The engineering and manufacturing company that is going to be responsible for retrofitting much of London’s red bus fleet with hybrid diesel-electric engines has chosen the Infor CloudSuite Industrial as its core business system, as it scales from an R&D organisation to one the generates revenue.
Vantage Power is working with the companies that supply Transport for London with the capital’s buses to retrofit them with engines that can run on electricity - in time for the introduction of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone in September 2020, which will see diesel engines banned from much of central London.
London currently has between 8,000 and 9,000 buses on the roads, so there is serious growth potential for Vantage Power, which up until 18 months ago had largely been in a research and development phase.
As the company began to shift from R&D to revenue generation, it needed a core business system that could help it scale. This week I got the chance to speak to Vantage Power’s supply chain manager, Matthew Thomas, who explained the thinking behind the company’s decision to go with Infor.
Our launch market is London. You’ve got something like 8,000 - 9,000 double decker buses in London, so that’s a good starting point. But our enquiries are global.
The company was founded in 2011 by our two directors, they met at Imperial College. And after that they developed an electric car, drove it across the Pan-American highway and got a TV documentary made about them. Then a chance meeting with someone in the bus industry kicked this off.
I joined the company 18 months ago and we were 15 people. At that point we were changing from being an R&D company through into a revenue production company. For the last 18 months we have made that shift.
This week the company unveiled its first retrofit hybrid vehicle for London, which was announced by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Selecting the right system
Thomas explained that Vantage Power wanted to select a core business system early, so as not to get tied down with manual processes and legacy that would hold back its growth. He said:
Different companies take different approaches with ERP systems. We wanted to get a system into our company in the very early stages. We are ambitious for growth, we’re very confident in the market opportunities, so we wanted to get the infrastructure in place early. We didn’t want to be relying on Excel spreadsheets and small systems.
What was one or two products was going to very quickly hit significant volumes. So we need to keep track of inventory, works orders and purchase orders, and the whole sort of aspect of that. So when I started, part of my remit was to source and implement the ERP system.
And because of the anticipated growth over the next couple of years, and the need for a robust system that could scale and protect the company’s data, Thomas believed that the cloud was the way to go. He said:
So we did some market analysis and one of the reasons why we selected Infor CloudSuite was because of the cloud. We don’t want to get to the point where we have legacy systems. The advantage of the cloud is you get continually upgraded to the new versions.
But also, data security is being handled by someone that is doing that all the time. And the fact that you can access it from any location is very key to us. That agility and the ability to have realtime data at your fingertips.
Vantage Power made the decision to go with Infor’s CloudSuite Industrial in December 2015, with the implementation beginning in January, and the system going live in June last year. The company went live with finance and supply chain modules initially, but has since brought in the CRM module too.
One of the reasons that we did this implementation early in the development of our business was to make sure that process was as easy as possible. So we don’t have a plethora of existing processes that would be contrary to the way an ERP system would work. We’ve been developing our business processes as part of that implementation.
The way that the implementation works is that we had a training phase at the beginning, so we could learn how the system works, but then we moved through to the workshop phase. And during the workshop phase the consultant guided you on the best practice and the easiest way to run the system. We already had an idea about how we wanted to do things.
Basically, each of the heads of the sections in the business already had an idea about how they wanted things to go, so they were brought into that implementation phase. So for supply chain, I led those processes. Then we mapped them and locked them down.
Thomas said that whilst the company had selected Infor for its core business system, Vantage Power had to design its own predictive maintenance software for the buses, which are collecting millions of data points per hour from each bus. Thomas explained that it would have been difficult to use an ERP system for this kind of Internet-of-Things system. He said:
As part of our technology suite we have our own software that manages the relationship between the bus and the cloud. So the bus itself is cloud connected and that captures 6,000 data points per second and it does predictive maintenance. It’s capturing huge amounts of data that you wouldn’t expect an ERP system to handle, it wouldn’t be reasonable. That’s our own in-house development.
However, there is a relationship with the ERP system - for example with serial numbers. So within our battery pack there are three levels of serialisation, so the ERP system manages all of that relationship and that data is then exported into our bus system.