Here's my problem with cloud ERP upgrade stories: they tend to stop short of true business benefits. I'm not just talking about quantifiable benefits - those always matter. But shouldn't modern ERP provide a new way of working? Far less dependent on IT - and far more adaptable to business users?
IT landscape simplification and better APIs? Yes, that's all good. But that's just a starting point. On Infor's recent webinar, Six steps to a data-driven organization (replay free with sign up), I heard a customer story that stood out from the pack. I followed up.
From spreadsheet bottlenecks to automating workflows
On my follow-up Zoom call with Steve McEnany, Vice President Marketing and Technology at Midwest Wheel Companies, I was expecting a good story. That's not the half of it. How about a cloud ERP upgrade with no outside services firm? How about a platform where McEnany can automate new workflows for business users whenever they need? How about getting those cloud systems tested by a hurricane, and then a pandemic?
Yeah, I don't hear that often. Especially from an automotive industry customer, a vertical hit hard by the pandemic economy. This story goes back to 2015. That's when Midwest Wheel went to Infor SX.e on premise (SX Enterprise). Managing on-premise systems wasn't a picnic. As McEnany told the webinar audience, he learned the hard way about the downside of "spreadsheet bottlenecks" - and the lack of a single source of truth.
The move to CloudSuite Field Service - "we've used very few consulting dollars"
Over the next few years, McEnany led Midwest Wheel into a cloud mindset. That also included upgrading Infor's Web UI. Midwest Wheel moved to a cloud-based service shop solution; their Birst analytics were also cloud-based (Infor now owns Birst). By 2019, it was time to up the cloud ante. As McEnany told me:
It just made sense for us to take the hardware we've had, continue to use it to run our user sessions internally, and move the business system into the cloud.
In October 2019, Midwest Wheel gave the green light for Infor CloudSuite Field Service. But this was not a typical "team of cloud consultants" project. McEnany stuck to his self-service IT philosophy:
We did it in one big package. We went into CloudSuite Field Service with the attitude that we wanted to build our own shop. So we read a lot of documentation, learn how it worked, and integrated it. Really, we've used very, very little consulting our dollars... We tend to be pretty independent, and work hard to understand how it's designed.
But self-sufficient IT doesn't mean going it alone. McEnany's cloud philosophy was heavily influenced by Infor's Inforum user conferences (upcoming virtual Inforum is Sept 15-16).
I've gone to Inforum every year since 2015. Inforum's a big event; I watched cloud attitudes evolve, from people saying, "I'm not sure if I want to do that or not," to last year's sessions, where everybody was like, "When are we going to do it? What's the date?" So it's really become mainstream.
People's hardware ages, and you start looking at making that next big purchase. Well, not only can you get your new hardware, putting it in the cloud, it's redundant and backed up.
"We'll be one hundred percent in the cloud by this weekend"
Midwest Wheel just had a close call with the perils of hosting your own data center:
We got hit with the hurricane that hit Iowa a couple weeks ago. We were running on generators with our SFC database for that week. If that doesn't bring to your attention the need to make the move to the cloud and get that done, I don't know what will.
A major cloud milestone is coming:
As a matter of fact this weekend, we will move the last piece to the cloud for infor. So we'll be a hundred percent in the cloud at that point.
Midwest Wheel is definitely loaded up on Infor Cloud products. This Infor writeup (sign up required) details the software in use, including: CloudSuite Field Service, Birst, Total Warehouse Logistics, Infor OS and more. But how about results? Some of the benefits to date:
- Better visibility into inventory - improved vendor fill rates by as much as 15%
- Improvement in vendor relationships and customer service.
- The sales team can identify and correct issues quicker
- IT is free to focus on more strategic issues.
A customer quote like this one resonates:
The fact that we’re not running around putting out fires anymore has made a huge impact on our productivity.
Writing your own business workflows
But that's a benefit you hear about in most good cloud ERP implementations. However, the next quote is different. It speaks to real-time alerts and new workflows:
Midwest Wheel's CloudSuite Distribution has a workflow set up that helps identify all new customers, their orders, and determines if the prices match Midwest Wheel's standards. Management is automatically notified, giving them visibility into operations with little effort required.
After the last Inforum, McEnany quickly wrote up three new workflows with Infor ION because of the conversations at the event. I asked McEnany if he is still loading up on workflows.
Absolutely. We can set up rules to say, "If these particular set of circumstances go on, automatically release the order off of credit hold." It doesn't really need a credit manager. If you've already laid out the rules, you know what they are, and the order pops up. I don't need anything more than to tell me that it did it.
Automation with alerts gets the job done:
We have alerts and processes that if one of our accounts payable or accounts receivable clerks loads a new account, and they try to save it, and they get around the validation, it'll alert me that says, "Hey, there's a new account created yesterday that didn't meet the pricing model criteria, or didn't have an EDI field set correctly."
To get legacy ERP to do what McEnany is doing, you'd need a big IT team with sleeves rolled up - customizing at the expense of upgrade viability. Or maybe you'd bring in a team consultants.
With this setup, McEnany serves business users practically on his own (he says he has one other IT person that helps out). But in these cloud scenarios, McEnany can just get on with it:
That kind of flexibility, we didn't really have that in the old system. You couldn't go in there and edit the rules. And with extensibility, you really can now.
Subtle, customer-friendly enhancements are part of this story also, Midwest Wheel customers can leave a note that pops up before their order is shipped. Small tweak? Yes, but it's the kind of tweak old school ERP systems weren't capable of - not without some extended time in the IT shop.
Midwest Wheel has its hands full coping with the shifts in demand this year, but their own remote transition to CloudSuite Distribution was smooth. McEnany says the only challenge was locating enough laptops - otherwise their team was able to carry on
Most of Midwest Wheel's 250+ employees touch the Infor systems in some way. That includes the CEO, who is on it every day. The only glitch, jokes McEnany: the CEO wants his reports updated mid-day. McEnany says his CEO will get his wish, as soon as a pending data lake project is complete.
We talked about the impact of Birst on Midwest Wheel's reporting. That ties right into this picture. Static reports caught up in the IT bottleneck are being replaced with dynamic reports and dashboards. From looking backwards to anticipating problems - that's a pretty decent summary of what IT managers should be getting out of ERP.