Article

The simple task of choosing an ERP system… made not-so-simple.

Calbee UK needed an enterprise grade system able to support complex operations and supply chain integration. But how do you choose a product to support a business process when the process doesn’t yet exist?

I’ve heard it said that selecting an ERP system “is like choosing a partner for life, only more difficult”. So where would you start in choosing a partner if you didn’t know what you wanted out of the relationship? Luckily, human beings are pretty good at working these things out and relationships form in the unlikeliest of circumstances. We’re also pretty adept at making things work even when we don’t have all the answers on day one.

Unfortunately, when it comes to selecting a system to support your business, there are no romantic introductions or dating opportunities (or is it swiping left and right in the modern age?) to ensure ‘compatibility’ or a good fit. Instead, when procuring a business software solution, a robust methodology must be followed to minimise business risk, and maximise the opportunity for delivering real business value, to deliver the best quality software solution to the problem.

(I would like to stress however, that while detailed, this approach is probably not the best method to use when choosing your lifelong partner!)

In my experience, when engaging in such a project you typically have two raw ingredients to hand. Firstly, a business (obvious, isn’t it?) and secondly a current way of working – a baseline. From these two ingredients business requirements can be understood, and improved processes engineered before selecting a product which will support them.

However, when it came to helping Calbee UK with their ERP selection, Waterstons were presented with a unique opportunity. There was no business (three founding directors excluded), there were no processes, there was no project team… Need I continue?

The business

The birth of the Calbee UK business is a fascinating story, one of which Waterstons have been a part since day one. A wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese snack giant Calbee Inc., the UK entity was founded in 2014 through the appointment of the Managing Director, who took the first steps on the journey by beginning to build a winning team.

Since that first day Calbee UK have had a clear plan. One of nurturing employees, industry leading best practice and significant growth through the development of unique, healthier snack products (now marketed under the ‘Yushoi’ brand).

The requirements

With a keen eye on future growth, it was clear that Calbee needed an enterprise grade system from the outset, able to support complex operations and supply chain integration from their very first order.

So, how do you choose a product to support your business process when a process doesn’t exist? Who makes up the project team for an ERP implementation when the business only has three people? Faced with the same challenge, many would simply stick a pin in the ‘big book of ERP solutions’, and then make the best of what they ended up with.

Waterstons suggested to Calbee that a different approach was needed. With a very clear picture of what their business needed to look like a number of years in the future, we were well placed to suggest an alternative way forward. No settling for second best; instead, making an informed, rational and validated choice of solution based not on one business’ needs, but on many.

The approach

As Calbee’s IT partner our long-standing customer base in the food and beverage sector, and previous experience working with the Calbee UK team members, meant we were able to bring a unique perspective to the project.

Without a project team, people expert in the day-to-day running of the business (let’s not forget, no business, no process!) we took the opportunity to use best-practice and lessons learned across previous projects within the sector to define a set of high-level process requirements to be met by the ERP solution.

Using this sector experience, and by leveraging our huge range of relationships with system vendors from all corners of the marketplace, Waterstons were able to create a set of business requirements based on tried and tested processes from across the food and beverage industry, which could be used to help select a core system appropriate for Calbee UK not just now, but into the future of planned growth already mapped out.

Using this methodology, the experience of our manufacturing and food and beverage consultants allowed us to undertake a thorough yet pragmatic selection exercise using the following steps:

1. Research into commercial systems and vendors
Waterstons’ consultants researched commercially available systems applicable to Calbee UK’s needs and sector. This research included identifying systems which were potentially able to fulfil the requirements we had defined, and engaging with vendors supplying these systems. An open approach was used, with Waterstons contacting vendors and discussing the requirements and unique complexities of this procurement in order to ensure only those vendors who were fully bought-in to the process were included.

2. Production of an RFI (Request for Information) document
Waterstons developed and issued an RFI to the vendors who wished to be involved. The RFI asked for answers to questions of functional aspects of the system and for additional information such as financial performance and customer profile. Vendors were given a deadline and an appropriate response format to which they should adhere. During the period between issue and deadline, vendor questions were managed by Waterstons, always in consideration of the fact that there was no Calbee UK project team to answer questions of process detail!

3. Review and scoring of RFI responses
Following receipt of vendors’ responses, they were assessed on a ‘pass/fail’ basis and those passing were invited (under a Non-Disclosure Agreement) to attend a demonstration slot to give an overview of the product proposed.

4. Facilitation of demonstrations and follow-up questions
Waterstons facilitated demonstration sessions between the vendors and Calbee UK to ensure their smooth running and to ensure vendors kept to identical agenda and timings supplied to all (to ensure comparability between products).

5. Review and scoring of demonstration feedback
Attendees of the demonstrations were each asked to give scoring and feedback on the solution and vendor. The feedback was collated and scored and then used to determine the vendor with whom Calbee chose to work with overall delivery of the solution.

Beyond selection

The procurement of Calbee UK’s chosen solution was out of the ordinary. We are seldom faced with an opportunity to take part in something as exciting as the creation of a whole new business, and with this project came an opportunity to do even more.

We were able to exploit our experience in the engineering of the business process from the outset, to build in best-practice experience learned from years of experience of similar organisations, and to work with a forward thinking company whose focus is not just around the corner, but a decade down the road.

Working in this way allowed us to complete the procurement in a little over eight weeks from our initial scoping meeting with Calbee UK to the final demonstrations from vendors. We’re used to tight timescales, but this was more akin to speed dating than the typical selection courtship!

To make this project work, Waterstons relied on sector-familiarity and knowledge to make assumptions, take decisions and bear responsibility when the customer was sometimes not in a position to do so; we had to engage and excite vendors about the project; and remain pragmatic about what was achievable within the short implementation time.

All those things considered, by working alongside Calbee UK we got things done; the selection exercise was completed on time, and the implementation got underway.

By the time implementation began in early 2015 Calbee UK had been joined by its first interim colleagues. Combining their experience with ours, and with their enthusiasm and excitement just as great, the solution was built and tested, data was created, entered and validated and the system readied for the first of a series of phased go-live events.

The start of the future

Three months after we started configuration, in May 2015, the factory go-live came and went with a whisper, not a ‘big-bang’. The production line ran, product was produced, packed, boxed, labelled and put away; all supported by the data and information held within the ERP system. The process worked. Whilst designing and engineering a process is all well and good in theory, you never know if it will stand up to the test of the real-world. Sure, we didn’t get everything right, but no business does.

The boundless enthusiasm and unfaltering support that characterises Waterstons’ relationship with Calbee UK played a big part in getting things done on time, and as we move forward, exactly a year after that first scoping meeting, Calbee UK continues to go from strength-to-strength. Its workforce of committed colleagues is growing; the Yushoi brand is appearing on shelves all over the UK, while the ERP system is being refined, developed and enhanced.

There are challenges to be faced every day but Calbee’s appetite for success remains undiminished; enthusiasm, commitment and determination to succeed are not in short supply.

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