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SSL WinMan delivers reliability, accuracy and significant time savings for Centurion Europe. 

Centurion Europe is a specialist supplier of tool, hardware and DIY products throughout the UK and the rest of the world. Based in a state-of-the-art distribution centre in Doncaster, the company has established itself as one of the UKs foremost trade only distributors over its 27-year lifetime, and now boasts a healthy turnover. When its aging business management system began to seriously impact its ability to maintain its all-important customer service levels, Centurion Europe put its trust in WinMan from SSL WinMan. 

Debi Miller is Centurion Europes customer service manager with over 20 years background experience in the joinery and hardware industry. She highlights some of the difficulties the company faces. The right product needs to be in the right location at the right time and in sufficient quantity. This means having complete accuracy and visibility of real time stock levels which in turn necessitates timely purchasing of stock and providing visibility of where ordered stock physically is and when it is scheduled to arrive. It also means being able to access and manage considerable amounts of data in order to quickly get at the information you need. 

Manual processes

Prior to investing in WinMan, Centurion Europe had attempted to achieve this via a mix of manual processes and an aging business management system. Orders would come in via fax, email, EDI or phone and then be manually entered onto the system. This would generate the pick-list which would then be issued to the picking team that would pick the goods after which they would be checked and then dispatched.  

Whilst the existing system undoubtedly assisted in some areas, these increasingly became outweighed by the growing number of inherent flaws within the system itself At the heart of the problems lay a basic unreliability and a lack of visibility and control over what data was in the system, explained Miller. The system would crash or freeze at least once a day for no reason at all or over something as trivial as two people trying to enter an order at the same time. We also had a fundamental problem with the data actually in the system because there were some fundamentals it couldnt deal with which meant we were always having to update, amend or tweak the data so that it matched the actual reality of stock we had.  

The greatest problem area, however, lay in the systems inability to handle incoming stock, which meant that the company still had to rely on a large standalone spreadsheet to manage all of its purchasing activities. Because this was separate from the old business management system system, everything had to be updated manually and there was therefore a problematic time gap between stock being taken and stock being re-ordered. Even more problematic was the lack of visibility anywhere in terms of what stock had been ordered and when it was due to arrive.  

The combination of this was a growing and cumulative amount of time spent correcting and updating the data in the system and a decreasing trust in the accuracy of the data once it was in the system. Miller estimates at least an hour per day was spent simply correcting the data alone.  

Centurion Europe recognised that the only way to improve the situation was to invest in a modern, fully integrated ERP system that could actually deliver the power and potential to fully enable its own internal business processes. A comprehensive review of a range of alternatives began in mid-2006 and by the time Miller joined in December 2006, WinMan from SSL WinMan had already been selected because of its combination of functionality, flexibility and value for money. 

Project implementation began in February 2007 with the company assembling a comprehensive internal team comprising departmental representatives with Miller in charge. This team worked closely with a dedicated SSL WinMan resource in reviewing every business process, identifying how each ideally ought to work and how WinMan would work in enabling this. Added to this was the need to set up all the incoming stock control mechanisms and data which involved cleansing and then transferring a lot of data held outside the system.  

Basic trust

We decided to work as much as possible with the standard system and customise only where we really needed it, explained Miller. Because everyone who was to use the system was actually trained in-house on the system using our own data, this went a long way to restoring basic trust in the ability of a computerised system to be reliable and accurate. This approach is one the reasons why Miller believes the company had a successful and smooth go-live on 1 June 2007. We had preloaded the system with some live data just before the go-live so that from day 1 people could come and begin using WinMan, which they did, she said. And aside from a few minor system tweaks, everything ran smoothly with no disruption to the daily nature of the business. So much so that the benefits of WinMan were literally experienced on the first day because it worked 100 per cent reliably all day with no freezing.  

WinMan has enabled Centurion Europe to improve its existing business processes in a number of key areas across the entire company. For example, the warehouse manager previously had to wait until the following day in order to be able to receive a system generated update on what had been the current state of stock across the warehouse at the close of business. Now, she is able to interrogate the system live and in real time whenever required, which is essential for managing not only current stock levels but also timing and scheduling incoming deliveries. Even the mobile sales teams have benefited because WinMan allows the company to track and monitor sales via individual reps, which in turn enables the company to reward and motivate its sales force accordingly. 

WinMan is credited with increasing the companys in stock all the time level to an all-time record of 97 per cent and enabling 95 per cent of all orders to be supplied in full within 48 hours with 60 per cent of those within 24 hours. Now when a customer is on the phone, we have all the information available immediately at our fingertips, and if theres a problem we know about it before hand and can proactively keep the customer informed, explained Miller. As for the future, Centurion Europe is shortly to begin the second phase in its WinMan implementation which will involve integrating its labelling system into WinMan and adding EDI capabilities in order to streamline dealings with large retailers. The company is also looking to move to using handheld scanners, at first for goods in and then for picking. Plans to implement the WinMan Customer and Supplier portals and a shopping cart facility are also being finalised.

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