A lot of things have changed about EchoData Services, Inc.'s (Coatesville, PA) (www.echodata.com) business since it was founded in 1983. Originally a diskette and CD-ROM replication services company catering to software publishers, EchoData gradually expanded its outsourcing services to include packaging, assembly, and warehousing. Then EchoData added a second profit center by offering "pick and pack" fulfillment, including orders received over the Internet. "Technology companies that see themselves as leaders have more demanding criteria than traditional customers," comments EchoData President and CEO Steve Roberts. "We needed to provide our services seamlessly, quickly, and in electronic format. As a result, we sought an ERP system that would help us meet our business and manufacturing goals and realize our uniqueness."
Four years ago, EchoData purchased MANAGE 2000, a mid-market ERP software solution from ROI Systems, Inc. (Minneapolis). EchoData executives were most impressed with its inventory management functions, as the ability to precisely track and quickly report inventory transactions of client-owned materials is one of the biggest challenges for a fulfillment company. The company also sought a solution that would provide tight integration with financials as well as manufacturing. However, the long-term goal was to take advantage of expanding opportunities offered by the Internet. At that time, no software vendor could meet EchoData's unique requirements out of the box, but ROI Systems was willing to help develop the "hooks" that allowed EchoData to meet both current goals and evolve with the expected increase in Internet-driven orders.
EchoData's VP of Operations Chris Nocella, who was director of IT at the time, served as the project leader for the installation. MANAGE 2000 was implemented gradually over the course of a year in conjunction with a transition from a Macintosh OS. EchoData initially implemented the financial modules, followed by inventory and distribution. It was just as this project neared completion that EchoData began working with one of its first e-commerce clients. This e-business customer wanted real-time data transfer that conformed with its needs. In a cofunded project with ROI Systems and assistance from its support services teams, EchoData customized the MANAGE 2000 system to meet those criteria.
Adds EDI Capability To Flat Text Files
Because most of EchoData's clients don't have true EDI (electronic data interchange) capabilities, EchoData and ROI added functionality to convert flat text files to EDI transactions. The processing of electronic orders is tightly integrated with that of traditional orders. As a result, there is no discernable difference between electronic orders and traditional ones.
The anticipation that the Internet would be a major factor in future business has paid off for EchoData as it now affects as much as 80% of the company's business. In many cases, EchoData is getting in on the ground floor with new customers and driving the Web site integration. For example, EchoData recently secured a contract with hats.com. Orders from the hats.com Web site are seamlessly sent to EchoData's ERP system for fulfillment. Through another customization with assistance from ROI Systems, EchoData allows hats.com to plug in to the MANAGE 2000 system via a VPN (virtual private network) and opt to have a portion of its SKUs (stock keeping units) shipped from a vendor facility in another location. The MANAGE 2000 system also provides alerts when there is an error in the order, a warning when something in the ordering process has gone wrong, and notification when a batch of orders has been accepted. The system also sends an e-mail notification of shipments and the shipper tracking numbers. Though EchoData's other customers may not have those same privileges, all customers have electronic access to accurate records.
Supports 100% Growth - And More
Scalability is a word that is thrown around casually these days, but EchoData has the numbers to prove that its system is truly up to the task. Since the initial installation and the cofunded customization, EchoData has doubled in size to $8 million in annual sales. Roberts anticipates that the current system will continue to operate without extensive changes for at least another five years.
"Using the MANAGE 2000 system has allowed us to integrate our technology with our marketing goals," says Roberts. "We can go to market with a unique set of services that we wouldn't be able to offer with a lesser system."
Many of the Web functions which EchoData integrated with the MANAGE 2000 system will become part of the standard package. Nocella says he is looking forward to the release of MANAGE 2000 7.0 which has even more Web technology including a Web front end. EchoData plans to use its MANAGE 2000 system to continue to build a Web presence and a Web database, increasing visibility to clients.
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