Feature: ERP data accuracy poses challenge for manufacturer

Preparing end users for the rigours of working with ERP applications is almost always a challenge. Now imagine that they're starting from scratch, with no real prior systems experience.

That's the position Acushnet is in. Acushnet, a Massachusetts-based maker of golf equipment, used a combination of spreadsheets and manual procedures to manage its five manufacturing plants before it began to roll out PeopleSoft's ERP software in June.

"We had no manufacturing system," said Peg Nicholson, Acushnet's CIO. Production and inventory planning were done only "at very broad brush-stroke levels", which meant plant-floor workers didn't have to sweat the details when they counted the different types of golf balls being made, she said.

Now the company is starting to use applications from PeopleSoft to do more serious planning. But if the workers in the plants don't put in accurate data, "the system is going to give [us] garbage results", Nicholson said.

Acushnet's project steering committee realised early on that training the 350 workers who are expected to use the ERP system wouldn't be simple, said Bill Frye, a plant manager who is leading the manufacturing rollout.

To try to help workers understand the basic workings of an ERP system, the project team created informational posters and written quizzes that featured gift certificates to local stores as a reward for their efforts, Frye said.

Employees also got at least a week's worth of training split into two classes -- one on how to use the software, the other on the need to be disciplined so bad data doesn't get into the system and spread throughout the company.

Keep the ball rolling

The ERP software is now running at two Titleist golf ball plants and is scheduled to be turned on at two more sites next month. Acushnet's golf club plant should follow by early next year. Expected benefits include inventory savings and the ability to create production schedules that are more precise and can be changed on the fly.

But instilling the required discipline "has been a real challenge, and it's still a challenge", Frye said.

To plant workers, the amount of balls made during a production run "may seem like just a number", he added. "But it feeds up into this integrated monster that plans our schedules and buys our materials."

At the first two plants, production supervisors are now going out on the floor to help coach workers on the importance of entering good data into the system, Frye said.

Incentives

Employee bonuses are also being tied to things such as accurate inventories. "You keep hammering the theme in every way you can," Nicholson said. Data accuracy has improved sharply at the two golf ball plants since June, "but it probably won't be exactly where we want it to be for another six months," she added.

Dean Brown, a consultant at Houston-based software training firm D A Consulting Group, said showing end users how quickly inaccurate data can spread through an ERP system should be a prominent part of any training program.

"The ripples are just amazing," Brown said. "In the past, you could isolate mistakes pretty easily because you had time to track them down. Now you don't."

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