One thing that the past several months have reinforced for all of us is the importance of supply chains. In the beginning it was the availability of basic necessities in supermarkets. More recently, the extended bout of working from home has led to shortages of home-office staples such as printer cartridges and plug-in microphones. One vital ingredient across many food and electronics goods are those tiny packs of silica gel that keep moisture from spoiling products. Supplying the bulk raw materials for these and other dessicant products is the specialty of Interra Global, which spoke about its supply chain operations at the recent FinancialForceX virtual conference.
Up-to-date information is crucial to success, especially during times of supply chain disruption — and there's been plenty of that during her time at the company, says Sara Curry, Director of Operations and Finance:
In the last eight years we've had the COVID pandemic, we've had trade wars with tariff impacts, we've had a tsunami in the Pacific, we've had flooding in the Mississippi, we've had blizzards that shut down half the country, we've had regulatory changes — electronic logs — that affected domestic freight, we've had longshoreman strikes along the west coast that affected all the ports ...
My point of bringing all this up is, there's going to continue be changes. We don't know what they're going to be, we don't know when they're going to be, but we do know there are going to be changes.
When we have a disruption in our supply chain, it can delay our material. And when it delays material, I can see very easily what customers are going to be affected, but more importantly I can see what my alternatives are for helping to solve the problem. The sooner I know that information, the greater my opportunity is to continue keeping my customer happy. And that's the value, in gaining those insights, that I can continue to bring to my customer.
Impact of an integrated system
A real-time view across the supply chain wasn't in place when Curry first joined the company, which was founded in 2008. It was tracking logistics and forecasting inventory in FileMaker databases, using Excel for additional forecasting and month-end reconciliation, and relying on email as the primary channel for internal communication. Opportunities and accounts were managed in Salesforce, while accounting and order processing ran in Intacct. Curry sums up:
We had a lot of inefficiencies, a lot of redundancies. We needed to streamline our processes — they were disconnected, we had these classic independent silos of information.
Much of this was replaced when a FinancialForce supply chain management solution went live in 2015, followed by accounting, both integrated to the Salesforce system and using Chatter for internal communication. The impact of having everything in the same integrated system was dramatic:
Our supply chain allows us to track inventory at a lot level and across multiple warehouses, we can accommodate drop ship, we can do production orders, and very important to our line of business, we can land costs. We have a financial management solution that handles all that background accounting and can represent it accurately in financial statements that I can make strategic decisions using.
We truly went from all those inefficiencies into one solution that gave us visibility and real-time information across the organization.
Cutting out the multiple systems and all the spreadsheet-based reconciliation took the month-end close from a 3-4 weeks slog to a 3-4 day cruise, while the year-end close was cut in half, says Curry:
I no longer spend days upon weeks in reconciling general ledger accounts in Excel. I can do that internally within hours within the system.
Information as competitive advantage
The impact on customer service was even more important from a company perspective:
Our customer service team can on-the-spot answer the question about where the customer's order was between point A to point B in its journey, what is the status of their future shipments and availability of additional inventory. Actually, anybody in the office can do that and be the customer advocate and see that information ...
That's key for us, that being able to handle the customer from one perspective. We've gone from back-office and front-office to one office, and that has given us tremendous gains in efficiency.
This has become a competitive advantage for Interra Global, because it is able to be more responsive and proactive when customers have new requirements or their supplies face disruption. Its catalog of industrial adsorbents is used in a range of contexts, from the dessicant packets of silica gel found in packaging, to molecular sieve used to remove water from natural gas and ethanol. Customers rely on its sourcing and supply chain expertise to ensure those supplies stay on track.
Although a relatively small organization, the company is always looking for new ways to gain better insight and understand its trading environment in a changing world, says Curry.
We don't manufacture anything but we do generate a lot of information. It's our challenge and a challenge that we continue to press on FinancialForce and Salesforce. Help us translate that information into meaning and into action ...
Staying nimble is no longer a survival tactic, it becomes our competitive advantage, continuing to help our customer, regardless of the changes.
As well as working closely with the vendors' internal customer success teams, Curry also values the ability to learn from other customers. That's an important benefit of the FinancialForce Community, where Interra Global is an active participant, she says.
I don't know what I don't know. So when I hear from the other customers in those organic conversations and group discussions, I can learn things that I didn't know I didn't know, that could actually help me. It could be as simple as, how to import debits more efficiently. Or when I hear real-life solutions to real-life problems, I know that I'm continuing to grow and can add features to our solution.
By connecting up its systems from front-office to back-office, Interra Global has pulled together the information it needs to streamline its costs while becoming a more proactive partner to its customers. Its story is a powerful illustration of the importance of what we at diginomica call frictionless enterprise — breaking down the barriers between systems and teams that get in the way of delivering outcomes. This is much more than cost reduction — by collating the data, delivering it in real-time and giving people the tools to act on it, Interra Global has created competitive advantage that has helped it win new business.