Optimising the manufacturing supply chain

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This year's M3 User Association UK Conference (M3UA UK), held at Best Western Plus Meriden Manor Hotel in Solihull, West Midlands on 1 and 2 March, was again well-attended; exceeding last year's numbers with a total over 120 people attending over the two days.

John Gledhill, Infor VP of product management, gave a presentation that looked at ongoing developments within M3 ERP. Photo courtesy of Georga Irvine

The event – which focuses on the latest technology developments and application examples related to Infor's M3 ERP solution, together with the complementary solutions and activities of a number of Infor's solution partners and associates – featured a packed schedule of customer presentations, as well as product updates and live demonstrations. There was also a Gala Dinner and Charity Auction on the evening of the first day, which raised nearly £1500 for cancer charities, plus a close-up magician who provided the entertainment before dinner was served.

During his welcome speech, Trevor Howard, general manager at the M3 User Association, reminded delegates that M3UA is an independent non-profit user group and so is not tied directly to Infor or other vendors. He added that the 110-strong membership is made up primarily of M3 users, together with 15 solution vendors, and pointed out that Association membership has grown significantly over the past two years primarily due to the success of its UK and the Benelux conferences.

Howard said the event was popular from several perspectives – for example, many users or prospective users like the opportunity to talk with other companies about their experiences of deploying M3 and complementary solutions provided by system partners and associates. Howard added that visitors also like the varied mix of presentations discussing the latest developments within the M3 suite, together with user case studies. Additionally, he highlighted the fact that they have the opportunity to network with vendors and fellow users alike. Another benefit of the 2017 event was that the hotel is close to Birmingham airport; meaning people can fly in and only have a 4 or 5 km drive to the venue.

Food & beverage roundtable

This year, M3UA held its first sector SIG (Significant Interest Group) round table discussion focusing on food & beverage ERP and edge application solutions. Even though this was a 30-minute schedule it was clear from an early stage that there is a need for a regular focused food & beverage SIG covering subjects and drivers such as IoT in food & beverage, industry consolidation and its impacts on IT etc. M3UA Conference chairman, and CIO of ABP Food Group, Robin Irvine, said: "The short discussion demonstrated that the food & beverage sector, regardless of the output product, has very similar operational IT strategy challenges, and we can learn much from each other."

Irvine and Andrew Dalziel from Infor will be coordinating future quarterly discussions and face-to-face meetings to drive this SIG agenda forward. "It's our vision that the discussion output will not only be informative for the M3UA food & beverage members but that Infor and its development strategy can also take advantage," added Irvine.

Supply chain optimisation

One of the many user presentations at the event looked at how Reynolds Catering Supplies drives continuous solution improvement through optimising its supply chain with Infor M3. Richard Calder, Reynolds' IT & business systems manager, explained that the company wanted to replace its legacy ERP and supply chain solutions with new systems capable of managing a sophisticated array of services more effectively preparing the company for rapid and consistent growth. Reynolds also wanted to increase confidence in decision-making abilities by providing management teams with fast access to relevant, detailed information. Additionally, it wanted to implement integrated solutions that could manage increased demands from both internal and external customers and meet business needs throughout the warehouse, call centre, supply chain and finance departments.

Calder explained that the benefits of implementing M3 included reduced costs associated with recovering incorrect orders and improved customer satisfaction with specific Infor Process Flow Integrator applications, such as email order confirmation. He pointed out that Reynolds could also complete picks faster and with greater accuracy by developing applications to examine picking efficiency and conveyor box fill with the data warehouse and associated reporting. Other benefits included: Improved speed and detail of financial reporting, leading to better credit control and a reduction in the number of debtor days; more detailed information received by management, which has improved decision making and efficiency; and reduced risk of product waste by being able to reclassify and adjust shelf life at item and lot levels with Inform M3's re-inspection time and sales functionality.

Calder added that Infor ION will become a key part of Reynolds' business-case justification "because if we want new functionality, we won't have to pay for any modifications or additional integration work".

Active monitoring

Another user presentation was given by ABP Food Group's CIO, Robin Irvine, who spoke about the company's use of 24/7/365 M3 active monitoring. Irvine commented that most companies put a significant amount of effort and funding into ensuring that their data centres, communications links and hardware estates are available to serve the business. This approach, he said, goes hand in hand with any method of delivery; be it on-premise, full Cloud or hybrid. "In most cases, all the user actually experiences is an application window," remarked Irvine, "and unfortunately this can be the layer which is often forgotten about when pulling together an application and hardware support and monitoring strategy."

Irvine explained that the ABP Food Group has completed that monitoring circle by engaging with Essist, which is providing 24/7/365 manned monitoring and first-line support for ABP's critical M3 ERP and edge applications layer. "This provides added confidence to our support organisation and allows our internal teams to drive forward the areas that add true value to business and product," he said, adding: "I am happy to highlight the merits of taking advantage of a monitoring solution from Essist who have very quickly become a trusted extension to our IT support teams."

Ongoing developments

John Gledhill, Infor VP of product management, gave a presentation that looked at ongoing developments within M3 ERP. One of his key messages to users was to move to version 13.4 and get Xi enabled. "It really does deliver value," he said. Gledhill explained that since 2015 there has been a multi-tenant version of M3 running in Infor's labs. "So, at the same time as developing 13.4 our technology teams have been developing multi-tenant Cloud-type technology with M3 sitting on top of it," he said.

In terms of what's next for the solution, Gledhill outlined some of the highlights regarding what Infor has recently introduced and what users can look forward to in the short term. He explained that Infor has upgraded its CloudSuites to Xi, and will introduce an ION integration with GT Nexus. He added that after September Infor will have some improved integration with Infor Supply Chain Execution.

Premier functionality updates

Ole Rasmussen and Raj Gupta of Infor gave a presentation looking at a number of key aspects of M3 functionality and recent developments in these areas – including Infor EDI, Infor CRM and Infor Rhythm for Commerce.

Infor has announced that a new solution for EDI is now available for Infor M3 clients to simplify the way that industry-driven enterprises serve their customers. This new solution is made possible through the purpose-built middleware Infor ION, and Infor EDI Managed Services solution, which provides a fast and secure way to manage data. The integration is now available as a standard service to organisations using the M3 enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and serving the fashion, food & beverage, distribution and manufacturing verticals.

The presentation then looked at Infor CRM, with the point being made that the solution enables users to maximise the impact of every interaction – across the entire customer lifecycle – whether in the office or out in the field. Infor CRM is built for business, with industry-specific capabilities, deep integration and a high level of flexibility and control in how users can deploy, use, and pay for the solution. The solution also benefits from seamless integration with back office systems via Infor ION and modern architecture with an adaptable platform to meet unique company and customer needs.

With this modern engagement solution, users can manage all aspects of their online business. They can also create a website that helps them tell their brand story; easily manage content, promotions, and catalogue assortments; access applied analytics; and streamline the ordering process with full visibility into order history, pending approvals, and draft orders.

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