Implementation, Automation and COVID-19
2020 has been a year unlike any other and very few businesses have been able to continue on as before through the pandemic. Working from home, stricter hygiene regimes and new working practices, fluctuations in demand, even quickly-introduced new pandemic-oriented product lines are just some of the challenges that many of our customers have experienced.
As the pandemic began, FOBOS INVEST, a leader in co-packing and co-manufacturing in the Food and Beverage industry, was just completing the implementation of SAP Business One and the CompuTec solution suite. SAP’s Pre-Sales Director, Tomasz Niebylski, joined Kornel Krużewski, the head of IT at Fobos, for a power chat to talk about their experience with the solutions and the automation they offer, with the implementation process and of course, how the new ERP system has supported the business during the pandemic.
Background – About FOBOS INVEST
Fobos Invest was founded in 1989 in Poland. Since then, the business has become a key link in the supply chain for international brands such as Mars, Wrigley, Nestle, Unilever and more. As a co-manufacturing and co-packing specialist, Fobos Invest receives bulk deliveries of food products and repackages them for the retail sector. In certain cases, this also involves some manufacturing processes being carried out on the received goods.
A strong emphasis on health and safety, quality control, ethical practices and business transparency has driven Fobos Invest along a path of consistent growth since its foundation. Now with around 150 employees and counting, Fobos Invest is seeking new ways to accelerate growth. One of the first priorities was moving to a new ERP solution that would better support the scaling of the business. They chose SAP Business One with solutions from CompuTec to support the manufacturing and logistics sides of their business. As well as providing software solutions, CompuTec was directly involved in the project as Fobos Invest’s chosen implementation partner.
The following is a slightly adapted, condensed version of the 15-minute interview. The full recording, in the Polish language, is available at the following link: SAP Digital Forum – Fobos Invest.
Tomasz Niebylski: What motivated Fobos Invest to go down the route of digitalization?
Kornel Krużewski: We work with businesses all over the world. Our CEO travels a lot and visits a lot of other businesses many of whom use powerful ERP solutions such as SAP Business One or “Big SAP”. We were using our own bespoke software, a number of different solutions, and it became obvious, that it just wasn’t enough if we want to be competitive on the global market. We had to be open to the latest technologies.
TN: What was your main aim at that time?
KK: Becoming more competitive. SAP Business One offers us a lot more functionality than we had before – automation, production scheduling on a Gantt Chart, logistics and warehouse management to name just a few. We also wanted to have everything in one program and one database hosted on one server. Maintaining our previous system was putting a lot of pressure on our IT department. They were dealing with multiple servers and multiple programming languages. And in the end, it turned out that with SAP Business One, we weren’t just well prepared for operating in the 21st century, but we were also well prepared for working remotely as became necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
TN: Let’s talk about implementation? How did you cope with the changes? Was there some reluctance?
KK: Actually, we spent almost 6 months with CompuTec preparing for the implementation. During that time we learned a lot more about the possibilities that SAP Business One could offer us and that was very positive for us. There were lots of cases where mundane tasks could be entirely covered by SAP Business One instead of falling to our employees. The transition really wasn’t met with any opposition and in fact, I could describe it as well-received.
TN: Automating certain processes and improving efficiency is obviously positive from a management perspective but what about from your employees’ points of view? Let’s be honest, every employee worries about their job, especially in uncertain times such as we now face. Did you have to make any redundancies as a result of the implementation?
KK: Not even one. Everyone was really happy with the changes because being freed up from routine tasks meant they could focus on more interesting or creative tasks. They could learn about other aspects of the business, focus on developing their skill set and improving their processes. It allowed them to come up with more new ideas, finish their work faster. Really, only positives came out of it.
TN: So is it a fair assessment to say that the organization became more effective and by reducing time spent on routine tasks, it made the employees working lives more interesting?
KK: Yes, it is a real burden for employees to carry out dull, repetitive tasks day in, day out. Now a lot of that is taken care of by automation in SAP Business One. Our previous IT system just didn’t allow for that. When we interviewed our staff post-implementation, they overwhelmingly said they were happier.
TN: When you implemented SAP Business One did you have to adapt your business processes to suit the ERP solutions?
KK: No, we didn’t have to. From the outset, we had been looking for a system that was flexible enough to fit in with how we like to do things. We didn’t want to have to drastically change our processes to accommodate the capabilities of the ERP solution. Our perspective was that we wanted to invest in a system that could be adapted to suit us. And we definitely did find that in SAP Business One but when it comes down to it, I can’t say we didn’t change our processes at all because we did. But I mean that in a very positive sense. SAP Business One let us automate a lot of processes so of course, we did change things. Now the system does things for us that we had to do manually before. So there were changes, but thanks to SAP Business One, those changes were for the better and we’ve ended up with a lot more time available to focus on improving the businesses rather than dealing with monotonous tasks.
TN: Could you give us an example of how automation improved the business?
KK: Previously we planned production on a spreadsheet. Now we use a Gantt chart which provides us with a lot more information such as stock levels. We can see if we are in a position to start producing an order from there. Before, the planner had to contact people in various departments to gather all the necessary information. Now he can work independently just using the ERP system to support him even if he is planning a month ahead.
Then, when a manufacturing order is created in the system, a request to issue goods from the warehouse to production is sent to the warehouse. The guys in the warehouse can see the request on their mobile devices instantly. The warehouse doesn’t have to wait for the necessary documents to be processed and it’s easier to deliver the goods to the factory on time for production to begin at the scheduled time.
Or we could look at MRP and purchasing. We can see if stock levels are getting low and if they reach a certain level, SAP can send an order to our customer automatically. It means we just don’t run out of stock. And I could go on and on with more and more similar examples.
TN: Let’s talk about the Gantt chart that you mentioned? Is that something that comes as standard in SAP Business One?
KK: No, the Gantt chart is part of the manufacturing solution provided to us by CompuTec. CompuTec wasn’t only our implementation partner, they also have a suite of manufacturing solutions for SAP Business One that we implemented simultaneously too.
TN: So we are talking about extensions for SAP Business One?
KK: Yes. We use several CompuTec solutions. CompuTec ProcessForce handles manufacturing documents. Then there is CompuTec PDC which lets us capture data from the shop floor on mobile devices. That’s a really important one for us because without it, you would have to go to the office and log in to SAP and enter the production data there and even then, PDC presents the data in a more transparent way anyway. We also use their warehouse management system, CompuTec WMS which turned out to be a great option for us. On the whole, I would really recommend their SAP Business One extensions. They genuinely make everyday tasks much easier for us.
TN: You mentioned that you work with a lot of big companies. I would assume those companies have some specific standards about information sharing. Have you already implemented any kind of B2B integration? Or are you planning to do that?
KK: Yes, for example, one of our customers uses “Big SAP” and we are currently in the process of integrating with them so that they will be able to track the flow of goods through our business, how much of their goods we have in stock and what’s going on with production. Basically, they will know everything about what’s going on with their orders and then together we can better plan what we are going to produce together in the future.
TN: Now that you have the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you would change or do better during implementation? I suppose I am asking for what advice you could give to someone else who is about to embark on a similar journey now? What should they pay particular attention to?
KK: Preparing data. SAP works with really competent partners, such as the one we worked with. They supported us from start to finish throughout the whole process but preparing the data for migration was a challenge. It would be easier if you were starting in SAP Business One from scratch but we wanted to keep the data from our old system and migrate it to SAP so we would still be able to access it from there. We had a number of systems, which used about 5 different programming languages, a number of databases and it was a challenge to collate all that data and transfer it to SAP. That was definitely the biggest obstacle we faced. If we had the chance to do it again, we would definitely have put more effort into carefully preparing the data.
TM: We talked about how the implementation affected the organization as a whole, but what about for you personally as head of IT? How it improved things for you?
KK: Absolutely! Before I was constantly worried about maintaining 5 servers. Now we just have one HANA server which works in such a way that if one server breaks down, SAP automatically moves to a second server. So we have access to our data 100% of the time. We are also planning, again with CompuTec, to migrate our data to the cloud so that all employees will have easy access to the system no matter where they are.
TM: Now, let’s talk about COVID-19. Can you imagine what it would be like to be working from your old system during this pandemic?
KK: I don’t think we would have been in a position to allow people to work from home. The level of information sharing and contact required would have been impossible working from home. Before everything was run manually, you had to show people production documents, fill in those documents, and then someone entered data into the system. Now you just need one person who can carry out the given task in SAP Business One. That is of course key during this time when we have to limit physical contact between people. Thanks to SAP Business One, all the office staff can work from home. Even I am able to work from home. Under the old system, we would have had to stay in the office and that’s not even considering the challenges faced by production.
TM: Do you think there would have been problems?
KK: I’m not talking about a complete disaster or that the company would have ground to a standstill, but certainly, using the old system there would have been problems with completing orders on time and maintaining continuity of production. SAP Business One allows us to finish one order and be ready to get started in the next immediately afterwards.
TM: So you are saying that the changes to the way we work caused by COVID-19 were less painful because of SAP Business One.
KK: Yes, COVID definitely revealed further advantages of the SAP Business One implementation. It was a very big step for our business but I am glad to say, one that has really paid off for us.