Magazine Article | October 1, 2001

Bulldoze Your Legacy System

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

You've heard the IT nightmare stories of ERP (enterprise resource planning) installations that still weren't functional even after three years of tweaking. Check out how Gehl Company successfully integrated its manufacturing and distribution sites, and Web-enabled its distribution process.

Integrated Solutions, October 2001

We've all had the experience of working on a project that just doesn't go according to plans. Whether it was a result of poor planning or outdated technology, sometimes it becomes painfully obvious that your legacy technology isn't cutting it anymore. That's when the big decision comes - whether to tweak the project to get it back on course or nuke the darn thing and begin from scratch. While situations and opinions vary from business to business, no one is questioning Gehl Company's (West Bend, WI) decision to plow over its legacy landscape and lay a solid foundation that would open up new doors of opportunity.

Gehl Company has six manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States. It manufactures and distributes compact equipment and attachments that are used primarily in the construction and agricultural fields. Gehl distributes its products to qualified Gehl and Mustang dealers throughout the United States as well as to its newest division called CE Attachments (Mequon, WI), which distributes attachments such as augers, dozer blades, backhoes, and buckets.

Uproot Your Outdated Systems
In 1995 Gehl was operating its business on an IBM mainframe that comprised a Datacom database and disparate enterprise applications that were a combination of best-of-breed and proprietary software. Even though most of Gehl's enterprise applications were written in COBOL, they were not integrated. This meant that human resources, manufacturing, order entry, financials, and other departments were not able to share each other's data. Additionally, the DOS/VSE (disk operating system/virtual storage extended) platform that Gehl's legacy system used was very cumbersome for displaying graphics, editing forms, and modifying the layout of reports. Early in 1998, when Gehl was tackling the Y2K issue, it decided to make an across-the-board upgrade with an ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution.

Even though Gehl was able to easily upgrade its mainframe software to make it Y2K-compliant, it knew there were a lot of other benefits to be realized from an integrated ERP solution. It looked at a total of 27 ERP vendors and eventually narrowed its decision down to IFS (Tucson, AZ). "There were two main criteria that separated IFS from the other vendors," says Semler, "the vendor's success with installations at multi-site facilities similar to ours, and its insistence that it would handle the entire installation without any middlemen."

Gehl wanted to deal directly with the vendor for the installation, because it wanted assurance that if something went wrong or if it had questions it could quickly get to the source for answers. "We had heard stories about companies that purchased ERP systems through VARs and when a problem occurred the VAR blamed the vendor and the vendor blamed the VAR," says Semler.

Build On A Strong Foundation
Gehl began rolling out the IFS Applications solution in February 2000 and plans to have the project complete by the end of this year. To date, the company has experienced several benefits in the areas of manufacturing, distribution, and customer service. "Our Lebanon and Owatonna facilities are using the Manufacturing module," notes Mac Moore, executive VP and COO. "With functionality such as MRP (materials requirement planning), we can accurately plan our raw materials and resources needed to complete certain jobs and give our customers accurate turnaround times. Additionally, we can provide our suppliers with detailed lists that let them know we need 'x' amount of raw materials by Monday and then we need 'y' amount of materials delivered by Friday. Each part of the supply chain and distribution process is informed ahead of time so each can plan and work together efficiently." Because all of Gehl's manufacturing and distribution facilities will be tied into its ERP solution, each facility can help the other to get jobs completed and out the door more quickly. If a plant is temporarily out of a particular part, the MRP module will alert the appropriate Gehl supervisor and also will indicate if the same part can be found at another Gehl facility. If so, the system helps coordinate the process of getting the part to the site that needs it most. Prior to installing its ERP solution, a Gehl supervisor would have to get on the phone and make several calls - tying up the supervisor's time and other employees' and supervisors' time to find a part.

The Engineering module built into the ERP suite has afforded Gehl even more benefits in the areas of document management and production accuracy. "The Engineering module makes it possible to seamlessly transfer finished engineering projects to the manufacturing floor and to make sure any changes in part specifications are immediately updated on our production drawings," says Semler. "By calling up the drawing on a PC, the production worker is assured that he or she is looking at the latest revision. Prior to installing this solution, we relied on blueprints for our production. If a drawing was updated and not all of the previous revisions were collected, there was the chance that a production worker could still be matching a part according to outdated specifications. Now, those worries are a thing of the past."

Web-Enable Your Customers
In July of this year, Gehl started a separate company, which is devoted to distributing compact equipment attachments such as augers, dozer blades, backhoes, breakers, and buckets. Appropriately named CE (compact equipment) Attachments, Inc. (Mequon, WI) (CEA), the new company is a one-stop shop for compact equipment dealers and end users looking for attachments. "CEA works with a wide selection of inventory and provides dealers with real-time information regarding product availability, price quotes, and shipping status," says Moore. "Built upon IFS Web Store, CEA enables dealers to register with the company, browse a full catalog of compact equipment attachments, match the catalog products to their current line of products, submit a credit application, receive approval, and view their order status online. If they choose to work offline, CEA also gives them the ability to place orders via telephone or fax to their call center." Starting a new company and making its products available online has expanded Gehl's offering and has given its marketing campaign a new edge. "Every business card, catalog, brochure, or other piece of marketing literature is now designed with the intent to drive our customers and new prospects to the CEA site," says Moore. "Rather than having to send out a new catalog with every new product offer we have, customers can go online to see the newest products and special offers, and then keep checking back from time to time."

Because of its success with the Web storefront, Gehl is considering adding more Web-enablement to its repertoire by setting up a similar Web solution to support its compact equipment marketing efforts. "The equipment is much more complex than the attachments," says Moore. "We have to take into account that almost every piece of equipment has a unique combination of motor sizes, attachments, service agreements, and other factors." Because purchases of compact equipment are more complex - and more expensive - than attachments, they also entail a different level of relationship between the dealer and the end user. Gehl's challenge in the next few years will be to create a Web-enabled storefront that will provide the end user with improved and expanded access to compact product information within the context of the manufacturer-dealer relationship.

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