Lean and ERP working together?

Posted on 16 Nov 2011

Roberto Priolo reviews the eBECS Customer Convergence Day, held in London last month.


In the crowded corridor of the Ambassadors Hotel near Euston, central London, Neil Ferguson Lee looks very busy running from one room to the next, greeting customers and talking to them about the latest products Microsoft has developed. Neil has been eBECS’ lean solutions architect since its inception. Lean and IT are, he says, “very close to my heart”. When I ask him what he thinks about the difficult relationship between IT solutions and lean techniques, he smiles and says: “A few years ago I introduced myself to Dan Jones, saying I was an ERP supplier. He looked like he had just seen the devil.” He believes things are changing now.

It is quite bizarre to show up at an IT event with a lean agenda in mind. It is common belief that ERP and lean simply cannot go together, and there is still often furtive dissembling when the issue is raised particularly by IT vendors. Neil, however, is outspoken and confident of his ground. “Over the years there have been three main changes: first of all, R&D investment has increased. Second of all, lean is now better integrated within IT solutions; and finally the interface and its visual characteristics have been enhanced. How can you work an IT solution into a lean environment if you don’t have a clear visual interface?” he says.

The convergence day was an opportunity for eBECS to touch base with its customers after the company acquired ePartners. The two companies’ areas of expertise are manufacturing and the service sectors, which makes them compatible. eBecs prides itself on being the biggest UK pool of Microsoft Dynamics expertise, and hopes to become Microsoft’s leading partner in Britain. The company has good, mostly lasting relationships with its customers, who had a chance, throughout the day, to learn more about the new features and capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 and other solutions. The partners of eBECS at the event, ranging from Zap (an expert in analytics) to World First Autopay (a foreign exchange company), were available for demonstrations and to talk to customers about their own offerings, in the so-called Demo Zone.

According to a Gartner research, only 38% of companies measure the value of IT. Without doing that it is easy to see ERP simply as a cost rather than an asset. A case study on JJ Food Service demonstrated how beneficial ERP can be in helping companies better respond to customers’ requirements. With AX, JJ Food Service reduced customer waiting time by 20 hours per day and saw order processing time going down by 25%.

In AX 2012, lean is fully integrated, allowing for execution and review of all replenishment strategies from one place and featuring new kanban types, as well as offering a better interface. It has production flow and value stream applications, and even monitors takt time. The lean fundamentals are well embedded into this system for which flexibility and simplicity are watchwords. The core lean principle of creating value from the customer’s perspective is clearly at the heart of the system’s design.