In any major software implementation, meeting the needs of many different stakeholders can be an exercise in frustration.
For Adelaide-based, not-for-profit Bedford Industries, avoiding that frustration was a key goal in its recent overhaul of business systems managing five different business divisions.
South Australia's largest provider of employment, training and accommodation for people with disabilities, Bedford employs 170 able-bodied staff who co-ordinate employment for nearly 800 people with disabilities.
Its operations are split into four key divisions: Bedford Furniture, which manufactures flat-panel, melamine furniture; Bedford Packaging Services, which packs products such as Qantas cutlery packs and Kimberley Clarke samples as well as handling large shrink-wrapping, band sealing and other packaging; and Adelaide Property & Gardens, which provides a variety of horticultural services ranging from lawnmowing to litter collection.
Bedford's Balyana Residential Centre provides life skills and accommodation for 84 people with disabilities, while the adjoining Balyana Centre also provides conference and catering services to the general public.
In addition to these business units, Bedford also maintains the normal range of administrative functions to co-ordinate its large and busy labour contracting operations, and telemarketing and fundraising divisions that support its various operational arms.
This structure made consolidated information management a significant business challenge that just wasn't being met by the company's previous systems, says Jill Ribbons, project manager with Bedford Industries.
"Our business is diversified, with high volume and quick turnaround, which made it a challenge to find a solution that would meet our needs," she says. "Our previous legacy system had reached its use-by date. It provided inadequate management information, and had become unmanageable and unsupportable by the vendor. We had a plethora of spreadsheets across the organization, because people couldn't get the management information they needed."
Business growth was putting pressure on existing manual systems used to consolidate data for activities such as quoting and estimating, planning and scheduling, production, purchasing, financials, management reporting, and customer relationship management.
The desire to improve these core activities led Bedford to begin an extensive needs assessment and product evaluation process.
Repeated meetings with user groups encouraged brainstorming of functional requirements and production of formal data flow diagrams, eventually resulting in the creation of a high-level picture of the company's operations and the movement of data within it.
With the disparity of the business operations revealed, it became clear that Bedford's new environment needed the full range of financial management capabilities - general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, and so on - integrated with the materials and product management capabilities of a full manufacturing resource planning (MRP) solution. Acknowledging its small to middling size, Bedford began a careful evaluation of tier-three enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
After several rounds of demonstrations, vendor scoring, callbacks and shortlists, Bedford chose Epicor Vantage as the basis for its new information environment. It wasn't a decision made lightly: the whole process took nearly a year.