When North of England social housing company Gentoo Group acquired specialist glass processor and photovoltaic manufacturer Romag, the priorities for the new management team were clear: re-engage staff, re-open the factory – and put in place a comprehensive new ERP system, in order to put the business on a sound financial footing, going forward.
“Under our previous ownership, there had been a lack of visibility,” says ‘Dex’ Rimington, Consett, County Durham-based Romag’s systems coordinator. “We’d been using an old DOS-based system, which was no longer supported, and not fit for purpose.”
It was clear, too, that a number of operational improvements could be made. On-time delivery, for instance, was an important business requirement, and was one where the business’s performance left something to be desired.
For as well as solar photovoltaic glass and glass for transport applications, a product range of architectural and security glass is a major line of business for the company – including bullet-proof glass, and blast-resistant glass utilising glass polycarbonate laminating technology. And with specialist teams of third-party installation contractors pre-positioned on building sites ready to install Romag’s glass the moment it arrived, the ability to promise a reliable delivery date – and keep to it – was an important competitive differentiator.
“There wasn’t really a formal production planning system,” explains Rimington. “We were relying on the experience of long-serving staff in order to schedule production and promise deliveries to customers: it was all based on ‘gut feel’ and experience, rather than on a detailed understanding of the factory’s workload and each customer order’s individual work content.”
And so, in summer of 2011, Romag’s management team began surveying the ERP market, looking for a solution that would be a good fit for their needs. What’s more, stresses Rimington, those needs were fairly precisely specified.
Glass processing, he explains, is a fairly specialised business, and obviously the solution selected would need to be able to conform to the business’s technical requirements in this respect. Just as important, though, was the calibre of the ERP vendor in question, and the skills and capabilities of the implementation partner selected to deliver the solution.
“We had some very specific questions to ask of each potential supplier,” says Rimington. “How long had they been in the ERP business? What was the technology roadmap? And how was the product supported? And all of that was before getting into the specifics of how the solution addressed our particular manufacturing requirements, and what benefits we could expect.”
Similarly, he relates, a separate set of questions probed the capability and suitability of potential implementation partners.
“Again, it was important to go with a business that had been around for a long time, and which showed every sign of continuing in business for the foreseeable future: longevity was very important to us. And then, we wanted to establish how much experience they had of working with our kind of manufacturing operation, the support that they offered, and how in particular they went about the implementation process.”
By September 2011, the decision had been reached. The solution selected: Microsoft Dynamics AX , implemented by Columbus, a ‘Top 3' world-leading specialist in implementing Dynamics AX in manufacturing industry, with more than 6,000 successful implementations over a 22-year history.
And it soon became clear, says Rimington, that the combination of Columbus and Dynamics AX was a solution that was readily capable of exceeding expectations. Yes, Dynamics AX would deliver solid functionality in respect of sales order processing, financial accounting and production planning and scheduling – but undeniably, it also turned out to be able to neatly solve a number of other headaches that troubled the business.
“As our implementation team began working with their counterparts within Romag’s management, we quickly saw other opportunities to add value,” says Columbus project manager Rosalind Dechant. “Month-end accounting was labour-intensive, for instance, material shortages were a problem, and work-in-progress tracking was a challenge.”
What’s more, she adds, actionable management information was in short supply – holding out the prospect that Dynamics AX’s embedded analytic and reporting tools could deliver valuable business intelligence to in order to boost productivity, profitability, and material utilisation.
And so it has proved, says Rimington, with the new system going live in July 2012, after a short but intensive implementation process, structured around Columbus’ proprietary implementation methodology SureStep+.
“Yes, the timescale was tight,” concedes Rimington. “And did we get every last detail correct, down to the very last bill of material? No: in any implementation, there will always be small niggles remaining after you’ve gone ‘live’. But the bigger picture was about putting in place a controlled manufacturing process, alongside back office functions to match – and there, we’ve been extremely successful.”
And what of the system’s ROI? It is, as yet, too early to say.
“The approach that we’ve taken is to provide the business with much-needed functionality, rather than trying to calculate savings,” he concludes. “There have been savings, and we’ll calculate them in due course. But the bigger benefits are clear: how do you put a value on reliable delivery dates, financial accounting, and instant visibility into work-in-progress?”