Aliaxis is a multinational group of manufacturing companies which produce plastic products for fluid transport, supplying to its key market segments of building, sanitary, industrial and utilities. it has around 300 companies in its stable worldwide, including eight in the UK, the most recognisable of which is probably Marley – a manufacturer of plumbing and drainage products. With several of the UK companies’ separate IT systems coming towards end of life, or with a need for more functionality, the Aliaxis Group decided to take the opportunity to install one ERP system, centralise all the IT servers, and combine back office functions like the service desk, in order to benefit from the economies of scale that such a move would bring.
Former corporate Vice President Kevin Stacey was drafted in as IT Director to facilitate the change. One of the problems, he says, of having disparate IT systems which couldn’t communicate with one another was that the business couldn’t easily collate information, report on activity or share business intelligence with others both in the UK and at Group level. “Database extracts were put into spreadsheets and manipulated by different departments so it was inevitable that they were never consistent,” says Kevin. “Sharing information across business functions in a consistent manner was difficult. With this project, we’re moving into the new world, using IT to provide solutions that will support business processes and provide access to various business intelligence sources for reporting.”
"We were keen to keep everything as simple and as standard as possible. When you begin to bring in high levels of customisation for different processes at different sites, the training costs rise and you become reliant on outside help and ongoing support.” Kevin Stacey, Aliaxis Group.
With the Group having already decided upon Microsoft Dynamics AX as a solution, the UK selected Columbus as the solutions integrator. Kevin commented: “Columbus was selected for a number of reasons. They demonstrated their expertise in both the product and the manufacturing sector which gave us the confidence that they would help deliver a successful implementation. They also had the global presence to be able to deliver a project with multiple companies in multiple countries.”
The first task of Kevin’s team was to analyse all of the companies’ separate business processes and determine what functionality was needed to support the organisation.
“We were keen to keep everything as simple and as standard as possible,” says Kevin. “When you begin to bring in high levels of customisation for different processes at different sites, the training costs rise and you become reliant on outside help and ongoing support. You lose some of the benefits a centralised solution can offer, especially in the areas of cost, ease of support and access to information.”
A UK steering Board was created consisting of director level management who set the parameters around the project. They decided on scope and timescales of the programme, appointed a project manager, and identified who the ‘process owners’ – the key users – would be. Key users being the individuals at company level who were selected to be responsible for production, logistics, sales and finance deliverables to be implemented in the UK and who would report to the steering board.
The first stage of the project was to analyse and define the requirement that would form the core model for the UK which could satisfy 80 per cent of the UK companies’ collective requirements. Meanwhile, a number of other activities occurred to support the project in the area of the IT infrastructure. This included identifying a partner to host and manage the UK servers and communications network needed to migrate the current environment from the ‘broom cupboards’ over to a professionally run data centre. Additionally a major program of data cleansing commenced in order to prepare for the move to Dynamics AX.
Things were ticking along nicely with the roll out but, a strategic decision was made to centralise some manufacturing activity and the project goalposts were moved. This created a separate a manufacturing company and turned the project scope from seven companies into eight. it meant a redesign of the solution to take into account the new company while maintaining business continuity for the individual brands.
This development especially made Kevin glad Columbus had been chosen as a partner. “Columbus adapted to this change very easily,” he says. “The knowledge they gained of our company and their understanding of the production and logistic processes made them invaluable in supporting this strategic change.”
After sign off of the redesign by the steering board the implementation began, including the training of the end users. The first phase of the program was up and running at the beginning of 2010 for the newly created manufacturing company. While this was taking place the project team was already preparing for the next phase of the program; the implementation of the first three brands in the UK to go live on Dynamics AX.
When the manufacturing site was put live onto Dynamics AX, the brand companies it manufactured for were still reliant on their legacy systems. Thus, the UK IT team had to create communication links between the new and the old systems. The high speed UK communication network implemented enabled all UK companies to be interlinked. This in turn enabled communication between different systems including Dynamics AX and existing legacy platforms. “This was all an immense undertaking but one which was critical for maintaining business process continuity during a period of major change in the way the IT services were to be delivered,” says Kevin.
There have been challenges along the way, reports Kevin, especially relating to change and the resulting business transformation. One area he wishes he’d tackled earlier was data cleansing and challenging some of the business processes to ensure there was a closer fit with standard ‘out of the box’ Dynamics AX functionality.
But, overall, the benefits far outweigh the bellyaches. Many processes have largely been standardised to support all the business functions in the UK, meaning it is easier to train staff and support the platform. As the rest of the program is rolled out the required functionality to manage the business process and provide meaningful and accurate information will be realised throughout the UK.
"People are starting to understand the benefits of the solution and they see it as a means of working with IT to improve their operations,” says Kevin. “ Through the system they are able to plan their business, analyse their performance and identify areas for improvement.”
Moving forward, the goal is to continuously improve the service provided by the Dynamics AX platform to the business through enhanced functionality across the operation in sales, manufacturing, inventory management, customer services and finance.
"Before, IT was beyond Pluto at this company,” says Kevin. “ Now it’s that much closer; orbiting earth and soon to land.”
With this project well on the road to completion, Kevin is confident that other companies within the Aliaxis group will benefit greatly from the UK journey.