Continuous improvement

5 min read

If you choose your ERP partner well, integration with existing and future systems can be as easy as 1, 2, 3 – and price is not necessarily the determinant. Guy Amoroso explains why

If you're worried that integration of your ERP system with either existing or even proposed new applications might be an expensive problem – particularly if you didn't go big-budget on the core software – you might be interested in the experiences of two manufacturers. The companies concerned are Cogent Technology and Canyon Europe – each completely different save for their choice of ERP and, just as important, its acquisition method. Both chose the 123insight ERP system from the company of the same name, and what matters here is twofold. On the one hand, each was convinced about taking this well-rounded solution not least for its no-risk, no-contract and zero upfront cost, subscription model approach. And, on the other, they have since gone from strength to strength, in part precisely because of their ability to effect very diverse and extremely useful integrations that, they would argue, have significantly enhanced their competitiveness. So what's this about? First things first, and Guy Amoroso, managing director of 123 Insight, explains that his company's initially quite radical approach to ERP (more than a decade ago) came about as a result of a profound belief that the business models of traditional ERP system developers were stuck in the past. While high costs and vast amounts of blood, sweat and tears were once the painful but grudgingly accepted price to pay for something as fundamental as an ERP implementation, those days should have long gone, he asserts. For him, what manufacturing industry needed was an easy, pay-as-you-go, subscription method of buying into, implementing, using and evolving ERP – covering the whole lifecycle. But to make that happen, the entire system and its associated methodologies would have to be 'simple' and 'transparent', neither of which were words commonly associated with conventional notions of all-embracing ERP software, then or now. And one problem with that, if it could be achieved, was the inevitable potential for a perception among some that such software might be limited – which probably explains the raised eyebrows and 123insight's initially slow take up. However, for manufacturers gutsy enough to take the system and the deal at face value, and follow their instincts and intelligence, there appears to have been no looking back. What's more, those early adopters believe they won hands down, and have since voted with their ongoing subscriptions, expansions and additions to a system they see as good value, intuitive and useful. And later comers agree: indeed, fast forward to today and several hundred manufacturers now run their operations on 123insight, with the company still retaining some 98% of all its customers. Amoroso explains the attractions: "It's risk-free; there are no upfront costs; and there are no contracts – ever. And we're talking about a constantly evolving, highly functional .Net based application, with a SQL database geared to handling everything from start-ups to very large volumes of mission-critical data for manufacturers turning over more than £100 million." How does that work? In brief detail, interested companies are invited to a two-and-a-half hour, no-cost evaluation workshop. If you don't like what you hear, that's the end of the process. But if, as most have found, it appears to be exactly what you always wanted but didn't believe existed, you can put your project team on a straightforward classroom training course at £3,000 per person for six days, or £500 per day. Crucially, though, even at this stage you only part with your cash if and when you move on to implementation. If you have second thoughts, you pay nothing. "When customers register to use the system, it's just a low monthly fee, without any binding contract. What's more, payments are only for licences actually in use. So during the early days of implementation that might only be three." In today's straitened economic times, it's not hard to see the attraction. All well and good, but now let's turn to that all-important integration question. What happens when the system is up and running, and someone, somewhere decides that it would be a really good plan to hook it up with, well, whatever? Amoroso insists that 123insight's SDK (software development kit) – which provides for easy and safe access to the system's database via a suite of SQL stored procedures and documentation – was designed in part for just such an eventuality. "We developed it for our users to integrate some of our more recent module releases, such as the Stores Scanning system – which allows remote stock taking, kitting, etc – and our 123mobile cloud-based application for Apple and Android phones that provides mobile ERP and CRM look-up functionality. But it also provides for linking to third party software," he says. And he cites customers using the system to link into everything from CAD to e-commerce, delivery scheduling, field service, accounts and machinery monitoring software. And so to our users. For Woodbridge, Suffolk-based contract electronics manufacturer Cogent Technology, the issue was first integrating 123insight with its Access Dimensions accounting software and then also its CAD application – the latter with a goal of enabling BoM and parts master updates to and from ERP. Cogent managing director Nigel Slator says that using the SDK made the process seamless, and required no extra transfer of information. The result, in terms of financials: "People that need to know customer or supplier information can see it live through 123insight without having to go into the accounts software directly or even having a licence for it," states Slator. He also says that the SDK has since provided an easy and safe way to pass data between other systems. And, most important, he adds that, since the SDK provides a common gateway that does not alter as versions of 123insight change, Cogent can be confident that the links it builds will not need significant rework when it comes to upgrade time. Moving on to Canyon Europe, based in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, several years after installing 123insight this injection moulding specialist needed to effect an integration with its Data Acquisition System (DAS), which captures production rates, waste and machine downtime data. Operations manager Graeme Bennett says a local development firm quoted him £35,000 to write an interface between the two, but adds that he was worried "because we were aware of the importance of the link working with ongoing revisions of either system". Bennett says he dismissed that option when 123 Insight offered to help, using its SDK at a cost of just £100 per month. "123 Insight, working in conjunction with Bramble Systems [the DAS firm] and our production engineer John Boyd delivered [the link] a month early. But the bigger benefit to us is that the SDK is maintained by 123 Insight with every release, so it just continually works." As for the factory, he adds that improvements were as anticipated and immediate, with manual processes and paperwork reduced, and a common interface implemented across the shopfloor. Operators now use barcode scanners and touchscreens to identify themselves and start on a works order, the information for which comes straight out of ERP. Specifications and images for a job can be viewed on screen before the operator starts, and the DAS passes information back to 123insight once he or she scans the job as complete, ready for label generation, packing and despatch. Live shopfloor information is also relayed over large overhead LCD screens. Planning delivered major savings, in terms of reduced waste and machine time. And, as machines were no longer producing short runs, waste dropped from 4-5% to 0.1%. "The machines can only run while the components are available, and that's why 123insight is so important to us. It is making sure that the machine components are available line side, in full and on time," comments Bennett.