The scent of success

Bar code scanning and pipes

At global fragrance specialist CPL Aromas, a move to Microsoft Dynamics AX has delivered real benefits, finds IT contributing editor Malcolm Wheatley.

Headquartered in Bishop’s Stortford, fragrance manufacturer CPL Aromas last featured within these pages in October 2011. Serving customers around the world from a network of 17 factories and offices, by late 2009 the company had come to recognize that its growth was being hampered by a 12-year old ERP system that was five years overdue for an upgrade.

It was time, in short, to switch to something newer and better. And after a year-long investigation of the ERP marketplace, embracing most of the leading systems and implementation partners in the market, a decision was duly made.

The replacement ERP system of choice? Microsoft Dynamics AX.

But the project didn’t get off to the best of starts. Incoming project manager James Monilaws—a seasoned ERP veteran—arrived to find that relations with the chosen implementation partner weren’t good, and that little progress had been made.

Yet the problems didn’t seem to stem from the choice of Microsoft Dynamics AX, he found, and so CPL Aromas set about finding a replacement implementation partner, working its way through a rigorous evaluation process. Very soon, a shortlist of four top contenders emerged, which subsequently boiled down to just one name.

“Columbus struck us as very thorough and competent, with skilled and experienced people, a proven implementation track record in process businesses like ours, and with the geographic reach to support our overseas operations,” he told The Manufacturer. “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.”

Fine-tuning

So what happened next? Simply put, “we spent quite a bit of time modifying the system, in order to achieve exactly what we wanted,” explains group finance director Mark Kalinowski.

Top of the list: modifications to enable the system to deliver critical cost and margin data, on an actual cost basis, and not an average cost basis; and also the ability to retain product formulae not within the Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP system itself, but within the company’s ProductVision system, widely used within the process industry as a PLM system. Similarly, he adds, CPL Aromas wanted to retain its existing systems for quality control,.

While these changes weren’t especially demanding, explains Kalinowski, there was a fierce determination, given the global rollout that the system would entail, to make sure that there was a high level of user confidence in the system when it did eventually go live. Accordingly, it wasn’t until March 2013 that the go-live point was decided upon: CPL Aromas’ American operation, located in Somerset, New Jersey.

“It had the advantage of having both a manufacturing division and a sales division, and so was fully representative of our requirements,” he explains. “But usefully, too, it wasn’t an especially large operation in the overall context of the business—a good place to start, in short.”

The American go-live occurred on schedule in June 2013, and went off without a hitch. Not to say that there weren’t learning points, notes Kalinowski: in particular, it became clear that employee training was important, especially when the employees in question had had limited prior exposure to the concepts underpinning ERP.

Next: another combined sales and manufacturing operation, this time the company’s recently established business unit in the South American country of Columbia, which went live in October 2013. And again, says Kalinowski, there were learning points—this time around the complexities of dealing with the Columbian government’s strict guidelines on foreign currency transactions, and charts of accounts.

“And then, in March 2014, came our biggest rollout—our European manufacturing facility in Brixworth, Northampton,” continues Kalinowski. “What’s more, because this supplies our UK sales division, as well as our French, German, India and Dubai sales divisions, we took the decision to go live with these as well.”

A break with the past

Six months in, Kalinowski—and the rest of CPL Aromas—are delighted with the project’s progress.

“It’s a huge change, and we’ve achieved some real benefits,” he enthuses. “Finally, we have a modern, fully-functional ERP system in operation across most of the business—and a date, in mid-2015, when the remaining operations, such as those in the Far East, will also go live. It’s enormous progress.”

Moreover, he adds, intercompany visibility has improved enormously since the implementation. Although it was a modification, handling intercompany processing within AX means that CPL Aromas now has a clear understanding of the margins for every incoming sales order, prior to accepting it and processing.

Furthermore, CPL Aromas has seen clear customer service benefits from moving to an all-encompassing, fully integrated solution – “increased levels of customer service that will help us drive our business forward in the years to come,” enthuses Kalinowski.

That said, he concludes, there’s still work to be done. Right across the business, the move to a centralised ERP system has brought culture shock in some areas, with people having to place their trust and confidence in the system, rather than in their familiar manual systems. In turn, this has placed a fresh emphasis on the value of having accurate and timely data within the system, so that the decisions that it reaches are the correct ones.

“We always knew that there would be some cultural issues to address,” sums up Kalinowski. “The important thing is that we’ve made the leap from where we were, to where we now are – a modern, forward-looking company, a leader in its industry, and now one which has an ERP system to match.”