It never ends, does it? Isn't that the way you feel as an IT director sometimes? On the surface, some IT projects seem simple to the layperson. But, your job is to deal with the minutiae, which is never as straightforward as it seems. There's always a curve ball in every project, and it's your job to hit it. Take, for example, the case of The Belden Brick Company (Canton, OH).
Belden is a 115-year-old, family-owned company that - you guessed it - makes all kinds of bricks. In 1996, Belden acquired Redland Brick (Williamsport, MD). This acquisition brought Belden's employee total to more than 700 people in 11 plants.
At the same time they were acquiring Redland, Belden began implementing a J.D. Edwards (Denver) ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. Meanwhile, since 1995, Redland had been using interBiz' (Islandia, NY) ERP product (which is now known as MK Manufacturing). Welcome to the first curve ball.
Consolidating Two ERP Systems
Enter the batter: newly promoted IT Director for both facilities, Jeff Adams. His first major project decision in his job wouldn't be an easy one. "The presidents of both companies and I decided that both locations should use the interBiz product," he said. "Redland was already familiar with the MK software and the Belden plant hadn't fully implemented the J.D. Edwards solutions yet. This was a big decision since the J.D. Edwards system was already paid for."
Of course, that was only the beginning of his problems with this project. He next realized that the interBiz ERP version Redland was running wasn't Y2K compliant. Thus, he needed to upgrade to the new MK version. But, Redland was running on a UNIX platform and the company had decided to move to NT.
"We had a world of trouble converting to the NT environment," he stated. "So, we elected to put Redland off and implement Belden's ERP from scratch."
Make Employees Realize The Value Of Real-Time Inventory
Prior to moving to the MK ERP system, Belden's inventory was paper-based and completed monthly by adding and subtracting shipments and production data. As a result of this method, the company didn't have up-to-date inventory visibility. In fact, Belden would sometimes turn down an order for fear of not being 100% positive the materials would be available. Furthermore, at the time, Belden only had approximately 17 PCs and a workforce that was 40% Amish. "Our plan included adding about 55 computers, a handful of which would be used by a workforce largely composed of people who don't even have phones or electricity in their homes," Adams said. But, this problem wasn't just another curve ball for Adams; it was the curve ball. After all, the average employee tenure at Belden is 17 years. Hence, he was faced with a staff unaccustomed to drastic operational changes. And changes were about to happen.
Once the MK Manufacturing system was implemented, the customer service and production scheduling departments were responsible for keypunching data into the system. The customer service person takes the order for the brick and the company's shipping foreman production scheduler decides how to fill the order - where (what plant) or which run of brick that order will be filled from. Before, most of this communication was done over the phone. Now, each person has inventory and order visibility via the ERP system.
"Production data is input daily and shipping info is input in real time," Adams explained. "This was a huge paradigm shift for our workers, especially since they never had to enter much into computers before."
Belden began the ERP implementation in January of 1999 and finished it six months later. Adams then focused on the Redland plant and had that system up and running by November of the same year. Between both facilities there are 165 users.
Give Customers Online Access
In January of 2001, Belden leveraged the real-time capabilities of the new ERP systems by creating an extranet for customers to go online and view inventory, orders, invoices, and deliveries. Belden has also automated the delivery of its invoices, bills of lading, and order acknowledgements. For instance, customers can have copies (in PDF form) of any of these documents sent via e-mail or fax to multiple employees. This eliminates the need for Belden to mail these documents and also the time delay associated with a customer's mail routing system.
"In the future, we would like to bypass the idea of data collection and go straight to machines," Adams said. "For example, we would have our PLCs (programmable logic controllers - the brains behind the automation in a plant) connected to the Ethernet. After all, those devices count how many bricks are manufactured and strapped together. We would use this data to populate the ERP system."
Adams said that although it's impossible to quantify an actual ROI for the new ERP system, the real value Belden has achieved relates to increased customer and employee satisfaction. The employees are happier because they have immediate access to information they previously had to root through files for. The customers are happier because they are now able to pinpoint exactly when their orders will be ready.
"It's like some people say - the IT field is 90% psychology and 10% technology," Adams commented. "And with this installation, that 90% sure was the most challenging part."