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This week I visited four of our customers running SAP and a variety of other ERP systems in Tennessee. Once upon a time, a neighbor had joked that folks in the South might assume I was a Yankee given my English accent. I’ve always enjoyed the generous hospitality that the South has to offer, and this trip was no different.
We visited two furniture manufacturers, a plastics manufacturer and a life science firm. They all described how market conditions had created the need to lean out processes in order to get through the recession. Since then, they have endured continuous growth over the last few years with no funding available to hire new staff. All of the customers are using automation within their Shared Service operations to deliver better visibility and process efficiency.
I probed deeper on the topic of visibility. I’ve heard many folks claim they needed greater visibility into their processes—and I am making it a point to understand why.
Visibility Improving Order Entry for Life Science Business Processes
For the Life Science folks, greater visibility and reporting has enabled them to:
- Monitor the workload their individual Customer Service Reps (CSRs) are able to process. This allows the managers to share the workload across service teams during peak periods, such as year-end.
- Help identify the most productive reps to share their tips for best practices.
- Cut order entry times from 8 minutes to 2 minutes.
- Eliminate 2 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs).
- Avoid the need to hire 1 more FTE this year, despite several years of increasing order volume and new acquisitions due in 2014.
- Increase revenue from service contracts. They were able to flag up customers outside of contract much faster, enabling them to view previous orders, contract documents, and use the time saved through automation to educate customers and sell more.
Visibility Enhancing the Workflow Processes in the Furniture Industry
For the Furniture folks, the recession caused them to lose one third of their workforce in order to survive falling revenues from 2005 to 2010. Thankfully, they have experienced a healthy uptick in the last 18 months. Thanks to automation:
- CSRs, managers and warehouse staff are able to see every piece of paper or activity associated with a customer order. The original orders, changes orders, pick list, bill of lading and delivery notes are stored electronically and tied into the SAP/ERP transaction.
- CSRs can service the customers and advise them on order status and shipments three times faster than before thanks to added workflow visibility.
- Production planners are able to see the customer order and the associated history efficiently, which has slashed 6-10 hours of work time off of every order as they no long need to call the CSR and ask for a copy of the order to be placed in the Inter Company mail.
- Accounts Receivable and collections department have shortened daily sales outstanding (DSO) by 1.5 days, as customers pay more readily when they have all the necessary supporting AR documents available.
Visibility Allowing Automated Payable Processes to Shine for Plastics Companies
The Plastics Company explained that visibility within their automated payables processes has helped them to:
- Avoid negative impacts on their Supply Chain and in turn that means no delays for their Customers.
- Provide mobility to view and approve supplier invoices and customer sales orders ‘anywhere on, any device’ allowing staff greater means to review, approve, accrue and pay Accounts Payable invoices.
- Calculate customer demand faster from inbound orders that have not hit the SAP/ERP yet. Ultimately, this is filtering into shorter more flexible lead times—a common thing consumers have a habit of demanding.
What It All Boils Down To
Visibility, automation and process improvement are more than just today’s buzz words for company initiatives. They are enablers that allow companies to improve employee engagement, customer satisfaction, loyalty, keep pace with growth, and ultimately, achieve better revenue numbers. My take is that the folks in the South know what they are looking for—visibility and efficiency to help them provide excellent, proactive service and hospitality to their customers, suppliers and guests.