Cheshire-based Extronics is a fast-growing specialist manufacturer and supplier of electrical and electronic equipment for use in hazardous areas. As a strongly sales-led organisation it needs a robust and capable Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, but it also has demanding business software requirements for its manufacturing operations and back-office functions.
When it came to look for a replacement for the diverse and disparate solutions it had used in the past it recognised the value of an integrated system and invested in WinMan ERP software.
As Operations Manager Nick Saunders explains: “We used to work with a number of disparate systems for accounting, manufacturing, customer relationship management and so on, as well as various other bolt-on bits and pieces. We made it work together in a way that worked for us for a good few years. But it came to a point where the business was growing, we were doing more manufacturing and it really wasn’t working anymore.”
Managing Director John Hartley adds: “Things were getting slow, it wasn’t scalable, there was unsupported software and it was becoming a risk to the business. We knew we needed an ERP system.”
Having researched the market thoroughly and drawn up a short list, the Extronics management team decided on WinMan as the supplier that could best match its needs.
John says: “What we wanted above all was lots of flexibility and the ability to configure products in the system – for us that was an absolute must. When we looked at the things we wanted, WinMan ticked more boxes than anyone else and it had more CRM functionality.”
At the heart of the WinMan CRM is the way it uses opportunities/projects to bring together customer information, create quotes and drive through orders.
Internal Sales Manager Karen Bentley explains: “We set up a project/opportunity for every sales enquiry or proactive opportunity and we use that as the ‘house’ for all the information that relates to it. Within that we generate the quotes, hold all the email correspondence and phone call information, and ultimately create the final sales order within that project.”
She continues: “We have different ways of storing information within WinMan. Information that just relates to a company will be stored in the company record, and this includes for example, any contractual agreements we have with them. Anything that relates to a specific contact we can store on the contact record – if you have a communication with a specific contact it is also logged on the company record. You can access this information in different places – and things that relate to an enquiry or an opportunity are logged within the relevant project/opportunity.
“Once a project/opportunity is completed it is closed down, but you can always access the project information, and again, all the conversations, etc, are logged on the contact. So when you speak to them again, even if you are not viewing the project, you can still see the history. And obviously you can use that when you approach them for future sales opportunities.”
The same approach is used for logging support cases, says Nick Saunders: “If someone calls up for technical support we log it as a support case. We do the same whether someone compliments us or complains. We also log non-conformance and preventative actions as support cases.
“So if sales are talking to a particular customer, they are forewarned if there are any issues. And if they have complimented us they can pick up on that.”
CRM data can also be used for forecasting and analysis. When projects get to the active stage and the client has allocated a budget, this information can be used to help operations and engineering look ahead to what they need to be ordering.
“We are making very special products where delivery times can be quite long. So we need to get smart in our forward buying,” says John Hartley. He says Extronics also tracks how many of its quotes turn into orders.
“We tend to have a conversion rate of around 50%, which is pretty good, but if any project is lost we want to know why and will put that in the system so we can analyse that data. Are we losing out because of price, lead times or whatever?”
Extronics offers its customers a lot of possible variants in the products it manufactures, so WinMan’s integrated product configurator module is crucial. It is used on a number of products, in particular iWAPS wireless access points.
Nick Saunders says: “You can have an aluminium enclosure or a stainless enclosure, different numbers of antennae, different access points from different vendors, different power sources, whether the product needs heating or cooling systems and so on. WinMan has allowed the product to be very configurable.”
John Hartley adds: “It means that someone in our sales team can just pick the specification they want from a menu. It gives them a price and locks out any choices that aren’t allowed in that specific configuration. So you can quote things rapidly without any errors and present that information in the right way. Then, once that order has been won, it generates a bill of materials.”
Nick says: “For us that was the killer. As soon as that order is firm we know exactly what materials we need. It has made us a lot more efficient as a business. In the past, generating the bill of materials could take up to a week – now our sales people do it automatically when they put a quote together.”
John Hartley says: “The really key thing on configured products was the fact that non-technical sales people could produce quotes simply by asking the customer a series of questions. It is a simple way of doing a quote for what is quite a technical product.”
Of course, WinMan also includes MRP software, which Nick Saunders says is comparable in functionality to the previous dedicated system Extronics was using, but, he adds, more configurable.
John Hartley says: “MRP is MRP, but we could not run our business without it. It runs behind the scenes and people don’t think about it. Once you get to a certain size as a manufacturer you would be crazy doing it manually. We use it to log our stock in and out and are able to pull that data and look at it to do our planning.”
“Traceability is really important to us,” says Nick Saunders. “We need to know which component went into which product for which customer. We track everything. For me one of the key functions of WinMan is traceability. Everything is traceable. We know exactly the path a product took through the company.”
An area where traceability is equally important is document management and engineering change control. Again this is integrated in Extronics’ WinMan document management software.
Nick Saunders says: “We put our documents in a library. When we want to change them we check them out and the system locks them so that nobody else can make any changes. It gives you everything you would expect from a document control system. We also had a bit of customisation done with respect to managing Engineering Change Notes. This allows us to ask, ‘If I change this document, what else does it affect?’ For example, if you change a design you have to change the instruction manual and the installation guide and so on. The Engineering Change Note (ECN) system controls this. That works pretty well.
“What is key for us is traceability. We hold certification for our products and on each certificate is listed a number of drawings. We need to know that those drawings can’t be changed without a proper engineering change process – without there being a proper review.”
He says: “We have integrated the document control that WinMan provided into our compliance systems for ISO 9001 and the international standards for hazardous areas. We have to demonstrate to an auditor how we know that we have the current live version of a document. How does the operator know it is the right one? That is where WinMan works beautifully.”
Summing up, John Hartley says the great benefit of moving to WinMan has been to have an integrated system in which the individual elements have been at least as good as the stand-alone systems Extronics was using previously.
“You have all the benefits of an integrated system that takes you from quote to order. When you have disparate systems you don’t have that. The obvious gains are all there, no double handling, no re-keying errors – as soon as you are entering data in another system that information can be misinterpreted and the next thing you know you are delivering the wrong goods.
“Normally, when you move to an ERP system after you have been using a dedicated CRM system you have to make compromises, but WinMan has allowed us to be at least as good as we were before.
“It was the best CRM functionality we saw within an ERP system. They had CRM that let us work in the way that we were accustomed to and made sense from the point of view of tracking business opportunities, campaigns and customer interactions. It almost mirrored what we were doing before, but it was part of an integrated system. If you can get everything in one system that is a very attractive proposition – it all links together, it is all in one place.”