Blowing Out ERP With SIs

Vendors turn to integrators to implement complex systems.

In these first years of the decade, manufacturing companies are increasingly looking for ways to get more out of the ERP systems they deployed in the 1990s.

One way theyre doing it is by turning to independent systems integrators for complex supply chain management and supplier relationship management add-on modules.

"No one wants to install an ERP and sit still," said Paul VandeVusse, director of application development at office furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc. But "in todays world, where you have to be faster and more flexible, you cant go out and hire more employees immediately," VandeVusse said.

VandeVusse has worked with a variety of SIs of many sizes, each of which has different strengths.

"Sometimes the systems integrator can help force things like getting decisions to be made and enforcing discipline so the scope of a project doesnt creep," VandeVusse said.

When deploying the newer ERP (enterprise resource planning) modules, VandeVusse first looked for an SI with experience in the software modules he needed: sales and distribution.

"In our industry, [understanding our unique] product data is very important," VandeVusse said.

The company found such an integrator in Intelligroup Inc., which has expertise in SAP AG and other ERP suites, as well as a cache of supply chain optimization and integration tools for SAP.

"At the end of the day, every customer is unique. ... Those processes have to be customer-developed and then need to be tweaked," said Prakash Easwaran, senior vice president of the SAP AG consulting practice at Intelligroup, based in Edison, N.J.

In addition to knowing the technology, Steelcases VandeVusse looks for SIs that are focused. "We [go] out looking for somebody who could fill a role," said VandeVusse, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Scotts Co. has a similar credo. The lawn-care-products manufacturer hired Denver-based SI BoldTech Systems Inc. for six weeks to upgrade the multibillion-dollar companys EDI (electronic data interchange) connections from modems to AS2. BoldTech finished the project in four weeks.

"We went faster because we had an internal flowchart—that made a big difference," said Lori Boyer, an EDI specialist at Scotts, in Marysville, Ohio. "Instead of hiring a contractor and asking him what we need, we gave him a flowchart and told him what we need."

But theres a limit to how much expertise is necessary. Big software developers such as SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, typically have in-house integration services. In fact, Steelcase occasionally buys SAPs services, although VandeVusse said going to the developer can be pricey.

"We bring [SAP services] in when we need a black belt," he said.