Why Excel spreadsheets could be limiting your company’s growth?
Excel's limitations hinder business growth; bespoke ERP solutions enable scalability and efficiency.
Four04 is a privately owned company which supplies packaging materials to a range of industries, but specialises in the food sector and is one of the leading packaging producers in the UK. Customer service, innovation and social responsibility lie at the forefront of their business goals and they promise a professional and passionate service to all their customers. In order to fulfil these promises, Four04 recognises that it is important to have the right tools and technology.
Better late than never. What did we have to work with?
Four years ago, Four04 utilised a range of spreadsheets linked with their macros to support the running of their business. Excel Spreadsheets are a powerful, convenient and immensely popular tool to use among businesses, particularly during the initial stages of business development.
Spreadsheets can store and analyse large amounts of data, and users have access to several data visualisation tools to efficiently display the results of data analysis such as pie charts, histograms and bar charts. More generally, Excel appeals to many businesses because it is cheap, accessible and easy to use.
Despite the numerous advantages of Excel, the software is constrained by limitations that can transform Excel into a burden on the development of a business, instead of a tool of support. As a business grows, and data multiplies and becomes more complex, Excel cannot handle or manage data in a reliable, efficient and convenient way. This happens for a number of reasons. As the data that needs to be input grows, the time taken to input grows, the risk of human error grows, the more information becomes spread out and the slower the Excel application works.
Upon evaluating their business model, Four04 felt that Excel was no longer suitable for their needs. The company uncovered a number of areas that needed to be improved and made more efficient.
This included their:
- Supplies management
- Delivery time
- Production planning and monitoring
- Level of customer service
As they said; “We were in desperate need of an update to our order processing system and more importantly a stock management system, which we did not have at all”.
At the root of their problems, they realised, was the way that they were storing and managing production-related data. Four04 did not have an appropriate IT system to support their business goals. These goals included purchasing and incorporating a production plant into their organisation, increasing the number of customers, shortening the time-to-market of products and improving their financial liquidity by optimising the warehouse and production management.
The first steps
In order to find an IT system that could better support their business goals, Four04 initially looked for an out-of-the-box solution. It soon became apparent however, that such a solution would require adapting the whole organisation to suit the requirements of the software. This would take up too much time and money and didn’t suit their long-term goals. Instead, they approached a small local software developer, but again quickly discovered that this path would not meet their requirements either.
They recounted “We initially began the project with another company, but we very quickly concluded that they were not up to the job. It transpired that the business was a one-man band—a project manager with very little experience who contracted external programmers. It was this company which, realising that they were out of their depth, eventually introduced us to HeadChannel”.
The start of something new
Right from the start, we recognised that communication, transparency and collaboration was vital for a successful partnership to flourish.
By highlighting the areas of greatest concern for our work together, Four04 made us aware of what they needed reassurance on, and what we needed to prioritise in our project for them.
These areas included:
- The duration of the project
- The costs of the project
- The lack of IT knowledge and specialists among Four04 staff
Four04 also agreed to commit to cooperation with us around several key business areas. The focus of cooperation included:
- Observation and accurate analysis of business processes in Four04
- Identification of the bottlenecks in every company department
- Identification of the responsible decision makers among clients
- Analysis of the business development plans to prepare in the early stages for future development of the software
- The business and organisational goals that were set
The plan of action
Once we understood their greatest concerns and we had the opportunity to get to work on several key areas of cooperation, we started to build up our knowledge of Four04 and the goals it had for a new IT system.
We developed an implementation plan based on the following assumptions;
- We should solve the most significant problems in order to bring immediate financial results and help to finance future investments
- We should help to develop new processes in the company in order to improve efficiency and productivity
- We should ensure that the system we develop will be future proof. It should allow for the implementation of new features following the company’s development plans and it should be adapted for scalability and reusability
- The system we develop should consider market opportunities, threats and business goals
- Based on these assumptions, we proposed a bespoke Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system with a modular structure and implementation planned for several years, which was synchronised with the implementation of the company’s business development activities. An ERP system is a type of software that organisations use to manage their day-to-day business activities. It connects different business processes together and facilitates a free-flowing synchronised data exchange between these processes.
It was important to make sure that the ERP system was configured for the specific needs and requirements of Four04. This was achieved by tailoring the individual modules of the ERP system to the areas that were highlighted as the most important for Four04’s operational processes.
- Stock control
- Price matrices (this enables a company to determine the correct price of products and takes currency rates into account)
- Product management
- Customer management system
- Order processing system
- Production planning system
- Purchase and sales invoice tracking
- C-level financial reporting
- Data analysis based on Power BI
We also aimed to give our client a competitive advantage by guaranteeing several key features. These included:
- Ease and efficiency of use
- Ensuring that the best UX and CX practises were put in place, in addition to the top technologies and project management methodologies
- Minimising future costs and risks
Behind the scenes: How did we do it?
Audit and consulting
We aimed to analyse and understand the business processes and customer problems of Four04. We considered the solution prepared by the previous software contractor and concluded that it would be quicker and cheaper to build the new system from scratch. This also allowed us to scale the system more easily in the future.
Technical and business design
We researched industry standards, and developed a solution that corresponded to existing business practices. We were even able to optimise some of these processes based on the information we collected.
We developed our system in step-by-step modules. This approach allowed us to deal with our most important problems first and then gather feedback for future work.
We aimed to deliver ongoing support and product development to Four04 as part of our commitment to excellent customer service.
During the analysis and prototyping stage of our solution, we held regular workshops with Four04.
Research on demand
In order to fulfil our customer service promises, we took the time to consider and recommend further innovative solutions that could benefit Four04. We also advised them on the best technology and hardware solutions.
Much more than just development
Over the following four years, a successful and rewarding partnership has blossomed. The following lists the projects we have achieved together:
- Implementation of the stock control system
- Implementation of the manufacturing brokerage process
- Implementation of the production management and planning system, including the incorporation of the new production plant into the organizational structure
- Price matrices
- Product management
- Customer management
- Order processing
- Production planning
- Purchase and sales invoice management
- C-level financial reporting
- Power BI data analysis
The more we worked together, the more our mutual understanding developed and the faster our development of software and IT solutions became. The following lists a few of the benefits we have provided to Four04:
- Automation of many processes related to inventory and product turnover
- Significant reduction of storage costs due to elimination of losses, increase of rotation and reduction of inventory
- Seamless integration of the new production plant with the company structure
- Optimising and implementing new, more efficient processes adjusted to market standards
- Improved visibility of stock levels and availability
- Tracking selected changes per user
- Profiling system per permission
- Product specification templates
We feel that we can confidently judge our partnership with Four04 as a success. We feel privileged to have benefitted the company in a multitude of ways. This success is reflected in the dramatic business growth of Four04 since we started working together. The first year after the launch of our new system, the company’s profit increased by 30%. After three years, their profit growth doubled.
After being asked for feedback on the work that we have achieved together with Four04, The Operations Director described how “The system HeadChannel has created for us has enabled us to keep control of our rapidly expanding business. At the time we started the project, we were turning over around £10 million, now we are over £20 million and the system has without a doubt, enabled us to manage this growth”.
“As a direct result of HeadChannel’s contributions, the company has managed to cope with rapid and substantial growth. The team is very reactive, knowledgeable, intelligent, and polite. Their ability to read between the lines and proactively offer solutions sets them apart from other service providers”.
It brings us great delight to hear such glowing reviews about our team, our service and our partnership. We pride ourselves on our ability not just to fulfil but to exceed our client’s expectations, and we hope to continue to provide this level of service to Four04 and other clients.
- Team – Developers 6 (Team Lead, Senior backend dev 3, Senior frontend dev 2), UX designer 1, QA 2, BA 1, PM 1
- Project management – Scrum for production and Kanban for maintenance
- Technology – NopCommerce, ASP.NET MVC, AngularJS, Bootstrap, MS SQL Server, SignalR, PowerBI