High-tech spar and rigging manufacturer leverages data from Epicor® EPR to inform critical business decisions
- Location: Auckland, New Zealand
- Industry: Manufacturing
- Website: www.southernspars.com
Southern Spars specialises in the design and construction of carbon fibre spars and components, rigging and rig servicing.
An industry pioneer, Southern Spars built its first carbon spar in 1990. Since then the company has pursued a passion for delivering world class cruising and racing spars, carbon rigging and servicing of masts, booms composite rigging and components.
Headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand, its operation extends to the USA, Denmark, South Africa, Spain and Sri Lanka, employing more than 350 staff worldwide.
CFO needed efficient access to operational and financial data
Southern Spars is a technologically advanced company when it comes to its products and services, yet when it turned ten years old it began to understand that its own technology infrastructure was showing its age and was in need of an update. The technology employed for its day-to-day operations had changed, and there were new business management tools with increased functionality available on the market.
The business had grown to a stage where the management team wanted to leverage new capabilities to keep in-step with the company’s strong performance and potential growth. In order to achieve that goal, Southern Spars needed to be able to easily extract more information about its business operations from its manufacturing systems and other data sources. The management team identified the necessity to improve its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to make more real-time, accurate, critical data easily accessible, so it could be properly analysed to better inform and enlighten decisions.
“Our old solution was good at the time we selected and implemented it. In fact it served us well for ten years,” said Daniel Malherbe, group chief financial officer for Southern Spars. “But we hadn’t upgraded to the latest and greatest available. We’d kept going with the initial implementation and tacked some modules onto it.”
“We were making decisions based on the information that we were able to get out of the system. It did allow us to do our job well and we were getting it right for our customers but we needed to be able to make better decisions for our own business,” said Malherbe. “We found we had to employ a ‘gut feel’ component about certain areas of the business because There was information that we we couldn’t readily access and analyse, or at least to do so was unnecessarily time-consuming and laborious.”
Because the technology they were using was out of date, Southern Spars found it extremely difficult to make the required changes to its financial reporting and processes. Relying on a mixture of spreadsheets and lengthy reports, the procedure had become clunky. The management team, and indeed the CFO, wanted to delve further into the numbers and records in order to get a better look at operational and financial information but this was taking longer than it should and had become onerous. To stay windward, and take the business further, Southern Spars needed make better use of its data.
If business is going well, why implement a technology change?
Southern Spars takes pride in the fact it is a technologically advanced company that deals in the grand prix of carbon products. Without a doubt, technology is crucial in the design and manufacturing of its products but also, high-tech is needed to help deliver and support its world-class product offering.
The management and technology teams had already identified that a new ERP system was a priority. Then, as Southern Spars implemented “Lean Manufacturing” methodologies throughout its organisation in 2012, feedback from employees was that they would like to see a new ERP system, as the old one had become a struggle. With employees now asking for a modern ERP system, the push to upgrade was even stronger.
“We needed to see real improvements in terms of resource and time allocation,” said Malherbe.
Another challenge was financial – Southern Spars needed to be able to absorb the investment to upgrade the technology and weigh up the cost vs. benefit. After seeing a number of demos from different vendors, CEO and management were impressed by the flexibility, agility and potential for customisation in Epicor ERP.
“We understood Epicor due to our previous solution and knew we could work well with the dynamics of the vendor and its offering.”
“We investigated other options to make sure we were happy with Epicor,” said Malherbe. “We also spoke to external consultants about their opinions and the general comments were in favor of Epicor. In the end the choice of Epicor ERP was a no brainer for us. It is not an old legacy based system. Epicor is always pushing boundaries and adding more technology to take its customers and their businesses to the next level.”
Hoisting the mainsail on Epicor ERP
In 2014, Southern Spars undertook to refresh its on-site hardware and then went forward with an implementation of Epicor ERP. The company worked with Epicor to keep changes to a minimum, and they were able to get the system up and running relatively quickly.
“We knew what we had, we understand Epicor and it was working for us. It was really good for job management and we were comfortable with that.” said Malherbe, “Since the implementation, we have been working through phases of automating activities, modernising procedures, buying additional modules like Advance Print Management (APM) and are planning to integrate mobility options in 2017.”
Epicor ERP has given Southern Spars the ability to access whatever data it wants, when it wants it. That, coupled with automation capabilities, has already saved over 400 man-hours a year.
“Reporting is greatly simplified,” said Malherbe. “We’re still developing our own reports and haven’t reached a plateau in terms of what we are able to do.”
“We quickly saw the benefits in the newer system,” he said. “We can automate so many functionalities and features that were manual in the past.”
Thanks to the automation capabilities, reports can be automatically run and populated by the system, and then an email is sent out to the necessary decision makers – including those who may be travelling internationally, rather than having man-hours dedicated to gathering and disseminating that information.
Staff say they are happy with the new reports because they get so much more information they can put to use as they go about their jobs and contribute to the business. For example the accounts payable team has a traffic light system in place for the status of each line on a purchase order (PO) before they enter the invoice. This allows the team more visibility on the status of the PO before they go ahead and process the invoice. It has simplified workflows and saves time and effort.
The finance team can create reports and dashboards without having to have a programming background. “For someone that has no knowledge at all it is easy enough to pick up and get some results,” said Malherbe. For more sophisticated report design, Southern Spars turns to one of its designers who is also a programmer. “It is easy for him and it is amazing what he is able to do with it.
Ultimately, Epicor is flexible enough to do what we want and need it to do.”
Looking ahead to more improvements thanks to a positive working relationship and great customer support
“We’re working with Epicor looking to improve the way we use its enterprise search functionality,” said Malherbe. “Because of our positive experience with Epicor to-date, when we log a ticket or a request, there is a positive expectation among our managers and staff that we will be helped.
He explained, “There are components and modules we plan to add over time, when it makes sense to do so, and it will take some time to get it all done. Sometimes we hit a bit of a wall and need to work with Epicor to figure it out. Whenever we log a call it gets attended to and they may even follow up with us if we don’t respond quickly enough. We have received excellentsupport along with the upgrade to Epicor ERP.”
Malherbe concluded, “The system is flexible enough to allow us to capture data in a way that is familiar to our organisation; in a way that makes sense for our day to day business. Now we know accurate, relevant information is available to staff from the shop floor to the back office.”