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Change ahead

Change ahead

31/07/2006 | Channel: Technology, E-Business / IT, Business

Rue Dilhe, the MD of Exel Computer Systems, identifies the areas he thinks are coming to the fore in manufacturing IT

How did you get to where you are today?
After university, I was employed within an IT role to implement a computerised system across a group. However, before I was let loose my chairman insisted I work on the shop-floor to gain ‘real-life’ manufacturing knowledge. I worked as a production controller for 15 months and this really provided the foundation of what I have achieved to date. It enabled me to communicate with all levels of management and after successfully implementing an MRP system across all the group companies I worked with a software reseller implementing manufacturing systems. I then moved to Exel Computer Systems, authors of the EFACS Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, one of the packages that I had been implementing. Seventeen years later, after working in project management, heading up the implementation services department and then undertaking the role of managing director, I am still here. The main reason for still being with Exel is that it was and still is a very exciting and dynamic company to work for, with no two days being the same.

Could you explain what you do as a company and elaborate a little on the company’s history?
We have been in business now for 26 years and from the start we have been involved in producing software for the manufacturing sector. Originally we developed a capacity planning and scheduling package but over the years we have gone on to develop a fully integrated, ERP software solution now used across the world. Our current EFACS E8 software reflects our core commitment to using the latest technology and is a web based solution that is compatible with both SQL and Oracle databases. We develop, support, implement and sell our product directly from our UK offices, with the assistance of distributors for worldwide sales.

More recently we have developed our Eagle solution which meets the growing demands of companies with increasingly mobile workforces – be they Sales force or Field Service Engineers. Eagle is a true end-to-end mobile management solution that provides real-time information and resources to field based engineers, delivered direct to their mobile or touch screen device. Service engineers can access and update information held on the back office management system, again in real-time, which ensures that all company-wide mobile data as well as all office-based information is unified throughout.

Are there any current hot topics in the supply chain?
Mobility and joined-up solutions. Companies need to be able to manage the business of doing business right at the very time and place it is happening. This means that everyone needs to be able not just to access back office data but also to interact with it and update it. Engineers, mobile sales teams, installation teams, maintenance teams can all make decisions out in the field, which impact the next decision that is to be taken. With suppliers and customers increasingly making use of real time portals to access real time information directly over the web, more than ever a company has to have absolute confidence that the information it holds, and shares is as accurate as possible.

We are seeing a huge growth in this area because it is one of the last remaining areas of competitive advantage to be exploited by manufacturing and engineering companies. It’s also opening up a real divide between solutions and approaches based on the latest technology and those relying on older, less flexible platforms. It’s all too easy to forget that such interconnected business systems are entirely reliant on the massive developments in the underlying communications infrastructure that have been achieved in the past five to ten years. The difference is, such technology opens up potential that simply wasn’t conceivable five to ten years ago. Progressive companies are taking advantage of newer, more efficient ways of working, but can only do so if their business system was written with this is mind.

Going back to the example of Field Service Management, the demands made on a modern FSM solution simply weren’t possible when older systems were developed, for example the ability to seamlessly integrate to a manufacturing back-end system that controls production and inventory or even the GPS technology that most of us now take for granted.

In your opinion, do more companies now appreciate the importance of an efficient supply chain?
Yes, we are finding that more and more companies now appreciate the importance of this. In the current economic climate there is a real drive for efficiency in all areas of business. There is an understanding that companies do not want to get left behind. As I’ve said, the gains to be had from a modern/efficient IT system are huge and so if your competitors are already taking advantage of these benefits it is increasingly difficult for companies that do not have a modern integrated business system to compete. And the longer you leave it to change, the harder it will be to catch up.

What are the big challenges that your clients are currently dealing with?
The need to be as competitive and efficient as possible in everything they do. This is a symptom of the increasingly competitive world, and also of the current economic climate (where finance/money is in short supply). So there is a drive at the moment to generally do things quicker. For example, if you go out servicing your products you could speed up the time it takes to invoice your customers for the work. In the past your engineers might have visited your customer, filled out a paper form of the work completed, they may have then called in at the office at the end of the week and handed in their job sheets. The following week an admin clerk would have typed the job sheets into the ERP system and then later in the week someone from the finance team would have reviewed and raised invoices (that were probably sent out in the post). It may have taken weeks to get paid for work that you had done.

A modern tablet based solution, linked in real-time to the back-office system could reduce this from weeks to seconds. The engineer does the work, types into the handheld device details of the work completed, this generates and emails an invoice to the customer, and payment could then be collected there and then by credit card. When seen this way, the ERP system and associated technology becomes an active enabler of working quicker and smarter. If your system can’t handle this level of flexibility and seamless real-time interaction, it’s actually a dis-abler of working quicker and smarter.

What is the state of play in your market at the moment – is confidence growing?
Yes, the recession forced companies to become leaner and more efficient. We are seeing confidence within the marketplace but with companies being much more demanding in the systems that they choose to invest in for the reasons I’ve already mentioned.

What are the most significant changes you’ve witnessed in your market over the years you’ve worked at Exel?

The huge development in internet & mobile computing. It’s hard to believe that business systems used to run on 1st and 2nd generation technology with all the limitations inherent in each.

What do you predict will be the next hot technology in supply chain?
I know I keep coming back to this but with mobile computing and the advancement of mobile tablet technologies, customers are doing business differently and this continues to evolve. These same customers are demanding that their business software follows suit. It’s quite likely that the tablet computer may actually be the beginning of the end of the PC as the only or even primary means of accessing the business system. In the future different operators will use different types of device, based on their suitability to the environment or the task they are expected to complete.

If you could pass one word of advice/a piece of your wisdom to my readers, what would it be?
While technology is undoubtedly changing, the underlying principles of getting the best from your system, and from your supplier, remain the same. Your system is an enabler for your business so source the one that is flexible enough to closely fit your current business processes and one that is agile enough to change as and when your business requirements do. Don’t lose sight of sound investment criteria such as ROI, ease of implementation, and relationship with the system’s author. Spend time getting to know not just the system but those who wrote it – it will provide long term peace of mind.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Selecting the right technology at each level of your investment clearly makes a difference. But don’t lose sight of that most old fashioned of things, teamwork or partnership.

Exel
Exel Computer Systems is the leading UK owner and author of EFACS Enterprise, a fully integrated, browser-based ERP solution. Exel’s highly flexible solution incorporates a broad range of business functions including Product Management, Change Control, Manufacturing, Finance, Business Intelligence, Field Service Management, Mobile/Touchscreen Applications, Document Management, CRM, and Workflow.

For further information: visit: www.exel.co.uk