ATL Telecom Ltd is an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) based in Cardiff, South Wales. The company designs and manufactures leading-edge data and voice transmission technologies for network operators, data service providers and network integrators. It has been designing and manufacturing voice and data products for the telecommunications industry since 1987, and has been supplying high quality data access solutions to major network operators since 1989. ATL has developed a wide range of generic voice and data products that are delivered to customers worldwide, and is established as a leading supplier of transmission products to a major UK teleco. It is also a supplier to national level teleco operators around the world including Portugal, South Africa, China, and India. The current product range incorporates the latest technologies such as broadband access (DSL and VoDSL), SDH access and single-fibre optical transmission. ATLs transmission product portfolio includes a range of leased line modems, data access multiplexers and multi-service access platforms. These products are used by customers throughout the world to transmit data and/or voice over copper or fibre lines in the local loop or last mile part of todays global networks. In addition, ATL produces telephone equipment including the Berkshire range, one of Europe's leading families of quality telephone terminals, and the company is also a supplier of telex products. ATL conducts all its own R&D and design including mask-level microchip layout at its Cardiff premises, and has facilities for EMC testing, operating one of the best-equipped laboratories in the UK. Apart from ordering in components from other suppliers, ATL is largely self-contained.
Although globally established as a highly successful OEM, the company had historically suffered a number of constraints through the use of disparate legacy software systems. This led to ATL sourcing the SyteLine Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution, a Progress Software database and Cognos Business Intelligence software. In the past we had relied on several legacy systems that sat on legacy hardware platforms, explained Hugh Williams, ATLs ERP & Database Administrator. They were very cumbersome, user-unfriendly, inflexible and high-maintenance products. So we realised that we needed to source a more modern integrated suite of solutions that used todays technology and had greater flexibility and power, could facilitate integrated data processes within one system and help reduce maintenance costs.
ATLs departmental managers got together to define the companys specific requirements from such a system. They pooled their joint business experience and views concerning what functionality would constitute the very best software suite. In the case of the ERP component of the suite, the company paired down an initial list of 12 potential suppliers to 6 candidate vendors through talking to consultants and researching potential providers in the computer and trade press. The managers then organised demonstrations at Cardiff, and visited reference sites to see the systems working in situ. They then decided that SyteLine was the most suitable ERP solution for ATLs needs due to its fully integrated functionality, its user friendliness and anticipated speed of implementation. The selection process took a year from start to finish, during 2000 and 2001.
We were the first company in the UK to source the then new Version 6 of SyteLine, said Williams. During implementation ATL dealt directly with Frontstep, the owner and supplier of SyteLine prior to MAPICS acquisition of the solution. Because there were so many legacy systems still active on site, ATL spent a month gradually migrating additional data from these systems to SyteLine. We didnt turn the new system on one day and turn the other systems off the next, continued Williams. It was more a case of switching to SyteLine as the live application and keeping the legacy systems running in parallel to provide a fallback position. However, it took less than a week for most of the everyday processes to be dealt with using SyteLine with confidence, and within a week to a month 99% of all tasks were being transacted on SyteLine with no need to refer back to the legacy systems. Since the acquisition of SyteLine by MAPICS, the solution has been improved further. In terms of MAPICS as a company and the support they have given us, I dont think that as a customer we could have asked for anything more, commented Williams.
In terms of benefits, traceability and order trails has been particularly well received by ATL. Because SyteLine is an integrated system with a single audit trail, any problems we encounter can be traced back to the source very easily, explained Williams. It gives us a great deal of accountability. We have had instances recently where we have wanted to know why something was done in a particular way. The audit trails told us exactly what we wanted to know. In a disparate system we wouldnt have been able to find that out without a struggle. We have a guarantee that every change made in SyteLine is recorded; what the data was before and after. We can also tell who made a change and when the change was made. And by using workflow to automate some of the business flow processes, it ensures continuity. As a simple example, in the days when the use of paper was more prevalent, when someone raised a purchase requisition they passed it on to their manager. He or she would then have to sign it and pass it on to his manager and so on. However, if at any point someone was on holiday or off sick, the piece of paper could sit on a desk until the person returned. That could be weeks. And there was unlikely to be any feedback for the person who initially raised the purchase requisition. You could be talking about a test engineer trying to build a rig on a tight deadline. In SyteLine, however, if a purchase requisition sits in someones in-box for more than a day the system provides a reminder message. If I get such a message, I can then re-assign that purchase requisition to another manager, with an equivalent level of authority, to sign it off. And SyteLine can ensure that the process continues without an unnecessary delay.
In addition to SyteLine, ATL has taken full advantage of the Progress 4G database language technology that underpins SyteLine. This gives us a huge amount of flexibility in terms of manipulating data and writing often complex reports, said Williams. Of course, every manufacturing environment has its own specific requirements from a software system, and can have very different business focuses as well. For instance, our quality management is very good, so we dont have too much of a concern in this regard. However, production issues and keeping stock to a minimum are very important to us as well. Therefore a lot of effort goes into examining what stock we have, why we have it, how often we use it and what we can do with it. Where a simple report wont do, we use Progress as a tool to examine data in greater depth. For example, we can now work out accurately how much it will cost to build a particular product. When youre building products you have to drill down all the sub-assemblies to the purchased parts. For each of those parts you need a certain number to build one finished product. In Progress we generate a report that goes through every part within a finished product, and tells us how many finished goods we could build from our unallocated stock of each component as breakpoints. We then add purchasing considerations for minimum order quantities (MOQs) and order multiples of any shortages to generate the actual material costs to build. The report displays true purchasing cost of components to build, value of inventory depleted, and value of residual purchased stock for every single breakpoint. This allows us to make strategic manufacturing decisions for all of our products, based on our inventory, not guesswork.
ATL also uses Cognos Business Intelligence software as part of the integrated package. Cognos is a simple-to-use reporting tool but very powerful and very flexible, said Williams. It allows us to check what we need to make within the next time period, and if materials havent been delivered on time the system will bring this to our attention so we can quickly chase our suppliers or make alternative plans. This used to be done by a standalone database that wasnt integrated within any other system. Because it was standalone; someone had to type in data from the ERP system, which meant a lot of time-wastage through dual-keying plus potential operator errors during data transfer. Also, the IT maintenance requirements for these dozen or so standalone databases was considerable. In addition, these legacy systems were only updated once a day. We replaced it with the single Cognos reporting tool, offering instant real-time data, and alleviating the need for re-keying information.
And what about future developments? I aim to reduce our inventory levels further through the use of SyteLine, Progress and Cognos, said Williams. We have already managed to reduce our inventory from around 8 million to 4 million using these systems, but there is nothing to stop us taking this figure down further. Also, I am looking to reduce our use of legacy systems further. Im thinking in terms of how many of these other databases we could replace with reports generated straight out of SyteLine using Cognos. So I intend to look at each of our dozen or so remaining legacy systems to see if we can eliminate them simply by writing a report. Such reports are extremely easy to prepare using Cognos.
In addition, ATL plans to develop some of the logistics-focused aspects of SyteLine over the coming months. Williams commented: We are looking to move some of our manufacturing operations at our Cardiff site to manufacturing partners in China. We will rely on SyteLine to keep track of sub-contractors and manufacturing processes. Indeed, the system will be our main means of visibility.
Williams summed up some of the core benefits ATL has enjoyed since going live with SyteLine, Progress and Cognos. We have gained some major advantages from using these systems, such as full integration and real-time data access, flexible reporting, the eradication of dual keying and the ability to plan production in line with keeping inventory down as much as possible. And although ROI is a difficult thing to measure accurately, it is true to say that these systems have saved us a good deal of money, thus proving that the initial outlay was well worth the investment. We are very happy with the systems and the service and support we have received from MAPICS.