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When you go to ship a product, it's useful to know if you have it in stock. Moreover, it would be desirable if your system knew to replace whatever you eventually sent out.
So says Brian Goff, vice president of administration and finance at SEM Products, a manufacturer of specialty coatings, sealers, fillers and other products used in automotive and aerospace repair and refinishing.
It's not that SEM never had such information, Goff says, but it seldom had it readily at hand. For years, the method SEM used for data collection and extraction was glacially slow in response. "It was very much a batch system," he says, "meaning you collected transactions and at the appropriate time you posted them. Whether that was accounts payable or receivable or general ledger -- all transactions were posted in that format."
But extracting the needed data from that point on was painful. It had to be exported and reformatted to get useable information, says Goff. "We spent a fair amount of time manipulating data in Excel to get the information you look for. The response time was just very, very slow."
But that was then, this is now. After partnering with Deacom, producer of ERP software for batch process, building component and modular building manufacturing companies, quick, easy access to clean, useable data is no problem. Implementation began in October 2006; the system was fully online by April 2007.
"The thing that continually impresses me is that the system is very intuitive," Goff says. "If you tell it what you want, define the parameters of your query, it will give you the output. And it's easy for people to learn assuming they understand the processes and how things flow."
What kind of data is at hand now? "Everything from sales, purchasing, inventory, production, document generation, label generation, accounting, contract management - everything they need in one spot," says Jay Deakins, Deacom president.
Talk about labels: inadequate is the term that summed up SEM's data repository before the Deacom implementation, Goff says. Data was incorrect, incomplete or someone didn't have access that they needed. For instance, none of the sales team could get into the old system, he says. That was clearly untenable since they needed information to be able to effectively follow up on customer commitments.
"The integrity of the old system was not robust enough to rely on." You couldn't be sure what raw materials needed to be ordered, and inventory levels were anybody's guess. "You were more apt to want to go see it to believe it."
Not surprisingly, invoicing and shipping documentation were deficient areas.
And SEM needed EDI capability, as more and more customers demanded it. That wasn't possible with its previous system.
SEM officials looked at two other packages before partnering with Deacom. For one, Goff says his team was impressed that the Deacom system is fully integrated - EDI and barcoding included. "They weren't relying on external suppliers to come and support those programs by building tie-ins to the core applications. Also, their system reporting was tremendous and the access to the data was as well."
It didn't go unnoticed that the Deacom team displayed a genuine commitment to continually improving their software. In fact, Goff says, configuration wasn't that much of an issue. It was more of a product enhancement, in his view. He feels that when Deakins modifies his product, he does it with an eye toward how those changes might benefit his other customers as well.
The biggest hurdle was dealing with the hobbles inherent in SEM's system. "We spent a lot of time reassessing data in our old system and reformatting and reconfiguring that data to match what we felt we needed going forward. We probably spent the first three months just cleaning up the data and questioning why we had done things the way we did," Goff says.
"We found that we hadn't relied on data as much in the past, in part because we didn't have the system that could give it to us."
The results: The entire sales order cycle is accessible and efficient. SEM can process three times the volume it could in past, and its accuracy has significantly improved.
"And now, I have one person supporting our order entry process whereas in the past we had roughly three people," says Goff.
For his part, Deakins saw the traditional silos that bedevil so many companies. "One person might know what goes on because they often create their own data subset, but then nobody else knew what that person was doing or what the impacts were on the organization," he says. "People figured out ways for each individual person to survive, but as an enterprise, they were having a hard time figuring out how to move forward."
The challenge was to pull SEM's data from multiple locations, then convert and evaluate it. Next, Deacom analyzed SEM's business processes, then began to train SEM employees.
Deacom ERP is a single system with no modules and no customization, says Deakins. "Customization is a dirty word at Deacom. We've created a system that's configurable. The difference is: customization means you need an outside programmer to create something outside the system. Configurable means my mother can go in and make setting changes without any training and change the output."
With that ease of access, SEM now has better transaction integrity, according to Goff. "The system makes it easier to search, easier to extract customer-specific information for given periods of time, and it's easier to see their buying trends or habits.
"It's just better across-the-board access to information."
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