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Established in 1991, WPL has built a successful reputation as the market leader in the manufacture of quality sewage treatment solutions. The 6m company headquartered in Hampshire provides both domestic and commercial waste water solutions, from single residence solutions catering for up to six people, through to large commercial installations for water service utilities and motorway service stations, able to service up to 15,000 people. The companys Bacteriological Technology is also used in its Grease Guzzler product, widely used in the fast food sector with notable customers including McDonalds. With a variety of production processes involved, from part assembly/part outsourcing through to full bespoke manufacture, WPL required a robust yet flexible ERP system to replace its ageing collection of legacy systems. It found the perfect match in WinMan.NET, the latest version of SSL WinMans proven ERP solution.
WPL faces very distinct challenges in order to stay ahead of its competition. Crucially in this business sector, WPL has to contend with a combination of having to almost second-guess grey areas of regulation and water utility spending programmes. It also has to deal with specific cost factors such as a 60% increase in the price of stainless steel and a continuing increase in the price of GRP. Unlike many industries, the sewage treatment industry relies on the same bacteriological technology so there is no competitive advantage available from the adoption of superior technology. The number of units sold and a split of 40% stock and 60% bespoke results in orders tending to have a finite manufacturing time. Critically therefore for WPL, the primary general business issues are a combination of cost, quality and service, staying ahead of legislation and spending programmes, and the need to optimise manufacturing and business processes.
Mark Wilson is WPLs Commercial Director and he describes how these general business pressures filter down to specific challenges facing WPL. Our biggest challenge is continually to keep costs to a minimum. This affects not just the final price and therefore profitability of our products, but also critically for us as a growing market leader, it affects our cashflow. Consequently our business processes need to be as refined and streamlined as possible to minimise waste, be it in terms of Work in Progress or general stock levels. Staff levels also become increasingly critical because we need to fully utilise all of our resources on a continual basis. This ultimately necessitates complete visibility of not just ongoing orders but also our sales pipeline and delivery mechanisms. Moreover, it requires accurate management reporting, the ability to set and monitor KPIs across the entire company, and the flexibility to respond to any sudden changes in orders.
Wilson is blunt about the companys ability to do this prior to investing in the SSL WinMan solution. The old system simply couldnt cope it was falling apart at the seams. In fact, the system actually comprised nine legacy systems based around an ageing central solution, held together with a variety of manual processes and spreadsheets. As Wilson remarks, We had to have manual processes in place to ensure that information didnt fall down the gaps in the middle! For example, we used a specific pink file purely to try to keep visibility of the progress of each order. However the file could be anywhere within the company at any time and the only way to find it was to email everyone and ask!
The list of problems is a substantial one but one which is faced by many a manufacturing company in a similar position. The old system was passive, reactive, and fragmented. With no linking between quotations, sales orders and purchase orders, and the disparate way the information was stored and handled in general meant that it was impossible to generate any meaningful management reports. In addition to the inevitable duplication and version control errors, this meant no product based costs, no labour costs, no reporting by margins and no workflow visibility. WPL often couldnt even get visibility of the actual costs per job, let alone the profit, even when the job was complete!
As WPL continued to grow and cost pressures increased, the need for detailed management information became more paramount and the strains placed on the system became more noticeable. In February 2004, as part of its ongoing strategy review, WPL asked Wilson to review the companys IT issues in the light of its required growth strategy. Wilson immediately identified the key issue, namely the imminent abandoning of support for the companys ageing IBM server. WPL had a clear choice: to upgrade its primary legacy package or to begin again with a completely new system. As Wilson explains, the upgrade was a non-starter. In essence, wed still be left with the same issues concerning the interaction between our business processes and our management software. There was also a substantial price consideration if we were to pursue the upgrade option.
It would be tempting to see WPLs situation as a choice to replace a failed system with one that simply did the same thing but better but this would be far from the case. A range of ERP systems could have done a better job than WPLs existing system but WPL did not want simply something that did a better job. It had very exacting requirements to get the best from its business processes in order for it to achieve its overall company aims and objectives. Which is why the company conducted a thorough selection process to determine the best-fit solution for its requirements.
To this end, a Selection Team of 3 was therefore set up, comprising a Production Engineer, the IT Manager, and the Project Manager (Wilson). This team conducted an initial review of options with the specific aim of establishing a target budget. Formal approval for the budget was given in July 2004 and the Selection Team was expanded to 8, including Wilson. After discarding Tier 1 solutions on the basis of cost and sheer size, and Tier 3 solutions on the basis of lack of functionality and lack of experience of suppliers, a working shortlist of five mid-tier ERP packages was ultimately arrived at.
The final decision would come down to which best fulfilled the shortlist criteria. This consisted of :
1. Functionality/flexibility (closeness to business fit)
2. Ease of use of customer interface (intuitive to understand)
3. Technological architecture (future-proofing)
4. Price (value for money versus functionality)
5. Longevity/experience of Supplier.
After all considerations, it amounted to a straight choice between SSL WinMan and another leading supplier with the decision ultimately going in favour of WinMan.NET in November 2004. Wilson recalls the deciding factors. Both companies fulfilled our criteria but crucially, SSL excelled in four key areas. First, the WinMan product was considerably the best value while offering all the functionality we required. Secondly it was very close to our own business processes. We had always allowed for an 80% standard fit with the remaining 20% requiring configuration of the system to our processes, and SSL also offered the best flexibility to do this. As a system it was also incredibly intuitive and straightforward to use, something which became even more apparent during the training stage of the implementation. Finally, in all the process, we never once felt like we were talking to a salesperson. Everyone we had dealings with at SSL talked the same talk as us. They were straightforward, focussed on the processes and didnt try and bamboozle us with technology.
The implementation date was ambitiously set for less than 2 months later, January 2005, and would be the first live installation of the WinMan.NET version. Unlike many so called .NET enabled systems, WinMan is 100% .NET managed code providing N-tier architecture, enhanced scalability, security and maintainability. Providing full integration with the Web, WinMan.NET has been built ready to provide even further speed and reliability benefits from customers utilising 64-bit technology. Moreover, the use of SQL Server delivers proven benefits including high performance and robustness whilst Reporting Services provides comprehensive business intelligence and powerful reporting.
WPL began the implementation by working with SSL WinMan to develop and execute an education programme so that everyone who would be using the system could thoroughly understand what it did, and more importantly, why. This occurred alongside a business process mapping exercise, again executed in conjunction with SSL WinMan in order to define which processes were to be setup within the system. Already we were receiving benefits from WinMan elaborates Wilson. He continues, People who were not especially IT literate could immediately relate not just to the information generated by the system, but also the way it was presented. They could associate it with the task(s) they had to accomplish. This in turn helped generate even before the go-live, a greater sense of appreciation of the joined-up nature of the entire business. Each department was freed from seeing themselves as a disconnected island of activity and came to see themselves as part of a joined-up process.
Given that WPLs year end was December 04, a decision was taken to begin using the WinMan system using only data from the new financial year. Dry runs were performed with dummy data whilst a definitive list of all the live 2005 data was compiled ready to be migrated. It was however accepted that much of the 2005 data would have to be manually retro entered into the systems immediately following the go-live. A two-week period of parallel running ensued during the last week of January/first week of February and the system officially went live on February 7th, a month since the implementation began and less than three months after the decision was taken to acquire it. Wilson comments on the go-live. All things considered, the go-live went very smoothly and we had SSL support throughout.
Whilst still early days by any implementation standards, WPL has already begun to see genuine tangible benefits. Immediately staff using the system found it quicker, more reliable, and easier than the old system. Wilson recalls a clear example, Within the first 2 weeks, we had a significant bespoke quotation to generate. The WinMan system saved us 2 man-weeks of effort simply by being able to cost and generate the quote efficiently and accurately! This and the increased level of data accuracy impacted the culture of WPL with people quickly coming to put trust in the information the system was generating. This has been further enhanced by putting in place the WinMan Dashboard Facility based on individual KPIs, personalising even more each users experience of the software.
Again, while early days, Wilson cites improvements in the following areas resulting from the management reports WPL is now able to generate: Credit Control, Workflow, Stock Control, Job Costing etc. He elaborates, A case in point would be our ability to now effectively manage our Aged Debtors, and by identifying our top debtors, we have been able to work with them to resolve any issues. This in itself immediately benefits our cashflow. Other generic benefits have been in the area of both Supplier and Customer Relationship Management. The increase in job visibility and workflow has meant that any issues can be immediately identified with the appropriate customers and/or suppliers notified immediately. As Wilson comments, Its these little things which collectively make huge differences.
As for the future, in addition to ongoing benefits based on the above, there are elements of increased functionality to be phased in, specifically CRM and Job Control. The former will add even greater transparency to the sales order process, from quote to completion while the latter will provide more in-depth management reports and allow tighter project control. Wilson is adamant that the future is bright. In WinMan.NET, we now have a system which will facilitate and enable our company-wide growth strategy. Already we are able to deal with 150% greater volumes with the same staff levels and many cost reducing benefits are still in their infancy. Perhaps most exciting is that these benefits are already opening up worlds of opportunity for us to further refine not just our business processes, but our entire go-to-market strategy.