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Bartoline's close relationship with Exel meant upgrade was the obvious choice
A Yorkshire-based manufacturer of DIY solvents, fillers, adhesives and woodcare products, Bartoline has been a user of Exel Computer Systems' EFACS E/8 ERP system since 2001.
But by 2013, the realisation was dawning that the company's EFACS E/8 version 8.2 installation was now constraining the business, compared to what could be achieved with newer alternatives. Consequently, a culture had arisen of end users relying on spreadsheets and desktop databases instead of the ERP system, which clearly wasn't ideal.
"EFACS E/8 version 8.2 was a fantastic system, but we had heavily customised it, and added a lot of functionality in the form of third-party extensions," explains Bartoline's IT Manager, James Tingay. "Not only was it difficult to extend the system any further, but we realised that we could do so much more with a newer system - and do it ‘out of the box', as well."
The problem? A new ERP system was not something to be undertaken lightly. Whatever the eventual choice of system, the outcome was clearly going to be, in James' words, "a massive project."
Nevertheless, the decision couldn't be postponed forever, and across the business, work began on thinking through how best to proceed. One early realisation, relates James, was that the eventual choice of system would almost certainly be a replacement ERP system from Exel Computer Systems again.
"We had such an excellent relationship with Exel - and the software had worked so well for us - that moving away to another vendor just didn't make sense," he explains. "And the more that we looked at Exel's latest system, EFACS E/8 version 8.5, the more we liked what we saw."
Much of the more demanding functionality that Bartoline required, for instance, was available ‘out of the box' with EFACS E/8 version 8.5 - an obvious plus factor, and one that meant that the use of third party extensions and ad hoc spreadsheet solutions could be discontinued. A warehouse management system had long been an aspiration for Bartoline, and such a capability came as standard with EFACS E/8 version 8.5.
Moreover, where customisation was required, EFACS E/8 version 8.5 could be tailored for Bartoline's needs in-house, without calling in outside help. In contrast, explains James, the company's existing EFACS E/8 version 8.2 installation "called for a more challenging skill set, requiring expensive external expertise."
And as if these reasons for upgrading were not attractive enough, he adds, Bartoline management were keen to use the opportunity of an upgrade to review the company's existing business processes. EFACS E/8 version 8.5 included built-in support for touchscreen and handheld devices on the factory floor, for instance.
By the middle of 2015, Bartoline's management had made their decision. Detailed costings were sought from Exel, and a proposal was put to the board in September. Three weeks later, the board gave its approval.
Although the decision to remain with Exel Computer Systems had been made long before, Exel's immediate response to the board's approval highlighted to Bartoline's management just how close was Bartoline's relationship with Exel.
Exel's year-long project plan, stresses James, "was very impressive, and very reassuring: it detailed, day by day, exactly which Exel personnel would be on site at Bartoline, what their role would be, and who among Bartoline's staff they would want to be working with."
And testament to the quality of the project plan, he adds, is that actual events very largely mirrored the planned timetable, making for a smooth and controlled upgrade process.
At the start of December 2015, Exel's implementation team installed the EFACS E/8 version 8.5 software on Bartoline's servers, alongside its existing EFACS E/8 version 8.2 software.
Over the following months, Exel staff visited Bartoline, as laid out in the project plan, to conduct what was described as ‘familiarisation training'.
"Essentially, this was about giving us the information that we needed - process by process, and function by function across the business - in order to decide how we wanted to use the new system," explains James.
Then, in a series of workshops, these decisions were formalised, with Exel and Bartoline staff being tasked with undertaking the requisite configuration changes and software customisation.
And by the beginning of November 2016, the work was complete, and the new system could go live, with data migration scheduled to take place over a weekend.
"We switched off EFACS E/8 version 8.2 on the Friday evening, and then came into work on EFACS E/8 version 8.5 on the Monday morning," says James.
The ‘go live' immediately highlighted some data quality issues: Bartoline's users, it transpired, had re-purposed unused data fields for other uses - and the new system, it turned out, did use those fields.
But with those glitches sorted, it soon became clear that the new system was going to be a success.
"Our processes really are much slicker now - and all the spreadsheets and desktop databases and third-party extensions have gone: people really are using the new system," observes James. "And as a result, of course, everyone is looking at the same ‘version of the truth': they are using the same data, and consequently seeing the same figures."
And the new system's flexibility, he adds, enables James and his team to continually leverage EFACS E/8 version 8.5 to meet users' requirements.
"Previously, people used to come along and ask: ‘Can you do this for us?' And I'd reply, ‘Not very easily.' So people would go off and find some other way of meeting their need, outside the system. But with EFACS E/8 version 8.5 that isn't happening, we can use it to meet user requirements, and everyone stays inside the system."