When Neil Briggs took over as chief financial officer at WL Plastics, the polyethylene pipe manufacturer had outgrown QuickBooks, its back-office system, and was looking to implement a sophisticated ERP application in its place -- a role they eventually chose to fill with SAP Business ByDesign.
“We had reached the end of the system’s capabilities and surpassed it,” he said. Standardizing data at the company was an issue as well. “What we found was that among our five plants, the same product was called five different things; the same customer had five different names.”
To make things worse, a previous implementation hadn't gone that well, either.
Before Briggs’ arrival, WL Plastics had tried replacing QuickBooks with Sage’s MAS 500 ERP system but pulled the plug because of repeated problems during the implementation.
Briggs and others started looking at two other options: Plex, an on-demand ERP application geared toward manufacturers, and Business ByDesign, which also runs in the cloud. They finally decided on Business ByDesign because they felt it was the best combination of features, and it had a price tag that as a numbers guy, Briggs found attractive.
“We just really liked what ByDesign had to offer from the get-go,” he said. And though it doesn’t have the same functionality of the Business Suite, the team was confident SAP would add functionality over time.
“I think for the most part, that’s proving to be true,” Briggs said.
The move to Business ByDesign
A common frustration WL Plastics had heard from other Business ByDesign customers was that users who were trained on the application early on forgot it all by the time the system was up and running.
Briggs and WL Plastics decided to roll out the ERP implementation of over a period of four months, instead of all at once, and train employees and executives immediately before -- and after -- the system went live.
Once it did, he said, the implementation team was on hand for the following week to troubleshoot any questions users had. “That worked very well,” he said.
The scope of training was kept very narrow, Briggs said. Users were taught how to do their jobs in the new environment -- and not additional information they might never use.
All in all, WL Plastics spent approximately $200,000 and three months to get Business ByDesign up and running, in addition to four months to roll it out to the factories, a process that concluded in July.
Improved customer service
Despite a few disappointments along the way, moving to Business ByDesign has been a success, Briggs said. Instead of taking 10 to 15 days to close the books, the company is now able to do it in three. Back-office operations are running smoothly, and everything is standardized -- and that has improved customer service.
“Moving to ByDesign really allowed us to standardize our approach to the customer so that the product is consistent across all the plants,” Briggs said. “The product masterfile, the vendor masterfile are now consistent among all of the plants, and that’s really helped us provide a solid front to the customer.”
"I think they truly believed it would work"
However, there are a few instances where Business ByDesign could be better, Briggs said. For one, he found out after the fact that WL Plastics can’t perform electronic data interchange (EDI), contrary to what the salesman initially said during the sales process. Instead, Briggs said, the company has to go into vendors’ EDI systems and manually enter in the information.
“I think they truly believed it would work,” Briggs said of SAP. “We were obviously disappointed, but we were also focused on other things. We moved on.”
The ability to perform EDI will be included in the next version of Business ByDesign, version 2.6, due out sometime in the first part of this year, Briggs said SAP has told him.
A software development kit (SDK) in the new version will include integration technology that will make it easier for users to connect to outside systems. That includes EDI, according to Brian Sommer, an analyst and head of Vital Analysis, a technology consulting firm out of Batavia, Ill.
“So, if a company does have an EDI, they’ll be able to couple it to Business ByDesign much easier when that SDK comes out,” Sommer said.
WL Plastics is also unable to run reports across different databases, unlike in the Business Suite, Briggs said.
“We were trying to just run a report that did freight matching for us. When you get a freight bill in, you want to make sure that matches to an actual customer shipment. And you want to make sure you pay that freight bill once,” he said.
“Running that kind of report in ByDesign has been problematic. You basically have two or three separate reports, download them into a separate database, and then run the report out of that.”
Just before they began implementing Business ByDesign, WL Plastics set up a backup system for its financial, sales and production data, and it now uses that for reporting. As Business ByDesign adds functionality and puts in consolidation, that system will go away, he said.
None of these issues -- or the smattering of other glitches they’ve run into -- have soured Briggs and the company on the application, however. In fact, they expected them, he said.
“For the most part, we went into it knowing that there would be a transition period, and we were fine with that,” Briggs said.