Total performance

Posted on 1 Sep 2013 by The Manufacturer

With the prospect of implementing its first independent ERP system ahead, Tarmac Building Products found it had neither the capability nor desire to host and manage the application. Like an increasing number of manufacturers, it chose to outsource.

During a restructuring by owners Anglo American, Tarmac Building Products was established as a separate entity and it was agreed the newly independent company would have its own ERP system.

“It was a straight choice between Dynamics AX and SAP,” recalls Mark Skidmore, Tarmac’s IT infrastructure manager.

“AX won because we felt that committing to Microsoft technologies complemented our business requirements. For example, we knew that several other organisations in our industry had implemented Dynamics AX successfully and we felt the business processes within Dynamics AX would enable Tarmac to be more efficient.”

But choosing Dynamics AX was the easy part of the process, says Skidmore. Modern ERP systems such as Dynamics AX are sophisticated and complex, calling for specialist IT infrastructure, data centre‑class IT hardware and procedures, and a ready familiarity with Microsoft technologies such as Windows Server, SQL Server and SharePoint.

All of which posed a problem for Wolverhampton-based Tarmac, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of concrete blocks, aggregates, and plaster.

Around 550 people across the UK rely on Tarmac's Microsoft Dynamics AX system being fully functional at all times.

In short, what Tarmac Building Products required was a fully outsourced and hosted solution – an approach adopted by a growing number of manufacturers, and not just those without data centre capabilities in the first place. But the dangers of such an approach were obvious.

Something like 550 users across the UK, from Scotland to the South coast of England, would be depending on the Dynamics AX system. It would be at the very heart of Tarmac’s operations – and if it were to go down for more than a few minutes, then operations, customer service and ultimately revenue would be hit.

“Also, we didn’t have a data centre and nor did we wish to invest in the bricks and mortar, and the people and technology required to build that kind of capability. We needed a Microsoft support specialist capable of delivering a managed service via their own data centre,” sums up Skidmore. But how to find such a provider?

Selecting Insite

Careful research identified 15 providers of managed hosting, each with their own data centre and familiarity with Microsoft products. Winnowing the list down to six potential providers, Tarmac embarked on a programme of in-depth assessment and site visits.

“We met with them all and quickly narrowed it down to just two providers,” says Skidmore. “Eventually, Insite emerged as our unanimous first choice. They were big enough to cope, but small enough to care, and small enough to enable us to build personal relationships.”

That said, Insite also had to meet exacting technical requirements – including a demand for high levels of scalability, met through Insite’s partnership with Tata Communications, which enables primary hosting at Insite’s data centre in Tunbridge Wells and real‑time SQL data replication to a secondary disaster recovery infrastructure located in High Wycombe.

Ultimately, the decision came down to a broad assessment of capability, price and risk.

“We concluded that Insite was a very safe route to commit to,” explains Skidmore. “Insite was not the cheapest option, but we felt they were certainly the most capable and therefore the lowest‑risk option.”

Initially, he explains, Insite provided a total managed Microsoft Dynamics AX service – everything from 24x7x365 monitoring and alerting, to operational support, change management, capacity planning, backup management, remote user access and more.

More recently, that remit has expanded.

More eggs go into the basket

“Since Dynamics AX went live, we have entrusted more and more of our systems and

Insite has won the trust of Tarmac which recently outsourced more IT management to the firm.

infrastructure to Insite,” says Skidmore. “As well as AX, they host our payroll system, our time and attendance application, our health and safety application, and more. They also provide disaster recovery and professional services.”

And Tarmac’s initial assessment of Insite’s offering has been fully borne out by subsequent experience. Skidmore recalls an early proof of their value to business continuity and their ability to ensure ROI on the AX investment.

“We experienced early performance issues with the system, but Insite was able to collect data and work closely with our network provider to prove that the problem lay outside of our infrastructure, which Insite looks after for us at their data centre,” says Skidmore.

“An Insite consultant came up and spent a week with us at our Buxton site collating all the symptoms and related data. Insite then presented the findings to me in a really straightforward format. Tarmac’s network provider has since fixed the underlying problem and, thanks to Insite, Dynamics AX performance has improved greatly.”

“Indeed, every week we rely on Insite to ensure that the AX system is up to date, patched, and has all the required enhancements applied,” he adds. “There’s no need for me to worry ‑ they are proactive, the process is seamless, and our business just keeps running.”

In short, Insite has performed exceptionally against expectations. Uptime has exceeded the targeted 99.95% availability, and cost and performance objectives have been met.

Skidmore is also very impressed with Insite’s Tier 3 data centre – and not simply with the technology.

“When I go to Insite’s Tunbridge Wells HQ and data centre there’s this great feeling of calm,” he says. “The overriding sense is of people not fixing things, because it’s all working as expected. I would imagine and the odd genuine failure causes a mild surprise, not mad panic.”

World class providers

The move to hosted and externally-managed ERP has delivered on its potential. In Microsoft Dynamics AX, Tarmac has a world-class ERP system and in Insite, the company has a world-class hosting partner, delivering high levels of uptime and service on the mission-critical technology underpinning Tarmac’s continued growth.

“Technically, Insite is extremely capable and highly qualified; and their broader Microsoft skills make a big difference,” sums up Skidmore. “They also have a similar culture and similar values to us, so we feel very comfortable with them.”