ERP 2012: Connecting you now

Posted on 8 Nov 2012 by The Manufacturer

ERP Connect has become a regular in TM’s calendar of events, but each iteration, while often addressing similar themes, throws up new perspectives and experiences in the best practice implementation and use of this critical technology for manufacturing firms.

Feedback from the most recent ERP Connect event showed that both the intensive one-to-one meeting programme with a range of enterprise resource planning software vendors, and the conference programme of ERP implementation case studies, were popular with delegates.

One of the most highly commended presentations was that made by Jude Nash, ERP & IT systems manager at SME composite and polymer products manufacturer Anglo Krempel. Her tips on how to project manage ROI and technology optimisation post implementation, with limited resources, struck a chord with many delegates.

Steps in Ms Nash’s strategy included establishing strict management of consultant time on site and forming a structured process for the review of system menus and the extent to which different functions on these are being used by the business.

Milestone measurement events for ROI were scheduled against the first stocktake and year end following go-live. The first anniversary of go-live also marked a major review of roll out phase 1.

Attendee comments at the event:

Richard Collman, managing director, Acoustical Control Engineers: “A very worthwhile event. The meetings are hard on the vendors but they do a good job of putting across what you need to know in each one-to-one session. Listening to the conference presentations it is striking just how widely varying the requirements of different businesses are.”

Steve Roper, IT manager, Unison: “Sixteen pages of notes is testament to the volume and quality of guidance generously offered by all of the speakers at ERP Connect 2012. Steve Whittle’s clarity of thought and single minded determination to invoke change through meaningful business intelligence really does define where we need to be; the opportunity to share in Steve’s experience and insight on a one-2-one basis was an unexpected bonus.”

“Having all of the main players in ERP in a single room was a real enabler for me at this early stage of our journey; each and every one of them provided insight that has deepened my understanding of the challenges and possibilities that lie ahead.”

ERP and workforce management

In communicating the future of ERP at Anglo Krempel Ms Nash shared that a key ambition in phase 3 of the roll-out will be the development of time & attendance and workforce management functionality.

Conversations with other delegates, for instance representatives from tube bender Unison and electronics manufacturing group Ultra Electronics, showed that this has become a key requirement for manufacturers. Even Steve Whittle, head of financial systems at Rolls-Royce specified workforce management as being the essential item on his ERP ‘wish list’ when asked during a panel discussion session what one thing he would like to see added to his system.

“It’s really workforce planning and optimisation that we are looking for now,” he said. “We want to look at skills matrices.” Whittle explained further that this should give Rolls-Royce the ability to understand better when and where they can gain efficiencies in one person working across two or more machines and the ability to match skills capacity with new product introduction into manufacturing.

One vendor at the event told TM that he acknowledged workforce panning as having been underdeveloped in most systems in the past. “It is interesting that this function, which is core to the fundamental proposition of ERP, has not gained great attention until now,” he said.

Compelling vision for cloud

Any ERP conference today must acknowledge the rise of cloud computing and the business benefits it can bring to organisations in need of a flexible IT infrastructure and a malleable cost base. At ERP Connect this recognition was delivered through a compelling case study from m2fx, a small manufacturer of optical fibres.

M2fx, is a fast growing organisation, but one which just a few years ago would have considered ERP technology to be beyond its reach – too expensive and unwieldy for a company with limited resources.

But thanks to an explosion affordable and scaleable ERP solutions based in the cloud this is no longer the case. M2fx CEO Tom Carpenter shared with delegates how his company, with just 24 staff, manufacturing on a make to order basis for international customers, was able to find an on-demand solution which has brought maturity in stock control, equipment utilisation, clarity on margins and much more.

Mr Carpenter showed delegates his simple soreout- of-ten matrix which helped him indentify close up on-demand, cloud solution as the perfect fit (see table). He told his audience that the first year of implementation came at a cost of just £40,000 and ongoing costs are about £25,000 a year. Since go-live in March 2011 the system has experienced 270 minutes of downtime and Carpenter is more than satisfied with this level of reliability. Without having to invest in server expertise or storage space in-house m2fx has achieved 95% on time delivery and more than doubled its business.

While Cloud ERP may not be suitable for every business, Carpenter’s presentation certainly showed that, for small companies with big ambitions, it is worth serious consideration.

Other case study presentations at this ERP Connect event came from: Advanced Innovative Engineering · Altro Ltd · British Sugar · Hayward Tyler · m2fx · Megger · Portsmouth Aviation.

Cabbages and kings

Before ERP Connect officially began on October 9, debate around the role of IT in manufacturing and the interaction between manufacturers and their IT vendors was already well underway among some of those due to attend.

On the evening of October 8, TM hosted a dinner for IT professionals in manufacturing firms to discuss the challenges they face in matching IT infrastructure with increasingly demanding business requirements.

These requirements were linked to the ever growing need for efficiency, product complexity, customer expectation, supply chain visibility and more.

The conversation became broad ranging, referencing ‘big picture’ issues such as the viability or desirability of ‘home-shoring’ supply for operational, marketing or political reasons, down to more specific conversations around the most used functions within IT applications and how to ensure you push to optimise technology.

This domino effect across interest areas was kick-started by a question from Tony Christian, managing director for IT analyst firm Cambashi, who asked guests how they felt about the potential of IT to bring competitive edge or differentiation in an age when it has become a commodity.

Steve Whittle, head of finance systems at Rolls-Royce, was the first to respond. Mr Whittle used the analogy of electricity – a game changing technology for the first to adopt it, but now a mundane factor in daily life which is only notable when it is absent. “But what has electricity enabled?” asked Whittle. “It is now manifest in evolving technology. In TVs and then 3D TVs. It is not about the building blocks but about what you build with them.”

This observation sparked discussion around the level to which ERP systems should allow flexibility for innovation and individuality in a business and the extent to which they must standardise processes and set business rules.

Steve Roper, IT manager at tube bending specialist Unison, said that the key was to ensure IT “never becomes the reason that a job cannot be done”. Whittle cautioned that in seeking flexibility organisations should not forget the need for control – particularly when it comes to decision making which might affect quality and safety.

Setting the parameters and business rules within an ERP system successfully often relies on close work with the vendor or an implementation partner. But in order to get the most out of these partnerships some dinner guests with mature implementations had advice for those starting out.

Whittle urged IT leaders to build trial systems in Excel, or other existing applications, which can help to define requirements and avoid unnecessary consultancy cost. The following morning at ERP Connect Whittle gave a live demo of the Rolls-Royce Excel system which had helped it do exactly that.

Other comment on this topic came from Grant Tanner, business development director at on-demand IT specialist Star. Mr Tanner related his experiences of seeing implementation consultants ‘go native’ in a company to the extent that they started to define its business process. While this might seem ideal to some software providers he questioned its value to the company.

Jude Nash, ERP and IT manager at Anglo Krempel agreed that she had seen “incestuous” ERP implementations result in overcustomised systems. She shared that seeing this had guided her in keeping Anglo Krempel’s solution as close to ‘out of the box’ as possible. She clarified that an in-house programme of continuous training and investigation of areas of untapped potential within purchased modules were critical to achieving technology optimisation without incurring additional cost.

It is impossible in a short space to capture the full gamut of topics raised over the course of the evening, but another key point centered on the difficulty of controlling IT infrastructure when departmental solutions can be sourced online by impatient functional heads in cloud and SaaS (software as a service) applications.

And the conversation is still evolving for some guests. In hot pursuit of best practice and knowledge sharing Steve Whittle and Geoff Hurst, CIO at Triumph Motorcycles are now negotiating visits to one another’s sites to learn more about the roll out and exploitation of ERP in different business environments.

TM would like to thank cloud computing specialist Star for hosting this CIO Club dinner.

To find out about sponsorship at the next iteration of ERP Connect in spring 2013 please contact Henry Anson ([email protected]).

For speaking opportunities please contact Eva Lindsay (e.lindsay@ Both available on 0207 401 6033.