I've done my share of cloud ERP upgrade use cases. That won't change - ERP vendors love to blast out their latest cloud customer wins. But I want more than that. I want demonstrations of post-go-live impact.
I want to see how customers are extracting value from cloud ERP in a customer-first world. I also want to see how cloud ERP is changing industries. That's why Infor's Combilift story grabbed me from the get-go. Check this, from Infor customer Combilift:
Infor's Platform Technology is foundational to our Infor CloudSuite Industrial ERP. We partnered with Infor to leverage integrated cloud technologies to address key priorities for improving employee and customer retention through better tools for decision making.
How often do you read about cloud-based industrial ERP - not for just for manufacturing, but for "employee and customer retention," and better decision making? Oh, and you don't see this everyday:
When a manager logs into CloudSuite at the start of the day, a personalized homepage provides immediate visibility into the production line, to better plan the day and reduce the stress of not having to go to the production floor for status updates.
Yep, that beats a trip to the shop floor for updates. Then I read this:
Using integrated Infor Coleman AI, the parts recommender takes 3 years of past order data to generate upsell and cross-sell item recommendations.
Behind Combilift's platform modernization - a different kind of IT relationship
Now we're talking - that's well beyond slapping a simplistic bot on your home page. Earlier in 2022, I reached out to Infor, asking for more public information on this story. They responded - first with their own blog post, How to improve part recommendations with Infor AI, and then with an opportunity to interview the Combilift team directly. So, in between Combilift's fall project deadlines, I had a chance to talk to dig into this project, via a call with Kenny Gilmour, Global Parts Manager at Combilift, and IT Manager Fearghal McCorriston.
Why has Combilift been aggressive with cloud ERP innovation? As McCorriston explained to me, it comes down to a different IT philosophy: serve the business.
I've been here five years now. In those five years, Combilift has changed quite a lot. We're in a new factory these last five years. The aim is really to drive forward, to grow, to expand, and to meet the needs of our growing customer base.
So from an IT perspective, my team's goal is to bring as much innovation as we can to the business - to move away from the manual tasks that a lot of IT teams are doing at the minute. We are using the Infor suite of products a lot more now, and we're investigating a lot of the bolt-ons to address areas that definitely need to be more automated.
Combilift is one of those companies that isn't a household name, but builds machinery we rely on. Today, Combilift is the largest global manufacturer of multi-directional forklifts. Headquartered in Ireland, Combilift exports to more than 85 countries, and has more than 60,000 trucks in use worldwide. This bit of Combilift PR caught my eye:
No other manufacturer in the world can deliver the same level of customization and adaptability, or cater so effectively to the diverse needs of every individual customer, whether their enterprise is large or small.
To deliver on that type of customization, you're going to need a modern technology platform. But as Gilmour explained to me, Combilift was like most growth companies: they outgrew their original tech stack.
As Combilift's Global Parts Manager, I'm responsible for the supply of parts for every Combilift built. I started 15 years ago next month. We grew the team from four to 44 in our Ireland headquarters. Obviously, as time goes by, you always find a new bottleneck, whether that be getting staff - or the processes you're using become outdated. We're constantly growing all the time; we're always looking to see how we can use automation.
From what Gilmour says, his relationship with McCorriston's IT team is about as "open door" as you can get:
To be honest with you, I'm probably one of the most popular visitors to Fearghal's office. I'm always asking him, ' What can we do to work more autonomously, and remove the fact that we're constantly doing these same mundane cycles to complete the workload?'
Putting Coleman AI to the test - personalizing recommendations and workflows
To achieve this modern platform, Infor has proven to be an essential partner. Gilmour's team put the challenge to Infor:
We approached Infor, looking to make dashboards on workspaces where the information was more common - with prompts to the team that's using them. From there, Infor gave us case studies on companies that have changed, and taken on some of the new products that they offer.
Infor made the case for Coleman AI's role:
I was intrigued by Coleman AI, and the fact that their computer system can effectively tell you what to sell... So rather than the team having to be really highly trained, and literally sit back for months, collect information and learn how our machines are put together, how different components are used, and all this kind of stuff, we can use Coleman AI to do this for us instead.
One thing about this case study: I'm not writing about roadmap bells and whistles. Everything mentioned is now live in production. So, I asked Gilmour - what are the results so far?
Whenever a new member of our staff starts, the biggest obstacle is training them how to use the ERP system; train them how to use our manual system, but then Coleman AI can fit in as many gaps as possible outside of that. It definitely is doing that for us. Some of our staff now, by using Coleman AI, are advancing a lot quicker than people in the past would have - simply because they have the prompt there to say, 'Oh, you may also need to quote this part.'
Even just to ask the question, and direct that person to go and check to see: is that part compatible or not? It's then building up our quotient, and making the tech team perform better. We can also use Coleman AI for, if we're selling the same parts together, we're picking them together, and therefore we should be stocking them together.
Project results to date - beyond transactional ERP
Coleman AI is proving relevant to the lines of business:
It's not just bringing efficiencies to our tech team here. It's also bringing efficiency to our order picking team. The inventory team can better stage the components, and make it more efficient to go and pick them. Their journey with Coleman AI is only getting started.
There's plenty to do ahead, but the project results are coming in:
- 30% increase in first-time fixes
- 30% faster completion of service jobs
- 30% increase in revenue per transaction
- 40% reduction in service job costs
- 75% faster time to determine related parts (from 20 minutes to 5 minutes)
- Improved customer satisfaction and referrals due to less equipment downtime
- Improved efficiency with less time training new hires
What strikes me about this use case? The next-gen cloud ERP aspects. This isn't just a transactional system - we can make connections to customer satisfaction, revenues, and onboarding. For the last few years, my stump speech has been: cloud ERP go-lives are just the beginning. The biggest benefits lie down the road, extracting value from workflow automation, personalized dashboards, and many other factors beyond transactional ERP. In a manufacturing setting, where talent needs are typically at urgent levels, this kind of result is what companies need.
But there's a big catch: you need the right software vendor, the right type of partnership, and a determination to push for these results. They don't land in your lap because of "AI" or any other new tech.
The CloudSuite project - cloud ERP advantages (and challenges)
However: it's important to note that these advanced benefits aren't possible without the core ERP system running smoothly. Operationally stable ERP is still non-negotiable. Even moreso in manufacturing, where mission-critical processes are in play. And, for their Coleman AI use plans, Combilift needed to get their Infor Data Lake operational also.
I find it very disappointing that most ERP use cases I come across do not acknowledge project challenges. Sorry, but there always will be. Every project and partnership gets tested. In this case, the Combilift team told me that the CloudSuite Industrial go-live did indeed bring challenges.
Why CloudSuite Industrial? As McCorriston explained:
We made the decision to go to CloudSuite Industrial in November 2020. We moved over in March 2021. The main driver was the extra functionality that we're going to get - all the extra modules that were included on CloudSuite Industrial, the fact that the product could be available anywhere, not just in the office. We have a lot of people out on the road that need have access to it; this would give them that access.
There's also the advantage of never having to do another upgrade. So, never having to go through the pain of doing a huge upgrade... We were told at the time that we signed the agreement that it could take up to a year or longer to get everything moved over. We got moved over in just five months.
As for the project challenges, it sounded to me like classic change management issues were a big factor - users resisting the move to new systems ("the screen looks different," etc.) But good projects overcome this. For Gilmour, cloud-based ERP has already proven itself over on-prem:
We've integrated factory tracking, and we're looking at a warehouse management system. We have connected APIs from CloudSuite to our transport couriers, which we couldn't do with on-premise. Without going to CloudSuite, all these other automations and improvements that we want to make couldn't be made.
Needless to say, remote access to CloudSuite during the pandemic proved invaluable. Bonus: the localized performance for the distribution center in the US is "drastically" improved, reducing the number of order takers needed. "CloudSuite did away with all those issues," says Gilmour.
Of course, there are adjustments. You can't customize the code of a true cloud ERP. But there are creative ways around that as well. Example: Combilift needs to change to how they plan production in MRP. In this case, McCorriston's team developed the SQL code in-house. Infor approved the code, and will be adding the functionality on their side.
The wrap - "it's changed the life of our production managers"
I keep coming back to the example at the top - of the production manager that logs into their home page, and gets an immediate shop floor update. Is that as impactful as it sounds? Gilmour:
It's definitely changed the life of our production managers. They have access to all the data they need, first thing in the morning from their computer, without having to run reports, without having to go out and check with line supervisors on the floor.
What's next? You keep going; you keep pushing for as much impact as you can. McCorriston:
Obviously, as time goes on, we're going to find a lot more things we're going to be able to use Coleman AI to do. One thing we will always try to do here is get the most out of any module, or anything that we're using.
So we're back to the roadmap, and the strength of the partnerships - between Combilift and Infor, and between business and IT. What can the Combilift team share about their winning approach here? Gilmour says it's the opposite of giving IT a project, and not hearing anything until you finish:
We work hand in hand as the project develops, to get it to where they believe it needs to be, and where I believe it needs to be.
And from the IT side? McCorriston:
The scope of a project might end up as a slightly different deliverable at the end. So it's important that we keep the communication; we keep us our relationship going.
And has Infor stepped into the fray as well?
The Infor showcase team that Kenny had mentioned - those people are great... We've thrown ideas at them; they've come back with solutions, and we've worked very well together.
Yes, there is some cool tech in play here, well beyond your grandpappy's ERP. But make no mistake - it's the caliber of these relationships that makes all of this stick.