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Technology Case Study: Four Locations, One System

of the mind to convert to NetSuite or any other suite, the starting point is your basic data. Your start-up is only as good as that data."

 

  • As a smaller distributor, you don't need a host of workers focused on IT. But you do need at least one person (for Knox, it's his daughter, Jodie, who works part-time) who knows the ins and outs of the software and who understands data management systems. This person should also be willing to sit down and figure out what makes the system tick and how to get the most out of your investment.
  • Other Technology Case Studies:

     

    Automating Processes C.C. Dickson

    Wireless Warehousing The Reynolds Company

    Merging Sales Teams Neff Group Distributors

    The Company
    Allied Valve was created in 2004 when the new owners bought locations in Iowa, Chicago, Indiana and Wisconsin and joined them to create a company that would supply, repair and customize industrial valves for buyers at refineries and power plants.

    The previous owners had been contracting down to nothing. "We didn't want to see the businesses go away, so we bought them," says President Jim Knox. All the new owners had been associated with the old businesses.

    Allied wanted to quickly implement a business operating system to update the aging software it was inheriting. It needed a unified platform to support growth, and a system that would provide full functionality to salespeople on the road. One of Allied's goals was to better synchronize its service and repair operations.

    To run all four locations as an integrated operation, Allied needed across-the-board inventory and service visibility.

    'Skeleton' of the Business
    Allied started business off with a full package from NetSuite, which includes invoicing, payables, inventory management and customer information features.

    "We have four locations, several million dollars worth of inventory, seven salespeople and 1,000 active customers," Knox says. "If we're going to do business, we've got to have a system like this. Without it, it would be a body without a skeleton. It would collapse."

    The implementation was quick. Within three months, all four locations were online and employees were trained. Knox's daughter is the point person for the technology at Allied. She works part-time and did much of the training in the initial stages of implementation. She was trained by NetSuite, though she had a computer background and an understanding of data management systems.

    Key Benefits
    Visibility from anywhere is a key benefit Allied has derived from implementing the system. "There's very little that goes on in this company that isn't run through the system," Knox says.

    Knox can sit down anywhere he has Internet access and check on accounts receivables, how each of his salespeople is doing, where Allied's at with various customers and get inventory updates.

    The visibility extends to inventory available at each of Allied's four locations.

    "I am able to enter a customer order in Iowa and have it shipped from one of our locations to the customer. In the past, I would send a fax, they would ship it down to Iowa, and then we would ship it to the customer," Knox says.

    Allied also runs an extensive service business, which includes repairs and valve testing. With its new system, Allied can keep track of service operations throughout the company on a centralized calendar.

    "This is a very fluid business and things change rapidly," Knox says. If a customer tells Allied he is going to shut down part of a plant for service, Allied needs quick visibility into what everybody in service is doing.

    In addition, just as the company is able to see what its service department is doing, Knox can check to see where Allied's valve-testing equipment is at any given time.

    The company is still discovering some of the benefits to the new system. Recently, Knox says, his daughter figured out Allied could set the system to e-mail a salesperson when one of his customers makes a purchase. The salesperson could click on a link within that e-mail that would take him to details of the purchase.

    "A lot of the (sales) action takes place between purchasing and inside salespeople," Knox says. "Our outside salespeople might not even know a transaction is in progress on one of their accounts." With this feature, they will know.

    Tips
    Knox offers two bits of advice:

    • Clean up inventory and customer data before uploading it into a new system. "If a company is
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