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Origin

Food producer ERP case study
The business lacked a single formal ERP system

At fast-growing Dublin-headquartered agri-services group Origin Enterprises, an implementation of Microsoft Dynamics AX is rapidly re-writing the art of the possible.

Soon, says Origin’s chief information officer Derek Wilson, the entire business, and some of its highly-specialised IT capabilities, will be united under a single ERP system.

Better still, as the business expands, newly-acquired businesses can be rapidly folded into the Dynamics AX system, delivering visibility and integration as well as IT economies of scale. Yet when Mr Wilson arrived at Origin at the end of 2007, as the company’s first-ever chief information officer, such ambitions were firmly set in the future.

"It was very much part of my brief to find replacements for a number of systems that had served the business very well for many years, but which were no longer cutting-edge," he recalls. "It had become very clear that we weren’t capitalising on what new technology could offer - either to us, or to our customers."

In particular, explains Wilson, the business lacked a single formal ERP system, relying on standalone ‘best of breed’ applications chosen for their fit with Origin’s needs at the time, and with interfaces built between them.

"We had a mix of packaged software solutions for example finance and stock control, coupled with custom-built applications to handle the specific needs of our manufacturing process . A case in point was a ‘formulation’ calculator to develop formulae for particular manufacturing requirements, and a distribution application to handle our transport and despatch requirements."

What’s more, the disparate parts of Origin had very different requirements. A focused agri services group, Origin’s mission is the provision of sustainable and profitable growing solutions for primary food producers, such as farmers, through the provision of customised advice and agri-inputs including fertilisers, seeds, fungicides and herbicides. But the company also has interests in consumer foods, animal feed ingredients and marine proteins and oils. Geographically, the company’s reach embraces Ireland, the United Kingdom, Norway, Poland and Ukraine.

Market survey:

Beginning with a survey of the ERP marketplace in mid- 2008 and a formal request for further information from a number of vendors, Wilson soon whittled down the number of systems under active consideration to a shortlist of vendors to be approached for further clarifications, product demonstrations and site visits. In parallel, too, he was talking to potential implementation partners, determining their capabilities, assessing their relative strengths and experience, and talking to them about the two particular aspects of Origin’s IT environment that would need special care.

Beginning with a survey of the ERP marketplace in mid- 2008 and a formal request for further information from a number of vendors, Wilson soon whittled down the number of systems under active consideration to a shortlist of vendors to be approached for further clarifications, product demonstrations and site visits. In parallel, too, he was talking to potential implementation partners, determining their capabilities, assessing their relative strengths and experience, and talking to them about the two particular aspects of Origin’s IT environment that would need special care.

"We’d pretty much decided on Microsoft Dynamics AX when our Masstock business, a specialist agronomy advisor and solution provider to over 10,000 farming businesses throughout the UK, made two acquisitions," says Wilson. This development yielded a combined business entity with three separate systems on three separate platforms. For each of these, and for the other Origin businesses the solution finally identified would need to be appropriate. In February 2010, the decision was made. All the requirements of the various Origin businesses could be met by Microsoft Dynamics AX. When considering the issue of implementation one competing partner stood out for Origin as far and away the best fit, Columbus.

"Columbus combined an in-depth knowledge of manufacturing and distribution with a corporate culture that we really bought into," he explains. "The Columbus people know what they’re talking about, they work as a team, and they are confident and self-assured - because they’ve done it before, and can be upfront and honest about what will and won’t work."

Go live:

Accordingly, in May 2010, as soon as the seasonal peak of the farming and horticultural demand cycle had passed, work began in earnest. And in addition to a conventional migration from ERP and standalone packages, it was necessary for Columbus to replicate the functionality of the specialist formulation application, as well as not just duplicating but extending the functionality of the distribution application that Origin had historically used.

With fertilizer, agri-chemicals and seeds requiring careful transportation management and control, the need was for a distribution application that would help the business to construct loads that reflected both desirable route sequences and the relative priority of orders. Achieving this capability within the framework of a Microsoft Dynamics AX system called for Columbus to develop a purpose- built solution.

By the summer of 2011, substantial progress had been achieved, and individual Origin businesses could go live. On August 1, two UK-based businesses went live as planned: Origin Fertilisers UK and P .B. Kent, a specialist horticultural firm. The Masstock business and Goulding Chemicals in Ireland, both go live at the end of November 2011. In January and February 2012, more Origin businesses will join those already functioning with Microsoft Dynamics AX. These businesses will include some which had not been acquired at the time of the original evaluation.

"If we’re going to grow through acquisition, we need to systemise our business processes, to make them consistent and readily replicable," sums up Wilson. "And together, Columbus and Microsoft Dynamics AX are delivering that consistency."

Categories: Food, Microsoft Dynamics AX