Columbus Live 2013

The Manufacturer's James Pozzi ventured to Northamptonshire to follow Columbus as it took its annual event on the road for the first time.

Columbus, one of the global names in ERP software, descended on Kettering’s Park Hotel as its platform for engagement with partners converging from across the country and beyond.

Having raised £6,500 at a charity dinner in the hotel the night before, spirits were naturally high at a company that has managed to manoeuvre its way around the highly competitive ERP market.

Implementing Microsoft-based solution sets to maximise efficiency of food and manufacturing companies, a naturally eclectic turnout from a selection of large and SME companies were present.

The next wave

Kicking off proceedings was company CEO, Thomas Honore, who spoke of the next wave, moving beyond ERP.

Honore gave an overview of industry trends, which he said includes companies responding to the economic downturn between the years 2008-2012. As evidence, he referred to a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) survey. The report threw up a plethora of interesting business trends about the priorisitisation of IT projects in the next 12-18 months.

Alongside common issues such as the outsourcing of IT and computer security, 16% of those questioned predicted focusing on ERP solutions would be part of company focus. A conclusion of the findings was that while growth is very much happening – reflected by company spend increasing – it needs to be more controlled.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Honore was adamant in his assessment that companies need to accept they are not unique in the grand scheme of things. Verticals such as finance and travel remuneration are all standard elements of modern business.

But as has been so prominent in the sector, mobile is also changing the way Columbus operates, with concepts such as cloud apps and user interfaces on tablets and phones -replacing the traditional PC – becoming more prominent. Naturally, this exists alongside big data.

And in keeping with its innovative and dynamic approach to its business, the same rules applied in the day’s informal and friendly structure. While speakers, breakout sessions and networking lunches took place, there was also a new twist to the proceedings.

As a sort of 10-minute test, where speakers were given that length of time to give their presentation – or risk being ‘red carded’ – customers were given the opportunity to show how they had effectively implemented Columbus products into their companies. Spanning such a diverse range of industries, it provided a good appraisal of the company’s flexibility.

Manufacturing matters

Also speaking was Chandru Shankar, manufacturing industry director for the EMEA region at MBS.

He spoke about Microsoft Dynamics as a solution for manufacturers, providing a detailed overview of the landscape in the past 12 months.

This touched on how previous legacy apps have proved too expensive, slow and hard to use for manufacturers. Shankar believed there needs to be a more rounded approach, encompassing the implementation process from start to finish; from the pre-sale stage right beyond.

By doing this, the results can be increased agility, faster time to value, the optimisation and connection of business operations and providing access across the value chain.

Revving up

As is the form, one of the most eagerly anticipated speakers of the day was from the world of motor racing: Graeme K. Hackland, IT/IS director for the Lotus Formula One team.

Beginning with a light hearted reference to more week being required as a result of Lotus F1 gaining just a solitary victory in 2013, Hackland referenced the team CEO theory: the technology and digital aspects go hand in hand.

As a mid-sized team with an IT personnel of 40, Hackland spoke about how the impending rule changes of 2014 will affect his team on its technology side, given it encompasses design, production and of course, the racing itself.

Having implemented Microsoft Dynamics in November 2012, Hackland explained how the team targeted a 95% out of the box rate. He admitted there was a failure previously to understand exactly why Lotus was doing with IT. But this has seemingly changed, as he concluded with an impressive overview of the wind tunnel used at Lotus F1’s Enstone HQ. Such is the advancement in its software, it manoeuvred round the outlawing of mid-season testing, using programs to design and model its car, leading to a 60% sized physical model.

The afternoon session was a selection of breakouts and lively round table discussions, which gave delegates the chance to share ideas, experiences and discuss the issues relevant to them as Columbus users.

At the conclusion of the event, Mary Hunter, Columbus’ UK managing director, said the industry focused nature of the event provides opportunities for the company and its partners alike.

“Today isn’t just about Columbus, but also our partners,” said Hunter. “At an event like this, we hope to inspire as we look towards the future.”