ERP Connect review

James Pozzi reviews ERP Connect, TM's biannual event recently held at London's Ambassadors Bloomsbury hotel.

Finding the right ERP solution continues to be key for manufacturing companies up and down the country. With this is mind, ERP Connect returned to London’s Ambassadors Bloomsbury hotel for its ninth outing earlier this month. The event, bringing together software vendors with customers, presented prospective customers in search of that ever-crucial ERP solution the opportunity to engage with vendors. Equally crucial, it also gave delegates the chance to hear first-hand accounts from businesses who’ve worn the t-shirt.

Sinclair International

A brief opening address from Ian O’Toole of event partner Lumenia was followed by a presentation from Adam Pryke, IS manager at Sinclair International. Titled “Industrial strength ERP for the SME – yes you can!” Mr Pryke discussed the ERP experiences of the Norwich-based fruit labelling equipment manufacturer. In 2003-2004, the company implemented an ERP system over an 18-month period spanning the UK, US, Australia and South Africa.

As an SME, Pryke spoke of the evolution of labelling in the industry effecting the way in which it runs its operation. And despite being an SME, Sinclair is a company with global requirements, using one instance of its ERP system in Norwich across 12 locations globally. “Organisations 10-20 times the size of ours will have the same requirements and needs as we have,” he explained. “Trying to manage a system across these continents particularly in the less developed areas were major challenges.”

This is just one of many business challenges, and the Sinclair perspective provided an intriguing snapshot of when the time comes to upgrade a system after a set number of years. In 2011, the company upgraded its ERP system. This was something Sinclair’s CEO compared to undergoing heart surgery in fast moving car without anaesthetic. But Pryke said the company had learnt from its past experiences, with one key factor he credits as the company being honest with itself.

“Talking about the process can hurt and be painful but you need to be honest about it,” he said. “Companies need to establish requirements, plan ahead and invest in training with a good mix of technical people and applications.”

At the conclusion of the Pryke’s presentation, the mantra “Keep it simple, take ownership and get the benefits” was displayed. Having a relationship with implementation partner is vital, but equally so is ensuring the business keeps ownership of it. “If you think this is an IT project, it isn’t – it’s a business project,” he added. “We used to make stuff up as we went along, but we’ve seen the benefits of an integrated ERP system.”

Cross Manufacturing 

John Howe, Cross Manufacturing
John Howe, Cross Manufacturing

After, Allan Behrens, managing director of Taxal, presented Future Vision: Moving Beyond “the IT Project” to Facilitate a Connected, Agile and Intelligent Enterprise. This engaging insight was followed by Jonathan Howe, IT Manager at Cross Manufacturing, the manufacturer of car components which implemented a Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP solution.

Offering what Mr Howe described as an overview, practical insights and a small amount of encouragement to delegates, he detailed the company’s implementation process across the years 2009-11. After deciding on an upgrade in 2008, the process was completed in 2011 with an upgrade planned for 2016.

Working across two sites in Bath and Devizes, the company lists the likes of Rolls Royce and GE as customers. This presentation provided an insight into the IT demands of a company which boasts a large majority of cars and lorries on the road today having some of its parts in them.

Howe said he is often asked the question of how he made the final decision on selected his system of choice. He continued that is often assumed that people go into an ERP project and view demonstrations from vendors before one will reveal itself as the clear front runner. But in his experience, this rarely happens.

Rather, Cross Manufacturing’s decision came down to product costing. After finding Microsoft was a good functionality fit, the decision was further cemented by the vendor proposition. Cross Manufacturing’s non-technical staff were persuaded by the security of the vendor, something that Howe said gave the business confidence, as each organisation has to think early on it has made the right decision.

Howe also felt his company’s development of its security model as process based rather than role during the implementation phase deserved consideration. This ensured there was no sales administration group but instead a view sales order group. This allowed a segregation of duties, something extremely difficult when using role-based approaches.

Closing out with the encouragement Howe spoke of at the beginning of the presentation, he listed the key benefits realised by Cross Manufacturing as:

–          Production planning standardised and simplified

–          Improved shop floor data capture

–          Faster and more detailed financial reporting

–          Product costing enhanced

–          Enhanced reporting capability using SSRS

Maxiim

Kinnon-Stewart-Maxiim
Stuart Kinnon, IT director, Maxiim

Closing out before lunch was Stuart Kinnon, IT director at electronics distributor Maxiim. He spoke about his company’s implementation of the Epicor 9 solution, and how this brought about business change.

As part of a group offering supply chain management across full retail spectrum, Mr Kinnon highlighted the company’s reputation for flexibility and innovation. And he highlighted the changing landscape of retail as a primary factory in choosing Epicor for Maxiim’s solution. Interestingly, he also touched upon a failed implementation attempt with a rival competitor, a move which often personifies some of the fears held by companies when looking to implement a solution. The spectre of costliness coupled with wasted time and resources can cause even the most experienced of IT managers sleepless nights.

With Epicor, the company has experienced one implementation two upgrades and one major reconfiguration, with training carried out on the software firm’s customisation tools.

And the main results of its efforts were tangible, said Kinnon. These primarily included the removal need for duplication of work, a single company reconfiguration and a financial module overhaul reconfiguration of the company’s COA.

He concluded that the company’s future aims are to avoid a bottle neck scenario and be ahead of its business development requirements, while staying flexible to embrace and integrate complementary technologies and win business where others can’t.

Intercontinental Brands

North Yorkshire-based Intercontinental Brands (ICB) rounded out the day with a presentation detailing its ERP implementation with IFS.

Since forming in 1990, ICB now supplies most of the UK’s leading supermarkets, convenience chains and wholesalers, while also exporting to Germany, Scandinavia, Africa, Hong Kong, and Australia.

The company implemented IFS 8 just over eighteen months ago, to serve four components of finance, manufacturing, CRM and inventory management. Having seen progress of this at IFS’ annual world conference in Barcelona last October, the joint presentation from IT manager Matt Brown and project manager Sarah King expanded on the progress of this in the first part of 2014.

Producing 20m bottles a year across nine production lines at its Middlesbrough factory, ICB went in the direction of IFS due to a combination of the software’s suitability and the presence of industry people within its operation. And the implementation benefits have been wholesale.

But the presentation emphasised the continuous development of the process, in some ways making this still very much a work in progress. Mr Brown said ICB is integrating human resources and payroll, while it will give more attention to the possibility of cloud software over the coming years.

An eclectic mix

With ERP Connect hitting the magic 10 in November this year, its reach continues to extend beyond just manufacturers. The May event saw delegates attend from the NHS in the healthcare sector, to Games Workshop, a staple of the retail high street. A quote that sticks in the mind regarding is ERP is from a manufacturer who once remarked it was so vital to a company’s operation that it can make or break the business.

Given the eclectic range of insights highlighted here – in what is a mature yet still developing industry – it is increasingly apparent that ERP implementation offers no quick fix. Yet finding the right solution has been made just that bit easier over time thanks to the flexibility and resources of vendors.

Register  now for ERP Connect in November, 2014.