge of manufacturing with a corporate culture that we really bought into,” explained Wilson at the time. “The Columbus people know what they’re talking about, they work as a team, and they are confident and self-assured – because they’ve done it before, and can be upfront and honest about what will and won’t work.”
Accordingly, a number of Origin businesses went live on Dynamics AX during 2011: first, Hertfordshire-headquartered Origin Fertilisers UK, together with P.B. Kent, a specialist fertiliser products firm also based in the UK; and then the company’s Masstock operation and its Goulding Chemicals subsidiary in Ireland, which both went live in November of that year.
But meanwhile, Origin had acquired another business – United Agri Products (UAP) – and had decided to merge it with Masstock. And this generated a fresh set of requirements, says Wilson.
“UAP had a customer service centre, which we needed to support, and also a national distribution and warehousing operation,” he explains. “What’s more, UAP also had its own set of business processes. So in merging the combined businesses into a single entity – to be called Agrii – we wanted best-in-class processes, based on the best from each business.”
Accordingly, Origin acquired Manhattan Associates’ SCALE warehouse management system and integrated it with Dynamics AX. Similarly, a software application from Paragon Software Systems was also integrated with Dynamics AX. The combined rollout went live in November 2012.
Next on the agenda: Business Intelligence. And again, says Wilson, a decision to go for what was absolutely right for the business had raised the bar in terms of the challenge that needed to be met.
“As implemented, we had included additional fields in our Dynamics AX SQL Server database, and both Columbus and ourselves judged that the analytics ‘cubes’ supplied with Dynamics AX 2009 could be improved on in terms of taking advantage of these new fields,” explains Wilson.
The solution: TimeXtender, an ‘extract, transfer and load’ (ETL) utility; and Targit, a specialist Business Intelligence reporting and dashboarding tool. Both products were recommended by, and bought from, Columbus.
Combined with Microsoft’s own SQL Server Reporting Services utility (delivered as part of Dynamics AX), these then provided the required sales and margin reporting capabilities, says Wilson.
Subsequently, the same reporting and analytics capabilities were extended to finance, purchasing, and inventory management, he adds.
In all, sums up Wilson, the ERP-based IT DNA at Origin has transformed in a little over three years, delivering a rich set of capabilities- from route planning to analytics – that perfectly complement the core Microsoft Dynamics AX solution.
Furthermore, the business isn’t standing still now, he stresses. A web-based ordering solution is being rolled-out to the company’s field-based agronomists, extending origin’s ERP solution, literally, to the fields of its farming customers.