When it came to updating its long-serving EFACS Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system from Exel Computer Systems, high-tech company, Newall, chose to invest in the latest version of EFACS – but not for the reasons you might expect.
Established in 1968, Newall has earned a worldwide reputation for providing reliable, accurate and dependable digital readout systems (DROs) and linear feedback encoders. A brand of Custom Sensors and Technologies (CST), Newall exports 85 per cent of its products and has distribution and service outlets in 63 countries. With a sister subsidiary in the US and a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Leicester, UK, the company employs 60 personnel and is ISO 9001 accredited.
Newall has always been a Make-To-Order (MTO) company but has seen the nature and extent of its business change over the years, especially in terms of the growing number of export markets the company supplies its products to. Order sizes can range from repeat individual items for individual customers through to sizeable batches of mixed product lines from distributors. The company's lean philosophy means it needs to keep stocks to a minimum while also ensuring that its On-Time and In-Full (OTIF) levels remain consistently high. For Newall today, this means an OTIF level of between 99 and 100 per cent – in the past it wasn't even measured.
Best product for the task
Newall had long since recognised the value of working with a business management information system and had been successfully using its EFACS Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system from Exel Computer Systems since 1998. However, for a number of reasons, Malcolm Garbett, Newall's IT manager for 12 years, began alerting the management that the company could be doing even better if it implemented a more modern, state-of-the-art ERP system and is candid about his starting point. "While being very happy with EFACS, I recommended to the company that we look at ERP systems as a whole as opposed to simply upgrading EFACS. That way we would be sure we were getting the very best product for Newall." The company agreed and after a visit to an IT Showcase event, Garbett arrived at the following conclusion. "After hearing lots of sales and marketing about why each system was best, it was clear that for a company like ours, any of these systems could theoretically do the job."
For Newall therefore, the selection criteria wouldn't be the system, it would have to be something else – something Garbett maintains can be even more important. "When the systems are essentially the same, what matters most is the relationship you have with the vendor, and of course price. Support levels are important to us and I was already on first name terms with the excellent support team at Exel. It was the same with the sales consultants, implementation team, and the trainers." He continued: "For a company like ours which has no spare internal resource, any implementation just has to work right first time. We had a decade of proven experience working with Exel at every level and knew we could trust them 100 per cent to deliver. The fact that as an existing user the price was extremely competitive was an added bonus."
Newall decided to treat the EFACS upgrade as a completely new implementation and to break this down into 3 phases. Phase 1 was to completely replicate on the new EFACS system the exact functionality from the old system to minimise any possible disruption to ongoing business. Garbett again, "To reduce any possible disruption we aimed to keep each area of the company running EFACS as vanilla as possible and to follow Exel's lead in achieving this." This resulted in a successful go-live, on time in February 2011 with Newall noticing a number of immediate benefits, especially in the area of reporting. "The fact we could now generate a range of standard and custom reports, export these to Excel spreadsheets and manipulate them for our wider business purposes provided an immediate benefit to the entire business," said Garbett.
So successful was phase 1 and so minimal any disruption that Newall commenced Phase 2 less than a month later. This was to implement EFACS into its US subsidiary, replacing its aging Accpac system that incorporated a number of standalone databases & spreadsheets. This was done remotely, still following the Exel methodology except this time led by Garbett. "A key element of the success of phase 2 was the willingness of all those concerned to be completely honest throughout the training and implementation so that there were no unexpected problems when you go live." This was very pertinent for Newall as a number of US accounting and documentation issues were discovered and addressed during the implementation phase.
The approach clearly worked because Phase 2 went live in September 2011, again without problems. While both the US and UK operations were still only essentially replicating their previous way of working with the latest version of EFACS E8, the fact that this was the same fully-integrated system across both sites delivered a number of significant benefits. For example, the marked increase in reporting flexibility could now not only be enjoyed in the US as well as the UK, it was also possible across both companies as a whole which even at an accounts level, has proved to be very helpful in terms of making wider business decisions."
Phase 3, where the deeper and more powerful elements of EFACS E8 will be explored and implemented, is already underway. In addition to adhering to the rule of trying 'not to run before you can walk', Garbett cites the relationship and collaboration with Exel as central to Newall's success. "It's more than the fact that everyone we've ever dealt with at Exel has been knowledgeable and professional and always delivered. It's the fact that they treat us as a unique customer, offer advice and recommendations specifically focussed on our business. Even to the extent that if they thought we were going to get anything wrong during the implementation, they would tell us and then recommend something better."