10 November 2015

One of the biggest challenges businesses face today is how to best manage their data. As businesses grow and diversify the information systems behind the scenes become fragmented. There are two different paths organisations can take when deciding on an information systems strategy.

Path A: An all-in-one ERP solution

The most common strategy employed around the world by large organisations is to implement an ERP system such as SAP or JD Edwards. These solutions power some of the world’s biggest businesses. It is seen as a proven, low-risk option as long as there are experts and resources on-hand to support the system 24/7.

But is it the best option? Take, for example, a modern transport and logistics provider that operates globally. They need a system that can:

● Track the movement of goods around the world
● Pick and dispatch orders in their warehouses
● Communicate with their customers in real-time electronically
● Keep track of all the money coming in and going out

And that doesn’t include the countless small systems required to track drivers and their vehicles, clear goods through customs, manage payroll and a customer facing website, etc.

A single system such as SAP can handle all of these tasks. But can it handle them well? Not in our view. A SAP installation typically costs millions of dollars and additional changes to functionality are very expensive. That’s fine if you want to do an average job but if you want to use IT to give your business an edge then you need information systems that adapt to your business, not ones that require you to change your business to fit.

Path B: A plethora of tailored solutions

An alternative to the All-in-One ERP Solution is to write custom solutions that meet the unique needs of your business. By working with a professional solutions provider our hypothetical transport and logistics provider can have their:

● Freight tracking system, customised to meet their exact requirements
● Best-of-breed warehouse solution with a flexibility pick and dispatch process
● Best-of-breed EDI solution that interacts with their customers' IT systems in real time
● Fully-featured accounting system

Sounds ideal, right? The downside, however, is the quality of the data. The fragmentation of the growing company remains an issue, and it's being multiplied by the plethora of systems used to run the business. While the business may be able to pick goods in their warehouses quickly and move them around the world more efficiently than their competitors, none of that matters if the customer does not pay because the data held in each system about them was inconsistent. Business opportunities are lost when each system works in isolation and you can't determine who your most important customers are what they need.

So, whichever path you take you have an IT system that fails to fully meet your business needs. Be it the inflexibility of large ERP systems or the data fragmentation resulting from tailored solutions, you're forced to compromise. Unless you stumble on a better way.

A better way: common flexible framework, bespoke solution

"MainCore avoids both the limitations of a traditional ERP system and the fragmentation issues normally associated with tailored solutions."

Mainfreight, a (real) global transport and logistics provider, is passionate about the need to have systems that serve their unique business operating model. They gain a competitive edge by using tailored solutions that allow them to run their business in the most efficient manner possible.

MainCore, a core system that centralises common data between other systems, avoids both the limitations of a traditional ERP system and the fragmentation issues normally associated with tailored solutions. MainCore is built on top of Sandfield’s SALCore platform, a database framework that allows for the flexible definition of entities, properties, and the relationships between them. At the most basic level it can be used to maintain information about a customer, user, supplier or company. This basic framework is easily extended to create bespoke solutions for individual clients, such as Mainfreight

Update once, read everywhere

With tailored solutions powering the different areas of Mainfreight’s business, MainCore allows them to pull all of their common masterfile data (customers, users, suppliers) into one central location. That information is pushed to each separate system via SQL Server’s replication technology, while external systems are able to leverage that information via webservices. By having a central repository for masterfile data, Mainfreight has consistency of data across all of their applications (adding a new customer makes their data instantly available to both the warehousing and freight tracking systems) and eliminates the fragmentation and data integrity issues normally associated with maintaining data in multiple systems.

Maincore allows users to see everything about a Customer across Mainfreight’s entire business in one central place.

A global view of the business

The MainCore user interface provides a unified view of this masterfile data and the relationships that exist within it, across all systems. For example, different customers prefer to interact with Mainfreight in different ways; Customer A may like to have one single account while Customer B would like each individual location to maintain their own relationship with Mainfreight. Regardless of how a customer wishes to trade with Mainfreight, MainCore allows for a consistent view of all parts of that customer’s business. That view can be tailored to suit the needs of each individual part of Mainfreight's business, with sales reps seeing a summarised view along with their call history while a branch manager will see the individual locations for the customer and their preferences as to how their freight is carried.

The best of both worlds

By maintaining a central repository for their masterfiles Mainfreight enjoys the benefits of data consistency usually associated with a large ERP system and the flexibility and 'fit' of their tailored solutions. Completed orders don't sit at the warehouse waiting for the customer masterfile to be added to the freight tracking system. Sales reps have a complete view of their customer's activities, and their customers’ customers. In an industry where responsiveness and reliability is critical, this integration between systems gives Mainfreight a powerful advantage over its competitors.

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