There's a certain logic to a building materials company building its own IT systems in-house. But as Bobby Awtrey might tell you, technology changes so quickly it becomes very difficult to continually keep an internal system on the cutting edge. Not to mention the staff that runs it. That's especially so as one's business keeps on growing and evolving.
Awtrey is director of IT services at Dixie Plywood, one of the country's largest distributors of building materials. The company's homegrown character-based legacy system was simply outdated, he says. Dixie had spawned 10 distribution centers in addition to its corporate headquarters, in Savannah, Ga. One of those DCs, in Miami, also functions as the distributor's export center. "We required a feature-rich, flexible solution ... that provided a path for additional functionality as our business evolved," says Awtrey.
Ultimately, after its request-for-proposal process winnowed the competition to two providers, Infor, Atlanta, was chosen. That was hardly a foregone conclusion, says Awtrey. "The other company we were looking at was very, very specific to the lumber and plywood industry, a lot more so than the Infor system happens to be."
The Infor ERP SX.enterprise system is much broader in the design of its database and the modules that plug in to it, Awtrey says, and that was worrisome to him and his team at first. "We were asking how well do they know the building materials industry, how well would their calculations for board footage, linear footage and our terminology fit? So we had a concern up front."
What alleviated those concerns? "We looked at all the other modules available [the system has 40 or more] and felt that we could change or blend to some of the things, and at the same time their system was flexible enough that on some of the screens they could change some of the terminology to match ours. That was a big important thing for us."
Implementation went smoothly, and the first DC went live in February 2004; the 10th center went live that November.
And the difference? "Now we have more accurate data and faster access to all types of reporting," says Awtrey. The solution generates a daily summary of the various metrics that reflect our monthly, quarterly and annual sales in a graphical electronic dashboard."
Financial statements are available immediately following the closing of each month, he says. The purchasing department is able to track product sales and inventory replenishment far more effectively than previously, and the e-commerce system has greatly increased accounts receivable via both EDI and electronic funds transfers.
The impact on customer service has been favorable as well. Extensive inquiry screens with real-time information, such as order status and product availability, allow salespeople to answer questions right away.
Dixie Plywood continues to analyze the many other modules on offer. "It's an ongoing process," Awtrey says, "but that's one of the reasons that we went with Infor to begin with-the additional plug-ins. They've become a strategic partner for us."
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