Technology is of huge importance to the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) supply chain. From condition monitoring to asset hierarchy, inventory tracking and spend management, technology’s role is absolutely vital.
Without the ability to communicate efficiently, full integration of the supply chain becomes all the more challenging. Companies could cobble together processes that, on the surface, might appear to be integrated, but in fact are not. They could lead to information being entered into two different systems, increasing the likelihood of human error and triggering invoice discrepancy reports (IDRs) that require time and resources to address.
By contrast, implementing an MRO systems integration forces a review of existing business processes, and uncovers opportunities to optimize where possible. The idea is to eliminate errors and allow the technology, through system integration, to work as intended. Benefits include data and inventory visibility, more accurate and quicker ordering processing, lower transaction costs, and greater labor efficiency.
The ultimate goal is to draw from the best of each of the systems involved, and make MRO as error-free as possible in order. Following are three best practices to help you get there.
Recognize and understand the need. As you review the business process and determine the data that needs to flow between systems, you must identify the system of record for inventory. This is critical to ensuring that transactions are performed within the system of record, as opposed to originating in another system and then trying to interface that data to the system of record.
For example, if you’re performing goods receipt in one system, goods issuing should be done in the same system. Otherwise, it could result in inventory balance discrepancies.
In addition, you must define ahead of time the expected volume of transactions, such as the number of SKUs in the storeroom, possible number of purchase-order lines to be transacted, and frequency of data transfers, to determine optimal I.T. infrastructure needed for the interface. If the system isn’t capable of managing volume, it will not serve the designated purpose.
Identify and involve vital stakeholders. The most critical element in implementation of MRO systems integration is having key stakeholders, particularly the I.T. team, engaged throughout the project. The I.T. team should be engaged early in the process when planning discussions are initiated. Business teams should be equally engaged to make sure the interfaces are aligned with business expectations. Purchasing, supply chain, finance, operations, and maintenance should all be involved in the discussions and planning.
Invoicing is the tail end of the MRO process flow, and causes the most pain if the interface isn’t designed properly. Accounts payable representatives from the finance team should be consulted to define and document the invoice transmission and reconciliation requirements, so the AP process flow will be seamless.
End-user training is also important. You can build the most efficient interface in the world, but if the users aren’t well trained it’s a wasted effort.
End users should be trained in the system they’re transacting in, as well as in how data transfers between systems. Also, it’s recommended that a one-page quick-reference guide be provided to the end users, covering the key points of training. Understanding how the data process flow works helps end users in utilizing the full system capabilities.
User acceptance testing (UAT) is a stage in the project plan that offers business users an opportunity to test drive the interface and identify any adjustments. This stage is intended to ensure the interface is doing what it was designed for. Enough time should be allocated for this task, and the business should take full advantage of this opportunity to ensure a successful outcome.
Include resources for interface monitoring and improvement. Lastly, you can’t simply walk away once the system interface goes live. Time must be allocated for post go-live hyper care, to ensure that end users are fully comfortable with the interface. At least two weeks for this task is typically recommended. Also, error-handling mechanisms and automated reports should be developed to manage any issues proactively, and minimize the burden for users. The entire purpose of the new interface is to help the business, as opposed to adding an additional burden.
For interfaces that impact inventory balances, a weekly inventory-reconciliation process should be implemented to ensure that the two systems don’t go out of balance. As an example, an inventory snapshot from the system of record would be sent electronically to the external system to compare and identify any discrepancies. Business users should then follow up to reconcile and make the necessary adjustments. Along the same lines, a similar reconciliation should be put in place for open P.O. lines between the two systems.
When done properly, MRO systems integration adds a significant element of automation and time-saving procedures that further drive down supply-chain costs.
Stanley Perli is senior director of enterprise business applications for Synovos.
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