ERP Application Functionality Prompts Migration to IBM System i
August 4, 2009 Dan Burger
Robert Scarboro didn’t set out to migrate the Windows-based ERP system at his company to the IBM System i. The project started out with a goal of adding a warehouse management system to the existing ERP system. But the way that process unfolded led him to consider options not originally on the table. Scarboro and the executive team at RefrigiWear began seeing a bigger picture and a better opportunity to enhance business. What caught their attention was the functionality offered by VAI.
Everybody knows that switching ERP systems creates some pain. It’s not easy and it’s not quick. But hanging on to what you have isn’t exactly painless either.
RefrigiWear is both a manufacturer and a distributor of insulated outerwear garments worn by workers in a wide range of industries where cold environments are a factor in doing business. Most of its products–which include coats, coveralls, gloves, boots and numerous other garments and packaging materials–are manufactured in a Georgia factory. Others are purchased.
Since it’s founding in 1954, the company has grown considerably. Its IT requirements have also significantly expanded since the company first computerized. The legacy Windows system forced the company into challenges combining its manufacturing and warehouse operations with its financial software. Limitations with the original ERP system created bottlenecks within the supply chain and on the customer side as well.
Not quite two years ago, the executives at RefrigiWear made the decision to shop for a warehouse management system (WMS) that would integrate with its ERP software. But early in the search process it found the cost of a Microsoft-based WMS was more than executives expected, and a re-evaluation of the plan started taking shape with the idea that a replacement ERP system may be necessary.
“When I looked around at big companies–and our company is trying to become a big company–I found companies using the AS/400,” Scarboro said. That led to VAI, a company with an integrated package of ERP, warehouse management, supply chain and business process applications designed for use on the IBM midrange computer.
After an online demo of VAI’s S2K software, Scarboro was impressed. He arranged for RefrgiWear’s senior management to see a demo and they were equally impressed. Not only did they find increased functionality that could be applied to numerous internal uses, but there would be the added benefits of more visibility into the RefrigiWear system for both customers and suppliers. Then came the price discussions and the discovery that entire VAI package was less expensive than the WMS that was being examined earlier.
Scarboro, who is a one-man IT department, also took note of the simplified IT management aspects.
“The big factor to me was that I could put an AS/400 server in place and I wouldn’t have all the overhead of all the security updates that will drive you crazy with Microsoft,” he says. “We have other Microsoft elements in our network, but I wanted our core to run on the AS/400 platform.”
Scarboro spec’ed out a server with enough horsepower to make him comfortable, ultimately choosing an IBM i5 515 Express server running the V5R4 edition of the operating system. The company purchased 50 concurrent user licenses. He credits the VAI hardware staff for assisting in the server selection. “They talk my language. It made sense to get what we got,” Scarboro says.
So what about that ERP migration?
Rich VanHelden was the project manager on the VAI side. This wasn’t the first time he’d worked on a project that migrated Windows-based ERP to VAI software running on an AS/400.
“Migration of the data is always a challenge,” VanHelden says. “It’s a big part of any project, any implementation. But it’s not the platforms involved that make a migration any easier or any more complex. Most ERP packages offer the capability to export files to Excel or another common file. As long as we can get data to that format, it’s accessible. Getting the data isn’t that difficult, but you have to make sense of it and putting it into a meaningful format in the VAI S2K files.”
The responsibility for making sense of the data was Scarboro’s burden. He understood how the data was being used in the legacy Windows system and was able to extract it in a way that allowed it to be bridged to the VAI S2K system. He worked with VanHelden to devise a plan for testing and measuring results that proved the data conversion was accurate. VAI staff wrote all the programs that actually converted the data into the S2K system.
The data conversion process took close to eight months. That schedule also included the integration with several third-party software packages, such as forms generation and label generation from Cybra and shipping and manifesting software from Varsity Logistics. Online credit card authorization and settlement software also was integrated.
RefigiWear’s implementation also required some customization of the S2K configuration module to handle the custom manufacturing of certain products.
VanHelden says the capability to perform tests along the way is one of the essential keys to success in a project like this. Another crucial element with a bearing on project success is training. VanHelden handled this from the VAI side, which provided the training, but Scarboro’s leadership on the RefrigiWear side was instrumental in the success.
“Once I got the initial test environment setup with VAI, I modified my office into a classroom environment,” Scarboro says. Team leaders from different departments–such as sales, marketing, and accounting–would participate in weekly meetings during which they would provide input on real world working situations.
Scarboro described the approach as “OK, it’s Monday morning and you don’t have your old software anymore. What are you going to do?”
From there a “challenge list,” was developed from the input of departmental team leaders.
“We let each department bleed a little bit in the beginning and then figured out what we needed to do to correct issues or what we didn’t understand at the time of the original plan,” Scarboro says. The involvement of many people from RefrigiWear went a long way in reducing the shock of switching over.
“Without the input of the various department leaders, a project like this would be set up for failure. In the last three months of this project, the training became routine and on-going. We had weekly two-hour meetings with team leaders and ownership. There were lists of issues and questions that were solved and checked off the list.”
Scarboro says he made a conscious effort to keep the sessions from being too technical, “because IT can have a tendency to be too technical and then you get a disconnect.”
At various times, VAI would bring trainers onsite for scheduled meetings. There were also a number of WebEx meetings, which Scarboro says worked just as well as having someone on site.
“We still have more education to do,” Scarboro says. “We have to follow up on our CRM module. Our old system did not have CRM and the owners of the company are more on the customer’s side than on the operations side. This is a big deal to them.”
For the most part, RefrigiWear put the expanded functionality of the VAI software to use without modifications, but there was time and effort made to make modifications where necessary.
“In some ways you have to adapt to the software and in other ways the software has to adapt to what you do,” Scarboro says. “There’s a balance. You get some initial shock of why it’s not doing what you were accustom to, and then, once you get the training, you figure out why, you gain the understanding, and it works out.
“VAI was flexible and they could see enhancements that could be made to their software based on what we do with our business practices. In my mind, that’s good business.”