Following industrial plastic components maker Moss Plastic Parts implementation of an SSA BPCS ERP system, the firm has been moving successfully onto the web. Brian Tinham reports.
Moss Plastic Parts, a subsidiary of the £2 billion Bunzl Group making industrial plastic protection components, is building on its 1997 enterprise (ERP) system implementation to enhance customer service, improve its marketing and slash transaction costs. It’s doing so by upgrading its core SSA eBPCS software to include integrated e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM) – and providing a single, integrated customer front end with web access.
Founded in 1952, Moss is based at Kidlington in Oxfordshire; it has 430 employees and operates at 15 sites, including distribution centres, six of which are across Europe. Most manufacturing – plastic injection moulding – is in Kidlington, following consolidation of the firm’s Banbury site into the HQ earlier this year. It’s low value, high volume, commodity stuff, with some 20,000 product types, 4,000 being mainstay made-to-stock (250 million stock held), the rest engineer- and make-to-order, with design and collaborative project management also on site. The firm serves the automotive, furniture, packaging and oil field supply industries as well as general engineering, and has 30,000 customers.
Sarah Cobb, business systems director at Moss, says that until 1997 the firm relied on heavily customised and relatively non-integrated Unix-based business and manufacturing systems at its HQ and some of the sites, while others had a mix of systems, including Pegasus and Sage, inherited following Moss’ acquisitions.
In 1996, Moss’ management team decided it needed new ERP. Says Cobb, then project manager, “We needed to be able to see across the departments and companies: we needed one system. If you like we were investing in pan-European visibility of stock and the rest. And we had Y2k and euro problems.” There were other issues: with its very high transaction volumes, the firm needed to cut costs in this area.
Cobb says Moss first produced an ITT with consultancy KPMG. Then the firm spoke to SAP, JD Edwards, JBA (now Geac), Oracle, Computer Associates and SSA. “We wanted a global, multi-lingual, multi-currency ERP solution, and the choice of suppliers was therefore not wide,” she says.
For the initial assessment, Moss fielded a team comprising managers from across the business, and shortlisted SAP’s R/3 and SSA Acclaim’s (as it was then) BPCS, eventually selecting BPCS on IBM AS/400 for its “functionality, the fit with our business and their people,” says Cobb. “Relationships are very important with major projects: we wanted a good solid company with solid software. We weren’t interested in leading edge IT: we wanted something that would let us get on with what we’re good at.”
At the time Moss’ project team went through a text book implementation. There was thorough education and training, detailed parallel testing and prototyping, a full conference room pilot and scrupulous data cleaning and transfer – the latter taking six months, with clearly defined rules for customer, component and product files. Throughout, the emphasis was on ultimate ownership and maintenance by the business functions.
Cobb describes the eventual go-live as “a biggish bang”. At the end of 1997, the firm first implemented sales order processing, stock replenishment, etc at its two biggest distribution sites – the first in December 1997 and the other in January 1998. The real ‘big bang’ followed a few months later, on 5 May 1998, with all modules (including sales order processing, purchasing, billing, accounts, picking and shipping, and production planning and scheduling) going live simultaneously. Says Cobb: “We implemented BPCS as vanilla as possible: we didn’t want a customised solution.”
Was it successful? Yes very – but not instantly perfect! “We had two sticky months,” says Cobb. “We weren’t prepared for the scale of cultural change. Things just weren’t being done fast enough; and some people weren’t aware enough of the consequences downstream of what they were doing.” Things got so frenetic that for a time the company was shipping product and leaving the billing and reconciliation till later.
Cobb concludes, “you can never do enough training; you have to be ready to handle the fact that no matter how much you do there will always be some that don’t understand.” And she advises: “You shouldn’t just monitor exceptions: you need to monitor everything. We needed to see things like invoice lines shipped but not billed: we had a huge backlog in billing; we could see it, but we couldn’t understand why it was happening.”
Nevertheless, her enthusiasm is palpable. And it’s obvious that this is a well though out, inclusive implementation – because it was more than straight BPCS. Cobb took the unusual step of installing shop floor data collection (SFDC) at the same time. Cobb is emphatic about shopfloor integration: “SFDC was essential for us,” she says. Formerly, she explains, the factories operated with paper-based factory systems, but poor visibility and delays meant inefficiency and capacity limits. She says that putting in SFDC based on Crown Computing’s DC-Flex and DC-Connect tightly integrated with BPCS through an SSA SMG (semantic messaging gateway) interface “cost about £120,000 – but that was less than 10% of the ERP system, and it makes all the difference for us.”
And that’s not all: SSA also implemented ST Point’s advanced planning and scheduling software, again linking direct into BPCS through an SMG. Although it’s only used for finite capacity scheduling now, Cobb says she intends to move it on to bottleneck analysis and capacity improvement soon. At less than £20,000 per seat (Moss bought two), Cobb says this addition quickly paid for itself.
Other key additions from SSA were a rapid order entry package from CSP, and a forms and fax manipulation package on AS/400 from Interform for order acknowledgement and the rest. Cobb says the system has, for example, enabled Moss to eliminate double handling across its distributor network – with non-stock dealer orders being shipped direct from Kidlington but with local distributor paperwork. And BPCS reports have also enabled the usual range of line profitability and distributor performance analysis, etc.
After 18 months of consolidation, roll out across the European operations and Phase Two planning, Moss decided to go further. It wanted customer relationship management (CRM), e-business and better, faster order entry. Cobb: “Our competition are small companies who know their customers well: we were bigger and didn’t. We needed to streamline ordering processes and integrate credit control, complaints, all the customer-facing functions on our side. And we wanted customers to be able to order from a web catalogue, view product inventory, order status and account balances over the web.”
In short, the firm wanted a new single browser-based commercial front end to improve customer service and further reduce transaction costs – keeping it simple by using the same system and business rules to provide for customer self service over the web and Moss sales staff on the internal system.
So in October 1999, the firm set about expanding BPCS and implementing Mobile Sales Suite from software firm TSG for the CRM, rapid order entry and e-commerce functionality. “A good proportion is in BPCS,” says Cobb, “but the additional applications are in Lotus Domino, with the on-line catalogue running on IBM’s WebSphere Commerce Suite with a separate DB2 database.”
To get there meant upgrading from Moss’ original BPCS 6.02 foundation ERP to the current eBPCS 6.1 version, not least for its enhanced SMGs and the Lotus Domino connector. SSA acted as project manager, and Cobb says that, extensive testing and documentation notwithstanding, the effort involved was less than 20% of the original implementation. Beyond this, SSA also handled the Lotus Domino development, including modification of the user interface and configuration, via its Lotus division, providing integration with the eBPCS environment. And SSA Softwright implemented the Websphere e-commerce infrastructure.
SSA and Moss completed the static catalogue marketing website, the new internal customer service applications – including rapid order entry, order and inventory status and account status and sales history, with all the business rules – and the eBPCS upgrade all in May of this year. “It went unbelievably well,” says Cobb.
In September, Moss went on to pilot customer web order entry, with user registration and authentification on-line and order placing direct into eBPCS – and has since rolled it our for use with selected customers. The next phase, currently being tested and due to go live as we go to press, will move the system on to provide customers with web-accessible account, order and inventory status enquiries.
Following this, Moss will get the rest of its internal application upgrades, including order maintenance for late customer changes integrated back into the rest of the system. Then in January 2001, the firm expects to go live with the intelligent version of its web catalogue, with search and select and decision tree-based product matching.
Cobb expects return on investment “within two to three years”. And interestingly Moss also implemented Domino’s electronic workflow facilities separately to manage capital expenditure approvals more efficiently from the desktop for this project. And Cobb expects to extend this by rolling out integrated automatic workflow across a range of other business processes, starting with new product introduction. “We will use SSA for this too,” she says. “It’s all about streamlining processes: reducing administration time and costs.”
Beyond rolling out its new web applications across Europe during 2001, Cobb also expects to start using the information in eBPCS more proactively. “We have visibility of product flows, and we can make decisions right out to warehousing and distribution as that changes,” she says. And it’s clear that it’s already happening: factory capacity improvements, for example, have not been allowed to exacerbate inventory levels. Visibility, says Cobb, means the firm stays in control. And she believes that this will be enhanced with business intelligence and data warehousing as an upcoming IT project.
Author: Brian Tinham