In order to try and overcome such challenges, UEL had relied heavily on an in-house, bespoke system written by a former employee in 1991. While it initially did everything, it was completely reliant on the expert knowledge of its creator for upkeep and development, so when the employee left the company UEL found itself exposed. While able to keep the system running after a fashion, it became clear that it was getting old and had no forward development potential. UEL approached a variety of programmers with a view to updating the system but none were prepared to undertake the task. As Bailey comments, “We knew then that we needed an ‘off the shelf’ system.”
UEL was currently evaluating a US system for another aspect of the company. This required a certain type of cost accounting, so any ERP package would have to be compatible with this. Only Sage Line 100 proved to be so and was therefore initially selected. It soon became clear however that whilst the accounts elements were solid, the manufacturing areas within the system were weak. Bailey again, “We had Sage for 18 months during which it helped us realise we needed a true, specialist manufacturing system.” Several suppliers were evaluated including BAAN, Exel, K3, Kewill, QMS and Micross. Ultimately EFACS E/8 from Exel Computer Systems was deemed the best fit for UEL’s requirements.
Bailey explains why: “Norton itself had actually used a UNIX version of EFACS and some of our employees remembered it being a solid system. I was most impressed by the combination of technology and functionality. The SQL backend, the familiarity of a web browser, the ease of configuration, the ease of using the ADAPT programming language to modify the system yourself, all combined to make EFACS the clear choice for us.” UEL was also keen to work directly with Exel given previous experiences working with resellers. Bailey again, “We didn’t like the reseller experience – they’re ultimately always trying to sell you something, hence the name. Dealing direct with the software author is a much more positive experience as it gives us access to people with the best possible knowledge about the system in case you need it.”
After the decision to invest in EFACS E/8 in Q4 2004, UEL embarked upon a co-ordinated implementation strategy. From its earlier Sage implementation UEL had already decided on the need to either have a centralised data repository, or failing that to link and synchronise its systems in order to keep all data up-to-date. However, due to the database structure within Sage and various encryption difficulties, this had not been possible. The technology base behind EFACS made this much more possible, and the company’s original plan was to use EFACS as the main data source within the company. After working with Exel to import all possible data into EFACS, it soon became clear there was a problem once testing began. Bailey admits candidly, “Basically we thought our data from Sage was very good, but we soon found out that it wasn’t.”
At this stage UEL took the strategic decision to re-evaluate its entire implementation plans. Consequently it was decided that only the data required to go-live would be imported into EFACS, which turned out to be surprisingly little. The problem lay in consolidating the 3 existing data sources of UEL’s redundant bespoke system, its outgoing Sage system, and its current live PDM system, DB Works. Bailey explains what happened next: “The BOM information from our bespoke system was very good, but the sales/customer information was obviously out-of-date. The BOM data from Sage was poor, but the accounts and customer data was good, while DB Works had valuable supporting BOM data. We therefore did a 3 tier implementation taking the strong data from each system.”
It was whilst writing the communication script between DB Works and EFACS that UEL realised that virtually the same script could also perform all the synchronisation duties, thereby achieving the company’s aim of a singularly updated database entity. Bailey also attributes a key element of success to having a system based on live data that everyone could access and experiment with prior to the launch. “Everyone had an icon and login details to the system based on the original data, and we found that people were accessing the system in their own time to get familiar with it and to practice using it. It massively helped reduce any sense of nervousness and fear of the system when we actually went live with the second implementation.”
UEL successfully went live with EFACS E/8 in March 2005 after a week of completing the final data transfers. From the outset UEL has been using the system for a wide range of activities – some planned, others not. Quotations, Sales Orders, Purchase Orders, Supply Chain Management, Stock Control, Work Flow, Traceability, Sub-contractor management and Roll Up costs are all handled by EFACS as per expectations. However, as Bailey describes, one of the most useful features UEL now relies on was only discovered by chance. “Because we’d had a working version of EFACS in place before we went live, we’d all got used to seeing a Document Management icon and never thought to ask what it meant. One day we clicked on it and it was a complete eye-opener. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of functionality. Now we use it to link all scanned paperwork in PDF format to the progress of an order through the system. Whenever anyone is talking to a customer or supplier now they have immediate access to the entire product history, which is ideal when you are dealing with the nature of customers we have that expect instant information and answers.”