Finlay’s is a well respected global tea producer, with a heritage that spans more than 250 years. It has operations in many countries, in diversified markets, and is well known across the tea and horticulture industries. Over the years Finlay’s has played important roles in the development of the tea industry in Kenya and Sri Lanka, has pioneered instant tea research, development and production. It is this forward thinking that brought Finlay Beverages attention to replacing an ageing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with modern technology from K3 AX. The business software company’s application of the unique Sure Step template approach to the Microsoft Dynamics AX project provided many benefits reported Paul Bacon, Finlay ( UK) Group IT Manager.
The Finlay Beverages division needed to upgrade its existing ERP system as it was at the end of its life and would not be supported for much longer. This triggered a study by Paul Bacon and his colleagues to identify what the company would need from a new system going forward. The study covered a range of topics, including business opportunities that would need to be supported by the new system as well as the opportunity to revamp the overall IT backbone and processes in line with recognised best practices.
“We had a range of requirements that the system would need to support, such as improving margin management, supply chain and planning processes, manufacturing/ warehouse efficiencies, and delivering better business intelligence. The study, therefore, looked at all areas in order to justify the upgrade. This was a very useful exercise as we were able to use the results to scope out the project, which resulted in a tender document that we could send to potential suppliers,” said Paul Bacon.
The company focused on three suppliers: its existing ERP provider, K3 AX and one other. The various proposals were examined, with Finlay Beverages selecting K3 AX and its Microsoft Dynamics AX-based solution.
“K3 AX offered a more cost effective solution and the team’s presentation was impressive. They could describe how the system would work for us and how it would benefit the business. It would be designed and developed using a standard Microsoft product, which would be tailored to our requirements and would allow us to make our own minor changes to the system over time. This openness of the software makes for lower cost of ownership in the long term and being Microsoft we had confidence that it would be a future proof investment,” said Paul Bacon.
Paul Bacon commented that the Microsoft Sure Step methodology, which is a software-based approach that utilises templates and incorporates PRINCE2 project management methodology, was an important deal-making factor for selecting K3 AX.
“K3 AX uses a tried and tested approach that is simple to follow and well thought out. It is specific to the Dynamics AX ERP product. This required that the K3 AX consultants completed a diagnostic study to identify our requirements. The consultants met with our key users to understand how they would use the software and what they required from it, now and in the future. The findings were recorded in detail using a special ‘solution blueprint process’ which was based on various business process blueprints and questionnaires. After the solution blueprint was completed, each process owner had to sign off to prove that they were satisfied with the comments and conclusions. This led to a project charter being produced, which described how K3 AX would deliver the solution,” he said.
This phase helped to frame the project to meet the needs of the company as a whole, right down to the individual and unique requirements of each user.
“K3 AX’s approach gave us confidence because it left fewer opportunities for error. The consultants had all the information they needed in order to progress the project as quickly and as smoothly as possible. As a supplier, we could see that K3 AX was focused on delivering what we needed. The requirement was relatively complicated as the new system would need to interface with two other software programs that are essential to our business,” said Paul Bacon.
After diagnosing Finlay Beverages requirements, the project team – including Paul Bacon – analysed the various findings. This analysis stage enabled the team to look at how each area worked and how they would use the software. It also provided the opportunity to look at implementing best practices to improve the various processes used by the company.
Through a series of workshops a project charter was developed, together with the project plan. The training and data migration plans were also agreed and a project launch date was identified. It is important to note that this detailed analysis helped to identify how each process would be supported by a standard implementation of Dynamics AX. It also identified where there would be need for customisation. It also looked at potential challenges to the project and importantly provided the information needed to price the solution (called the fit gap analysis process). Once the costs were agreed, then the project could be launched. All of this was recorded in a set of functional requirements documents.
The next stage of the implementation was design. This is where the functional design documents were produced using the Sure Step templates. These detailed the gaps in functionality that required customisation and showed where the system fitted perfectly. When these were completed, a solutions design document was created, which helped to ensure the system would be assembled properly.
“Design was in the hands of K3 AX: the consultants knew what was required and everything we needed was documented in detail. We simply had to wait for the core system to be delivered – and this was done relatively quickly,” said Paul Bacon.
The next stage was the development stage. This is where the solution was configured from the core technology using the information contained within the functional design documents [FDD] and Solution Design Document [SDD]. The base data was also entered into Dynamics AX. Then the various customisations were completed, all of which were subjected to K3 AX’s strict quality assurance process and tested using special scripts. The user acceptance test scripts were also developed at this point.
“Once the core system was designed to our satisfaction, we were able to sign off the functional design documents and then begin developing it. As the development stages were completed for each area we applied ‘user-accepted testing’, with the key users signing off that they were happy with the work done and how the system operated,” said Paul Bacon.
At each step of the software development, Finlay Beverages’ return on investment was validated by the project team. This exacting approach ensured that the project remained on track to deliver.
“We were able to query K3 AX about everything that was being done to ensure that it would add value to the business. It was a transparent process, that kept all of us involved in the project focused on our goals,” said Paul Bacon.
Once developed, it was time for implementation, which included user acceptance, training, and completion and execution of the data migration plan. The fine details of the final steps before go-live are now agreed, which include cutover plans (leading up to successful implementation), opening balance take-on activities, validation and sign off ready for go live.
Before going live, the project was subjected to a Sure Step pre-go-live check, which validated Finlay Beverages readiness. This check covered data, infrastructure, user knowledge etc. Sure Step also supported the change management that the new system implementation required. It enabled the project team to ensure that there was a robust support plan for the operation stage and supported the company through the go live and the production of the first set of real management accounts from Dynamics AX.
“Due to the complexity of the project and the pre-go-live check, the go-live date was postponed by one month. However, Sure Step ensured that the project remained on budget. Also the Sure Step checkpoint ensured that we did not go live prematurely and put our business at risk in terms of disruption to our customers. When the amended date arrived to go live, it all happened very smoothly” said Paul Bacon.
“The go live was a relatively quiet and painless experience and I believe this was due to the highly efficient methodology adopted by K3 AX to deliver our ERP system. The go-live was one of the quietest and trouble-free system implementations I have experienced and K3 AX has continued to support us with its efficient help desk,” he said.
“Not only did K3 AX provide a cost-effective solution, we are confident that we’ll achieve our return on investment, which we hope to measure in May 2013. The quality of the Sure Step documentation is good, as is the methodology, and the disturbance to our ongoing business during go-live was no more than we expected,” he added.
Finlay Beverages will soon move onto the Sure Step continuous improvement stage, which looks at optimising the implementation. The solution will be health-checked to measure its efficiency and to confirm that the users are happy and that it is benefiting the business in general.
“K3 AX offered this service voluntarily and free of charge which again demonstrates their commitment to quality implementations and ensuring that the solution is delivering what we expected. I am pleased that we chose K3 AX and a Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP system that is supported by a complete implementation methodology. It makes implementing ERP systems a much more pleasant experience,” concluded Paul Bacon.
Editorial – Ellen Hoefste, Marketing Manager, K3 AX on 0161 876 4498