When First Aid Only, maker of first-aid kits, installed its enterprise resource planning system four years ago, the company’s chief financial officer added a project manager to the staff.
The CFO, Steve Porter, said hiring a full-time project manager specifically to work on the 2009 ERP implementation was one of his best decisions — a key to the project’s success. It was also important to have a project manager whose chief allegiance was to First Aid Only, not the software provider, he said.
“Without that focus and dedication by an individual, I don’t think it would have been nearly as successful,” Porter said. “A lot of times companies try to use internal existing resources to do these things. There’s always a conflict there, because they still have their regular jobs to do. I think it was well worth the extra dollars that were spent to do that.”
First Aid Only Inc., based in Vancouver, Wash., assembles, stocks and sells first-aid kits and cabinets for homes and businesses. The company has about 100 employees and an IT staff of one.
First Aid Only installed Microsoft Dynamics GP, originally developed by Great Plains Software, for its ERP system in November 2009 and updated its servers at the same time. The company uses the manufacturing module in the software to handle its bills of material and routings, among other duties, and the system is set up to track and plan company activities and to produce cost statements.
Before adopting the Dynamics GP system, the company had an old “green-screen” character-based computer system, Porter said.
“We knew we needed something better than that,” he said. “We needed something that would allow us to do MRP [material requirements planning], and that had better standard costing capabilities and more flexibility to meet various customer requirements. And it also needed to have better financial applications for financial reporting.”
Before Porter joined First Aid Only, the company had evaluated Dynamics GP and its capabilities. He examined the company’s work and agreed with the conclusion: that Dynamics GP would be a good fit.
“From what I could see, it seemed to meet all of the basic requirements that we had,” Porter said. “We’re not a big company, so our needs are not that sophisticated. And I really felt like any system would probably work, because one of my approaches to any type of enterprise system is to deal with it with the least amount of customization as possible.”
By minimizing customization, he said, “It’s easier to support and upgrade essentials on. It’s often a lot easier just to change some internal business processes, if you can, rather than trying to customize the software. I think too often — and I’ve been through this experience myself before — companies get very married to their processes internally, and can’t see themselves changing, so they then go down the path of trying to customize the software. It never is usually a real successful experience.”
One example: First Aid Only had some complex business rules that determined whether it charged freight costs on sales to its customers.
“It was the kind of thing that would have been very, very difficult to customize, to be able to build those rules into software logic,” Porter said. “We ended up simplifying those rules a bit to lessen the amount of effort that was necessary to customize the software.”
Customizing software — beyond the initial expense of paying a programmer and testing — also creates an ongoing cost for support. “Every time you pick up the phone or send an email, the meter starts running,” he said.
“No system is going to be an absolute perfect fit,” Porter said. “With every business you’re going to have to do some modifications here and there, but it was important to me to do as little as that as possible to allow for an implementation that went as quickly as possible, with the least cost possible, and also to be able to provide a platform and an environment for ongoing support that would be successful.”
First Aid Only uses a Microsoft-certified third-party IT consultant, which the company selected after its first post-2009 third-party consultant did not perform well enough with its support.
“With any enterprise system, there are a lot of parts and pieces to it; no one is going to be an expert on everything. You need to find someone who has got the breadth of staff that specializes in different areas that can cover at least all the things that are most important to you,” Porter said. For First Aid Only, it was important to find a provider with some depth of knowledge in manufacturing.
First Aid Only has discussed moving to the cloud, but has so far decided to keep running software on its own servers and virtual servers, Porter said. “Certainly we don’t have any issues or concerns about security. I think as long as you’re selecting a good partner, they’re going to have more robust security capability than we would ourselves,” based on his talks with IT security professionals, Porter said.
One reason for the company’s hesitancy about moving to cloud-based enterprise software is a concern about the loss of control, such as with the timing of software upgrades, which could be disruptive for a small company, Porter said.
First Aid Only will eventually move to the cloud. “I think it’s inevitable; I think most companies will,” he said. “I think the security issue will become a bigger and bigger issue as time goes on, and that’s going to drive a lot of it. Cost is going to drive it — it just gets to the point where it doesn’t make sense to own hardware.”