ERP: Getting in pole position

Posted on 5 Apr 2013 by Tim Brown

On a rare sunny day in March, senior business leaders and IT implementers from around the country converged on the Lotus F1 Team headquarters. The topic on the agenda: ERP and more particularly the Lotus F1 Team’s implementation and use of Microsoft Dynamics.

Located about 20 minutes outside the town of Banbury in Oxfordshire, the Lotus F1 Team headquarters is set against an extremely unassuming backdrop of rural paddocks and farmland. Sunk low into the landscape, some areas of the F1 facility are actually located below ground level so as not to disrupt the view.

Guests at this technology briefing, hosted in partnership by The Manufacturer and Microsoft, represented diverse manufacturing sectors, from pharmaceuticals to electronics. All keen to understand how to better exploit ERP investments for competitive edge.

Following a brief introduction by Henry Anson, managing director of The Manufacturer, the first person to take the stage was BSM Consulting managing director, Sean Jackson.

Drawing on his years of experience as an ERP selection and implementation expert, Mr Jackson presented an honest appraisal of the challenges associated with ERP. However, he highlighted that, while many companies experience difficulty when implementing ERP, this is generally down to faults within the company rather than the software packages themselves.

Presenting a fictional story of an ERP implementation, Mr Jackson narrated in all too familiar detail some of the mistakes companies make when introducing an enterprise system. Meeting the criteria of being on time and on budget while also delivering key benefits isn’t easy, Mr Jackson said, but it is possible.

Highlighting eight key criteria for success, he said that implementing business process improvements in conjunction with ERP implementation was critical to prevent bodged workarounds and the exclusion of key data from the new system.

A Microsoft answer

Next to take the stage was Melissa Cook, global industry lead, manufacturing for Microsoft Dynamics. Almost in reply Ms Cook looked to highlight the key differentiators offered by Microsoft Dynamics as an ERP platform.

By keeping in line with its name, Ms Cook said Microsoft Dynamics offered an approach to ERP which allowed manufacturers to remain agile and innovative. “The reason we think innovation is important is that you cannot, as manufacturers, always cost cut your way out of a downturn,” she said.

According to Ms Cook, companies such as Microsoft are leading by example, allocating $9bn to software research and development per year across the entire Microsoft portfolio of products. The importance of this for manufacturers, said Cook, is that the constant improvements make it incredibly easy to integrate other Microsoft products within the Dynamics platform.

“When you look at Microsoft Dynamics as an opportunity to replace your current ERP system, you’re not just getting the Dynamics workload, you’re getting an additional $9bn worth of investment that Microsoft is bringing to bear through Dynamics.” Responding directly to some of the earlier criticisms of the general ERP market, Ms Cook said Microsoft was tackling three key issues including speed of implementation, cost, and flexibility.

Customer case studies

Before hearing from Lotus F1, two other Microsoft Dynamics customers spoke of their experiences of using the software package.

Paul Thomas, group IS director at construction firm Marshalls shared his journey of implementing the platform and discussed the process from initial inception through to present day operation.

He explained that Dynamics had been chosen as it best satisfied five key criteria identified by the company: functionality, scaleability, flexibility, technical integration and cost. In addition, the strong brand behind the system meant that it was also considered to be future proof.

Mr Thomas said that one of the greatest endorsements for Marshalls’ use of Dynamics came from an analysis carried out by business and independent auditors, Deloitte. It read: “Overall, when compared to other similar projects reviewed by Deloitte, this project has been delivered very well by the project team. Costs and timelines have been managed well and significant business benefit has been derived from the project with minimal business disruption.”

Melissa Cook, global industry lead manufacturing for Microsoft Dynamics, during her presentation at the Lotus F1 Team Communications and Heritage Centre
Melissa Cook, global industry lead manufacturing for Microsoft Dynamics, during her presentation at the Lotus F1 Team Communications and Heritage Centre

“The reason we think innovation is important is that you cannot, as manufacturers, always cost cut your way out of a downturn”Melissa Cook, Global Industry Lead Manufacturing for Microsoft Dynamics

One of the key benefits highlighted by Mr Thomas was the improvement Dynamics has made to processing orders. “We’ve found that raising a sales order is much quicker now, so internal sales spend more time following up leads and talking to the customer to generate new business rather than processing data,” he said.

Project manager, Andy Baskett, then presented the Northrop Grumman Mission Systems experience of implementing Dynamics. Highlighting the benefits that had been achieved so far from the implementation, Mr Basket said that Dynamics had helped the company achieve cost reductions by providing a single solution which was able to meet diverse business needs and empower staff to perform multiple functions.

Basekett said that Northrop Grumman was also able to be provide quotes faster while the system had helped to improve innovation which had in term motivated the sales teams.

The logic for Lotus

The final person to take to the podium was Michael Taylor, deputy IT/IS director at Lotus F1 Team. Mr Taylor explained that the impetus for Lotus to implement Dynamics followed the 2011 Malaysian F1 Grand Prix where an issue with the front suspension uprights on the Lotus F1 cars caused them to be unable to race.

The team needed to analyse every single component that made up the suspension from a stress perspective, ascertain the life-expectancy of each part, and track the usage of the individual parts. At the time, due to the systems that were in place, the team had to interrogate data from 11 different sources.

“It became evident from that experience that we needed one single source of truth,” said Taylor. After evaluating 13 enterprise resource planning solutions, Lotus F1 chose Microsoft Dynamics and the system went live in November 2012.

Although only in the first phase of the implementation process, the Lotus F1 Team can use Microsoft Dynamics to collect live, accurate information, compete for funding, and ultimately, build a faster car.

Using Microsoft Dynamics, the Lotus F1 Team expects to improve manufacturing productivity, avoid wasted resources, and deliver information safely and quickly to remote employees. The Lotus F1 Team is expecting big things over the next few years and, with the assistance of Microsoft Dynamics, this should include more awards for the team’s trophy room.