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A Tale of Keeping Control While Continuing to Grow

13th Apr 2017
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Harry Mowat, Managing Director at Greentree Software, explains how growing UK organisation Jo Bird has gained a better overview of business operations to help it manage production of truly tailored products while improving customer satisfaction

How to maintain a certain view of what’s going on across my business when it’s pitted against a UK economic backdrop that just keeps changing? That’s one of the most common concerns and conversations I find myself having with CEOs and CFOs in the current climate. How can I have enough of a view of my business that I know exactly how we are performing, whether I have enough stock to match fluctuating demand for my products and, ultimately, if I can provide the top-notch levels of customer service we pride ourselves on?

That’s where I give them the example of Jo Bird, a British design and manufacturer of lifesaving and fire safety equipment storage. The cabinets the company develops are built to save lives, and are shipped all over the world, individually tailored to protect equipment whatever the local conditions. The places they export to range from colder climates like the North Sea and Northern Canada, through to extremely hot environments such as Saudi Arabia and Australia. Customers include multinational companies such as BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and Total. Priding itself on its operations, Jo Bird was awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise in International Trade in 2013.

Since 2009, the company has grown considerably – almost doubling in size. The technology supporting the business had been in place for a long time. It supported key business processes, such as finance and timesheets adequately, but wasn’t evolving quickly enough to truly support the specific manufacturing aspects of the business. For example, it was missing a material requirements planning (MRP) system, so all tracking had to be done in separate spreadsheets. Staff would quote customers from one system, and then have to input order details into a separate one.

This didn’t just mean they were spending time duplicating on reports, but it also meant they couldn’t get a single view of any order or its status in the manufacturing/dispatch process.       

To get a full overview of what was happening across the organisation at any given time, Jo Bird decided to move across to a new system, so looked around at what was on the market.

Since moving across to the new system, it’s actually the single view of any job that’s been the biggest benefit to Jo Bird. All members of staff now use it as their main business system and have live information on their desktops. The number of orders, value of orders, order status, outstanding POs and payment details can all be found at the click of a button.  They just need to move through the workflow in the system and they’ll see the information live.

With a single view, Jo Bird now also has a far more accurate production process. Whereas all production scheduling used to be done manually using Excel spreadsheets, it’s now scheduled in the system, fed directly into the MRP component of the system. At any given time, any member of staff can see what raw materials are needed to complete the orders in process – if they have an adequate amount, or if they should order more or less. In this climate, having the right levels of stock is imperative for any small business. After all, ordering exactly the right amounts can both mean reducing waste if they order too much or it could mean less waiting around for materials to arrive if they have to panic order as a result of not initially ordering enough. 

As a growing company, Jo Bird prides itself on excellent customer service – and having a better overview of the manufacturing process helps in that field too. The company didn’t have any computer feedback from the factory floor to the office before it modernised its business systems. The order would go on the system, but then they would just see when it was complete. Now they have the system supporting all aspects of the production. This means that when a customer calls to check in on their order – or even ask to change it – the customer correspondence team can instantly see exactly where it is in the production process. That’s especially beneficial when all the cabinets are tailored for specific requirements. So, for example, if a customer calls and asks for the colour of the cabinet to be changed, the customer support team can accurately say yes or no depending on whether the cabinet has reached that stage in production yet. 

The issues Jo Bird was facing when it looked to update its main business software are experienced by so many small and medium organisations, so this really is a story I’m pleased to be able to share. With the business landscape changing so rapidly around them, these organisations really need a solid system at their core, keeping them in control of what’s happening inside the business, even if they can’t predict what will happen in the outside world.      

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