Company: MAPICSCustomer: SLISubmitted by: Harvard PRIn today’s business world it is possible to argue that no individual has remained unaffected by the advance of Information Technology. Even those who do not come into direct contact with a mouse and a keyboard are likely to work for an organisation that manages its internal and external affairs through the exchange of electronic data. For many users at the coal face the progression has had a jarring effect, highlighting the need to manage upgrades efficiently and smoothly without affecting the productivity of the user.In short, a lot of lessons have needed to be learnt, and learnt fast. The result has been the development of a new breed of systems manager; one that understands both the IT infrastructure that forms the backbone of a company, as well as the multitude of software applications that impact upon the people and the internal resources that underpin them.David Unwin, Systems Manager for specialist miniature lighting manufacturer SLI, provides a perfect case in point.

When he was appointed Systems Manager in Spring 1998, his background was in the logistics part of the business as opposed to the technical side of IT systems. The move gave credence to the growing belief in the boardroom that the role needs to take on more of a business slant; that the systems manager’s understanding should sit comfortably between the end user and the computer’s capability; and that the end user’s expectations must be balanced carefully with the company’s overall business objectives.The challenges that faced Unwin upon his appointment were typical of today’s mid-range manufacturing market. Following a period of acquisitions by SLI – a global organisation that supplies miniature lighting to customers that include Fiat, Ford and Citroen as well as major customers in the aircraft industry and white goods manufacturing – Unwin’s responsibility within the SLI group extended from the UK site in Bury St Edmunds to other recently acquired manufacturing sites in France and Germany.Unwin picks up the story: “The most important issue we faced at the UK site was that our existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform – which controls and manages our entire commercial, financial and manufacturing operations – required an expensive upgrade to become Y2K compliant.

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At the same time, it was obvious that there were benefits, both in terms of the cost of the license and the ability to share data, to be gained from running the same platform over the three European sites.”After a period of consultation the decision was taken to throw out the existing system from BPCS – which was connecting to dumb terminals only – and install a new Y2K compliant solution from MAPICS, the global ERP supplier that specialises in the mid-sized manufacturing market. Once the decision to change supplier had been made it was key that the implementation was handled rapidly and smoothly, causing the least possible interruption for the users and ensuring that productivity was not affected adversely.The sale, implementation and ongoing support of the new system was handled by Procon, one of three UK-based affiliates that specialises in the implementation of MAPICS solutions:”When you are making a decision that is so fundamental to your business processes, it is absolutely essential that you partner with the right people. From the outset it became clear that the Procon people understood our objectives”One of the first recommendations that Procon made was to install a new AS/400 to facilitate the migration from dumb terminals to a client/server model. The subsequent installation of an AS/400 S20 RISC architecture mixed model server replaced the old CISC model, ensuring that SLI now had the framework from which they could plan a roll out the new MAPICS system across multiple sites in Europe.

Having made the hardware recommendation up front, Procon then worked closely with SLI on the more human factors involved in the software implementation.Unwin continues: “The MAPICS product has been specifically designed for the discrete manufacturing market, which means that Procon know the business and know the problems. What this meant is that we were able to sit round a table at a very early stage and identify the precise solution that was right for our business, and the method of implementation that was right for our users.”The project began in January 1999 with the initial aim of getting the fifty users at the Bury St Edmunds site up and running within 6 months, and plans to roll out the solution to the French and German sites over the following months.”It was important in the first instance that we had sat down with Procon and identified the ‘must haves’ from the superfluous. The MAPICS product suite has over 40 modules, from which we selected a tailored solution that included International Financial Management, Customer Order Management and Materials Requirement Planning.

This focus was key to ensuring that the platform transition was both quick and efficient. The modular approach means there is plenty of functionality for us to grow into as our business needs change, but in the early stages it was also important that we did not overload the users with modules that are not currently needed.”As the education process for the users began the relationship between Unwin’s team and the Procon consultants became even more crucial. After putting together an initial engagement plan, it was decided that a rapid installation programme would be best facilitated by focussing on a select group of key users.Unwin continues: “We had between four and five Procon consultants working on site to ensure the training was both efficient and relevant. We decided to develop a small group of ‘experts’, each from different parts of the business, and made sure they were up to speed on the functionality that affected their specific area.

These people were then used to train their colleagues in each section, once again only on the bits that they needed to know about. Many of these people had been reluctant to move from the previous system that they had grown accustomed to, but with the help of the Procon trainers we found that the system was so straightforward and manageable that everyone was ready to go within a few months.”The success of the programme bore immediate fruit for SLI. After Procon had worked to migrate the electronic database from the old system, Unwin was in a position to test and go live with the new system by Easter weekend – a remarkable three months after the project was started from scratch.”Everyone involved can feel very proud that a project so crucial to the future success of this business was completed so smoothly in such a short space of time.

At the Bury St Edmunds site alone we produce over three million lamps a week, and could not afford a cumbersome and disruptive installation that might have affected production,” Unwin explains.”The speed of the installation has also meant that we have seen a number of benefits accrue almost immediately. Aside from the Y2K factor, we now have a system that is solid, reliable and fast. One of the major benefits is that our materials resource planning system is now running in two minutes instead of two hours! It has also has been a defining difference that we are continuing to work with the same Procon consultants that handled the installation for the ongoing support of the product. The helpdesk is manned by people that know MAPICS and know manufacturing inside out, but more importantly know our business and what will work for SLI.”In terms of the future, Unwin will be working to roll out the MAPICS platform to the French and German sites over the next few months, and will also continue working with Procon in the UK to explore the functionality that could provide additional benefits for SLI:”There are certainly other areas we could look at, such as adding MAPICS Shop Tools Paperless Manufacturing to improve our internal information flow.

But whatever our requirements are for the future, we know that our relationship with Procon and MAPICS guarantees that our specific needs are met; including ease of implementation, a quick return on investment and – above all – local support from local consultants.”