How manufacturer Doncasters scrapped paper with its Salesforce 'special cloud'

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright June 10, 2019
Precision manufacturer Doncasters has built a 'special cloud' of custom applications on the Salesforce platform to automate crucial processes in delivering customer orders

Doncasters metal casting screengrab from video

Pushing paper around a manufacturing plant is a thankless task — one that wastes resources, makes it harder to track progress and slows everyone down.

Precision manufacturer Doncasters Group has abolished laborious paper-based processes by building its own custom applications on the Salesforce platform, with impressive results. The company estimates that moving order acceptance off paper into an all-digital process has eliminated 46 miles of paper-passing and 10,000 manual signatures each year. The process is now up to 75% faster, saving more than 750 hours of administration and management time.

This is just one example of many, says Duncan Thomas, Group Business Systems Manager at the 240-year-old firm, an international manufacturer of precision alloy components with more than 3,000 employees.

We have a lot of paperwork, a lot of paper processes. We have millions of spreadsheets we have to get rid of. [We're] starting to replace all those processes with a global system using Salesforce and the Salesforce Platform.

Sales Cloud and 'Special Cloud'

Doncasters has built a suite of interlinked custom applications that manage new product development and introduction (NPDI), project control, capital expenditure projects, and order acceptance. These are in addition to the out-of-the box capabilities of Sales Cloud, together with add-ons such as Outlook integration, the mobile UI and Chatter instant messaging. Automating the CRM processes has hugely improved visibility and cross-communication between divisions and sites, says Thomas. The impact of Chatter alone has been significant:

We've got rid of a lot of our meetings now. All our comms are done through Chatter. There are no more sales meetings in the mornings, it all flows through Chatter. All the progress through the processing is done in Chatter.

The big win though has been extending Salesforce beyond the sales function into various aspects of shopfloor production through the custom applications, says Thomas:

We've got Sales Cloud and what I call 'Special Cloud', which is where we build all of our bespoke applications.

The aim is to build integrated end-to-end processes that connect from the initial sales contact through to what's ultimately delivered to customers, with greater visibility and better communications throughout the process. For example, opportunities created in Salesforce now flow through to the NPDI application, where progress towards delivery of the finished product is tracked through several different steps.

The average value of an opportunity at Doncasters is around £1.6 million pounds ($2m), depending on the size and complexity of the order and the product lifetime. Once a component is in production, that may continue for anything from five to twenty-five years.

All products at Doncasters therefore have to go through a lengthy process before they enter production. The nature of precision manufacturing is that it can be anywhere from six months to three years before a part is ready for production and acceptable to be delivered to the customer. That means there are multiple projects going on at the same time — currently around 130-140, says Thomas — all of which have to be monitored carefully.

Keeping tabs on the process

Throughout this process, the NPDI and project control applications help managers keep tabs on what's happening, and help them respond quickly when they need to take action. The applications are designed to capture all relevant data and present it at-a-glance, with built-in triggers and alerts when action is needed. Thomas says this has had a big impact on performance:

At a project level, at a site level and a divisional level, everybody gets triggers and notifications of what's going on with each of these projects — which means our performance and delivery of these projects has grown massively.

There are several key points of integration where information is passed between Salesforce and other systems, such as Microsoft Projects, where the detailed project management takes place, and to and from the firm's back office systems.

For example, the order acceptance application, again built on the Salesforce platform, is triggered each time a sales order comes into the back-office ERP system. The commercial team then checks the terms and conditions, prices, and delivery dates on the sales order, making sure that they match the contract, which is also stored in Salesforce.

Doncasters has been able to build its bespoke applications on the Salesforce Lightning development platform with zero code, apart from two custom components that were built to order by a consulting partner. This made it quick to build and roll out the applications — it typically takes just three to four weeks to roll out an application to a site, including user acceptance testing and training for all users, says Thomas.

My take

Doncasters made huge improvements in the visibility and communication around its sales processes just by implementing a modern, global sales automation system. But the company then took things to a whole new level by adding its own custom applications. These have extended those same improvements into post-sales processes that are just as crucial to delivering what the customer has bought. This is a perfect example of the principle of frictionless enterprise in action — improving access to information, eliminating barriers to action and fostering collaboration.