Process excellence

Posted on 18 Oct 2011 by The Manufacturer

When an international Fragrance house, headquartered in the UK needed help with its implementation of Microsoft Dynamics AX, it turned to Columbus. Malcolm Wheatley discovers why.

Headquartered in Bishop’s Stortford, innovative fragrance manufacturer CPL Aromas serves customers around the globe from 17 factories and offices spread across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.

In 2010, the fast-growing international fragrance manufacturer was brought to realise that the sustainability of this expansion would require a change of IT infrastructure. It was time for an industry specific, up to date enterprise system which would support both local insight and global strategy for the very best in customer service.

And inevitably, says ERP project manager James Monilaws, the spotlight soon fell on Microsoft Dynamics AX. While Microsoft’s flagship product wasn’t the only one in the frame, he relates, it had emerged as the front-runner during a year-long investigation of the market that embraced most of the leading systems and implementation partners in the market.

But by January 2011, when Monilaws – a veteran of 20 or so previous ERP implementations – arrived to spearhead the move to Microsoft Dynamics AX, it became clear that relations with the selected implementation partner were holding the project back from its full potential. CPL needed a flexible partner; large enough to cope with a global roll out, but also able to work with small specialist teams on a local level.

Rapid review Knowing that fast footwork was required, Monilaws’ first task was to review the initial decision to go with the Microsoft solution. Was it, in fact, the best choice? Then, finding that the decision was valid, he turned his attention to the question of an implementation partner, inviting a selection of potential partners to join an evaluation process.

Very soon, a shortlist of four top contenders emerged, which subsequently boiled down to just one global name and one far more UK centric option.

“Columbus struck us as very thorough and competent, with skilled and experienced people, a proven implementation track record in process businesses like ours, and the geographic reach to support our overseas operations,” he says. “It was clear that they knew what they were talking about, and had the resources and commitment to deliver, using people with a process industry background who had implemented Microsoft Dynamics AX many times before.” And Columbus also had the edge when it came to two further aspects of the proposed implementation: an ‘inside track’ to Microsoft’s prestigious Technology Adoption Programme, and a growing familiarity with Microsoft’s Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 which, at the time, was yet to be released. Getting a head start on understanding this new iteration of AX was a deal clincher for CPL.

“With Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, the process industry element of the solution is a fully-integrated part of the system, and not an add-in as it was in earlier versions,” Monilaws explains. “Similarly, the quality control requirements for process industries are subtly different, and these, too, were fully integrated.

Likewise, the 2012 version builds upon Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 in terms of in-built collaboration, and support for Microsoft Sharepoint and other Microsoft Office technologies.” It was clear, too, that Columbus were as excited about Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 as Monilaws was, he relates.

“A team from Columbus went to an AX 2012 event in Seattle, and within a couple of days I received a complex but fully customised report back from them,” he explains. “It was a good, competent, presales analysis of what exactly Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 could offer us, cogently pieced together by three or four specialists closely cooperating together.” And being part of the Technology Adoption Programme would help the business to see its needs reflected ‘as standard’ in the still being-finalised software code for Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, as well as offering close contact with Microsoft developers and product specialists.

“Columbus were very willing to go the extra mile to facilitate our inclusion within the Technology Adoption Programme, while some of the other potential implementation partners were fairly noncommittal about it,” he relates. CPL formed its own view that Columbus’ competitors either lacked the clout to deliver it, or simply weren’t bothered.” Pilot stage In short, within a few weeks a two-fold decision crystallised within the business: to go with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, and to go with Columbus as the preferred implementation partner.

And a few months on, with board approval now granted for a global implementation, led by a pilot stage, there only remains the question of which of the company’s sites to use as the pioneer, says Monilaws. While one of the company’s main production sites is in Brixworth, in Northamptonshire, there were definite operational attractions to piloting the new system in other manufacturing or sales sites.

Meanwhile a programme of familiarisation is taking place, with key users getting to grips with a ‘generic’ Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 system.

This will be followed by the issuing of formal requirements documentation led by Columbus business and AX consultants.

“The reaction has been favourable,” reports Monilaws.

Some staff have even said that the system has exceeded their expectations. “We don’t have a firm ‘go live’ date for global roll out yet, but we do have a group of employees who are very much looking forward to it!”