HarrisData Serves Competitive Party Goods Maker for 14 years
May 22, 2007 Robert Gast
Thousands of gallons of punch have cascaded down the fountain since ERP made its debut in the 1990s, and people have figured out how to make some ERP products work without the aid of a platoon of well-compensated experts. The key to having your ERP cake and eating it from a beautifully decorated disposable plate, it seems, is understanding your requirements in detail, having a plan to get everyone in your organization from the CEO on down to buy into the project, and finding a system that snugly fits your business objectives.
ERP has had a magnetic appeal with manufacturers because it brings unparalleled operational visibility to the process and discrete manufacturing party. Rather than having disparate systems for manufacturing, finance, marketing, HR, etc., ERP systems integrate all departments and functions across the enterprise onto a single computer system. The ensuing enterprise-wide integration gives those who use it, a sizable competitive lever.
Converting bought an ERP system fourteen years ago, when the concept of total system integration was still a little idealistic. In just six months Converting did something that its ERP vendor, HarrisData had not seen a “greenfield” implementation ever do. In less than 180 days, Converting succeeded in going live with 23 modules that covered nearly all of their requirements. “At that time we were using all the applications that HarrisData had available,” says Pat Buckley, the company’s president and CEO.
Having a party? Converting, which is located in Clintonville, Wisconsin, manufactures and markets high quality decorative disposable table covers, napkins, plates, cups, bowls, placemats, cutlery, and almost anything else to make you the talk of the table. Converting is regarded as one of the top providers of these goods and enjoys worldwide distribution. Much of its competitive strength comes from its fully integrated ERP manufacturing environment that spans the supply chain from one end to the other. Because Converting is so good at converting board stock and tissue into fashionable tableware, it culls nearly 30 percent of its annual gross sales figure from products that it makes for other vendors.
Before licensing ERP For Manufacturing from HarrisData, Buckley says he explored all of his options. With much on their plates, CEOs don’t normally get as involved in the software selection processes, but before he claimed the corner office at Converting, Buckley was a systems consultant for Grant Thornton and had an excellent understanding of how ERP affected people, systems, and the overall organization. “I have implemented several of these systems knew first hand what kind problems they can cause,” he says.
HarrisData develops IBM iSeries-based ERP solutions that address basic business requirements for midmarket discrete and process manufacturers. These systems are flexible enough to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of all midsized organizations, while maintaining a pragmatic degree of simplicity. HarrisData ERP supports all of the functionality needed in classic MRP2 environments, including activity-based costing, paperless shop floor, sophisticated costing, kanban replenishment, and variance analysis. The company, which is based in Brookfield, Wisconsin, has been developing IBM midrange solutions for more than 30 years and supports 2,500 customers.
Simple, Straightforward, Flexible
Converting initially had 10 vendors fill out an 80-page RFP that articulated specific needs on a module-by-module basis. After reviewing their responses, the field narrowed to three contending vendors.
“Speed was important so we decided to test the systems of our three finalists with 20 sample transactions,” Buckley says. “With two of these systems we had to hit a button, drill down, hit another button, drill down and so on. It took seven or eight different steps to get somewhere. With HarrisData’s ERP product we could do the same thing on only one or two screens. That’s why we picked this system. When you’re doing hundreds of thousands of transactions your productivity jumps. Extrapolate that over a few years and the number is unbelievable. We wanted a system that was simple, straightforward and flexible and that’s what the system from HarrisData was 14 years ago and continues to be.”
How does a $60 million-a-year manufacturer with more than 10,000 SKUs and 220 employees get by with just one programmer? Prior to implementing ERP for Manufacturing, Converting used a system they developed and supported themselves. “When we purchased the new system I issued an edict which is something I don’t usually do. My edict was to adopt the standard system. I wanted us to support 100 percent of that system and not touch any source code. Any enhancements that we needed would be done by HarrisData,” Buckley says.
Over the years HarrisData rolled into their ERP product many of the modifications that Converting requested. “We have developed a close relationship with them and we’re constantly challenged them,” he says.
At times, Buckley admits, they got impatient as they waited for changes and added features and reports on their own. Five years ago, the accumulation of several small external mods that were linked to the ERP application through exit stubs resulted in a system that was nearly 30 percent customized. “We do one or two system upgrades every year and they were getting less straightforward because of all these enhancements,” he says.
In an ensuing discussion with HarrisData, Buckley outlined all of the features and reports that he needed support for. “HarrisData really stepped up to the plate and delivered the functionality we asked for. We have turned off modification after modification,” he says.
Converting today runs an ERP system that is 95 percent out of the box standard. It supports all of their requirements for RF, EDI, portal access, and reporting. “That’s the benefit of staying committed to your vendor and pushing them to support your operational needs,” Buckley says. “HarrisData has done an outstanding job.”
Robert Gast is a regular contributor to Four Hundred Stuff. Gast had reported on IBM technologies and others for 20 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.