Few manufacturers are islands unto themselves. In fact, most organizations work with outside production, warehousing and logistics providers to help meet the demands of their customers. Manufacturers that rely on third-party help can't afford to lose anything in the communication. So when the Caldrea Co., a Minneapolis-based maker of aromatherapy cleaning products, wanted to expand its business and improve data exchange over its partner network, it turned to the Web-based ERP system Infor SyteLine.
Caldrea first chose Infor for ERP around 1999, when the company was growing beyond a garage business and looking for the right system to support that growth. The founders of Caldrea decided to try Infor SyteLine on the recommendation of friends in the software implementation field, according to Mike Johnson, IT manager. Prior to joining Caldrea four years ago, Johnson was a consultant for a company that supported Caldrea during its upgrade to SyteLine version 8. Currently, the company is running on SyteLine version 802.11, with plans in the works to upgrade to version 803 in the near future.
Although Johnson was not at Caldrea when the company first adopted Infor, he estimates that the ERP implementation project took roughly three months, which is also the same amount of time required for the SyteLine version 8 upgrade. "We were going from a progress-based database to SQL Server, so there was quite a bit of data integration required," he said.
Infor SyteLine brings employee, partner-friendly interface
One of the most notable aspects of that upgrade project was the smooth employee training period, according to Johnson. His team provided one to two hours of training per user. "The nice thing was that the user training was very easy, because even though the actual user interface changed, the methodology behind how SyteLine worked didn't," he explained. "People were used to doing data entry in version 6, so it was very easy to teach them how to do that in version 8. They could build upon that foundation. It was more about teaching them all the additional functions and features that they could now use to make their jobs easier."
Caldrea currently uses Infor SyteLine to manage its outsourced manufacturing, warehousing, transportation and distribution, Johnson said. This outsourcing is mission critical because, as he explained, while Caldrea considers itself to be a "traditional" manufacturing company, it lacks in-house manufacturing capabilities and relies on a regional network of partners.
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"We're very good at managing our vendors and our third-party manufacturing companies. SyteLine allows us to do that quite easily." he said. "[SyteLine provides] the data exchange and connectivity between those partners, whether it's a contract manufacturer or a contract warehouse company who the vendors are shipping to and are shipping to our customers. The ability to exchange data easily, efficiently and quickly is very important to us."
Because SyteLine's user interface is Web-based, Caldrea's partner companies don't need to also be Infor customers to access the data, Johnson explained. "The beauty of it is that when you're dealing with a Web service interface, if [users] can exchange XML [Extensible Markup Language] or do a Web service call for even flat files, you can send them. I don't even know what [ERP system] any of my vendors have and I don't care," he said.
Caldrea puts personal touches on ERP
The most common files that Caldrea sends to its partners via SyteLine are purchase orders, which include the "recipe" for a scented product, Johnson said. To include these specific production instructions, Caldrea has customized its SyteLine system.
"It's easy to add that additional functionality you need to make your business run the way you want," he said. "You're not forced to change your process to match the way your vendors wants it. SyteLine gives you the framework and then lets you do something different. There's a lot that even a nontechnical person can do, because [the interface] is very wizard-driven."
While Johnson would like to see future versions of SyteLine more tailored to his business-specific needs, he recognizes that it may not be possible. "As a user, I'm realistic that SyteLine has thousands of companies using their software and every company wants their little thing to be what's next," he said. He's satisfied with what Infor says will be available in the upcoming version 9, such as functions for consigned inventory and warehouse-specific interfaces. "For the most part, the little changes that people want [software vendors] to make, they can do themselves with some training. People can make these systems their own," Johnson said.
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