ZIFFPAGE TITLESoftware Overhaul

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2006-06-12 Print this article Print

How do you get workers to use a new software application? Try cutting off their e-mail. The CEO of this Canadian manufacturer says it worked for him.

Software Overhaul

The move toward a more efficient and "smart" operation began as early as 1996, when Montgomery decided to jettison the company's proprietary DOS-based finance and accounting software in favor of a package from Macola, a firm at the time based in Marion, Ohio. The legacy system was 20 years old and simply did not have many of the features Davis required, such as the ability to handle multi-country currencies and taxes.

In 2001, Macola was acquired by Exact; with the purchase, Exact combined Macola's offering with its own suite of applications, which included modules for customer relationship management, document management, human resources, electronic workflow, business analytics and business activity monitoring. Exact has a large stable of customers of similar size to Davis, such as Secure Care Products of Concord, N.H., with 60 employees; Altman Lighting of Yonkers, N.Y., with 75 employees; and 160-employee firm Robbins Manufacturing of Fall River, Wis.

As Exact rolled out the new modules, integrated with the Macola enterprise resource planning software, Davis was one of its earliest adopters.

A key benefit that Davis has realized from this approach—using one vendor and building on top of a compatible platform—is that all applications now operate off a common Microsoft SQL Server database. That means Montgomery or a sales manager can type in a single term into the keyword search—say, a customer name—and have it return all references, whether they reside in the sales or finance modules or in the customer relationship management software. As a result, Montgomery or a member of Davis' sales force can see what orders a customer has placed, as well as any complaints or notes about future purchasing plans.

Montgomery credits the software's built-in workflow with allowing the company to process "three to four times" as much work with the same amount of staff.

A simple example is the approval of vacation time. In many organizations, an employee might simply e-mail the boss asking for time off, and receive an approval or perhaps a suggested change of dates based on staffing requirements. There are no supporting documents, no formal participation of the company's human-resources department, and future disputes, such as the employee claiming he is owed more vacation time, can be difficult to settle.

In electronic workflow, such as the Davis implementation, the vacation request is handled as part of an automated business process. The employee initiates the request using an electronic form; that form is then routed to a supervisor for approval, forwarded to the human-resources department for reconcilement with payroll and benefits, and returned to the employee for final sign-off.

For more complicated business processes, such as the handling of a purchase order, a number of automated approvals and checks may be built in. After a purchase request is received, for example, it may generate simultaneous actions to check inventory for existing stock and send an electronic order request to a supplier; if the order price is above a specified credit limit for that customer, the request may also go to an account manager for approval.

By combining the purchase order workflow process with another piece of software, called an event manager, automated checks or performance metrics can be included.

If, for example, a product hasn't been shipped within 30 days of the receipt of an order, the software can be programmed to automate certain steps, such as finding another supplier and expediting shipment to the customer.

Montgomery says that Davis has set the software to take a variety of steps in its purchase order process. In most cases, Davis promises to deliver a shipment within 21 days. If an order has not been shipped at 19 days, the system instructs the sales representative to investigate the order and send an e-mail to the customer with an update, and to determine if the shipment should be expedited.

If a shipment deadline is missed, the software instructs the salesperson, in the form of a task, to phone or visit the customer and smooth over the problem. All aspects of the interaction, including associated forms and documents, as well as customer comments that are typed into the system, are captured for later review.

Beyond workflow, Davis has also implemented business analytics—or business intelligence—and business activity monitoring modules. At the end of every day, for example, Montgomery receives an automated report detailing orders booked (in total and by salesperson), profit margins achieved and accounts received.

Jackie Yee, the company's technology supervisor, says it took time to build the initial reports, but once they were developed it became a relatively simple process for the reports to be tuned according to a business unit's needs.

Yee has trained key users in each department, such as sales and accounting, to build their own reports.

The sales manager, for instance, can create a report showing every customer account where the company is achieving less than a 20% profit margin. In a recent case, Yee says he was asked to generate a report identifying every customer that purchased a certain type of product—a control valve—so that a mailer could be created detailing a new remote monitoring module available for the valve. "Once you know what you're doing, it only takes a matter of minutes," he says.

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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