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Brave new world
Remember 1985? For one company in particular, it's a year with a special resonance, says Jonathan Orme of Exel Computer Systems.
Mention ERP and thoughts tend to turn to a solution from one of the software industry's major players – SAP, perhaps, or Oracle, or Microsoft. Yet, quietly and with little fanfare, a British ERP provider has built up an enviable customer base of small, medium, and large-sized manufacturing businesses spread across 20 countries, with each of its many customers happy to endorse their satisfaction with the vendor in question.
And now, in 2015, that same vendor is celebrating its 30th anniversary – no mean feat in the rough-and-tumble environment of the enterprise software industry. The company's name? Exel Computer Systems, founded in 1985 by Dr John Ellis, Exel's current chairman, and who back then was a PERA researcher who had spotted a need among manufacturers for improved capacity planning systems.
"The world was a rather different place in 1985," dryly observes Jonathan Orme, Exel's sales operations and marketing manager, and himself a 22-year Exel veteran. "Televisions had four channels, a house cost £25,000, and it was also the year that the very first British mobile phone call was made."
And it's not just house prices, hair styles and fashions that have changed, he points out. There have been huge changes in computer technology, for instance – developments that are more than hinted at by the changing appearance of Exel users' screens over the years.
Yesteryear's traditional text-based 'green screens', for instance, have given way to full-colour multi-windowed multi-application desktops, each providing an information-rich insight into the customer's business operations. Moreover, users are no longer tied to those same desktops: today's smartphones and tablet computers can provide users with access to their Exel ERP system wherever those users happen to be – on the factory floor, on the road, or working at home.
That said, stresses Orme, Exel's longevity is down to much more than an ability to bring emerging hardware technologies to its users. Right from the start, with its early focus on capacity planning, Exel understood that what manufacturers were looking for was competitive advantage, and not just, say, easy-to-use sales order entry and finance applications.
"We've still got customers who signed up with us in our first couple of years in business," he explains. "And we've huge numbers of customers who've been Exel users for 10, 15, or 20 years. Take President Engineering Group, winners of the 'National Manufacturer of the Year 2014' award, who have been with us for over 20 years and who credit their upgrade to the latest version with providing them the ability to become more proficient in their processes through the adoption of workflow, audit trail and document management functionality. Customers don't stay that loyal unless you're really delivering cutting-edge functionality that doesn't just meet their needs, but exceeds them."
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