Sharing Our Case Study Story
Leveraging technology is a great way to incorporate effective business solutions. I’m Colin Shantz, CEO of CopperTree Solutions, and I’m here with Matthew Hutchinson, our VCIO. Today we’re going to be sharing a case study from one of our manufacturing clients.
Overview of Organization
The organization I chose for this case study manufacturers motor homes. They buy empty vans and strip, reconfigure, and produce, the end product is a motor home that they produced. They came out of bankruptcy and were starting the business again when we first engaged.
What is the size of the organization?
There are roughly 200 employees, about 50 in the office, and about 150 in manufacturing. Quite a journey from start to finish. So that number climbs every month. So they’re growing as they get back on their feet again.
What were the problems that they were trying to solve when they reached out to us?
I chose this example because it’s the most interesting project we’ve worked on in the last two and a half years. When the organization first contacted us they were coming out of bankruptcy. Our initial engagement was moving a server stack from their old building into a brand new one. This was an emergency one-week setup, in other words, moving my network to a new location. This was one of the more interesting starts of an engagement. Those two weeks were getting the system working and getting to the point where people could log in. Then, the adventure took off from there, and that’s how it began.
What were they needing from us?
We came in and we did the move. That was part of the engagement. Then, we continued on from there.
What were they looking for as the bigger picture?
As we started to uncover the layers, we discovered several areas they needed to improve. Thus, some of the issues were on the network side particularly. The organization moved from an old location. They didn’t know usernames and passwords for key pieces of equipment. No one could get us into certain pieces of technology. They had roughly three to five times more hardware than they actually needed. They were amalgamating from three locations down into one.
When they went into bankruptcy, they had roughly a thousand employees and an IT team of 12 people. Then, they moved down to a startup, a large empty building. They had a lot of inherent staff knowledge about how things work, but poor tools.
The First Year
So, once we got people to log in, it became evident that the systems were so antiquated that none of them would carry on. The interesting part was the need to start the business with such ancient hardware. In that first year, there wasn’t much change because they were trying to get back into production. A French firm funded them and our feet were all held to fire on how fast we can be a functioning business. One where we can start to produce products and generate some revenue and start to get some returns. Thus, the first year stabilized and informed executives their systems weren’t going forward.
Inefficiencies and Solutions
Generally, the DOS-based ERP systems were old, and we’re only retiring them now, two years later. Because it’s been quite a journey, they had to make serious changes on how that business operated. Some suggestions we recommended that they’ve since adopted and are working on include:
- replacing very antiquated ERP systems with Microsoft Dynamics 365,
- understanding how to rebuild the business.
Things like their inventory. You can imagine how many parts there are in a motor home. Their inventory was an Excel spreadsheet that they emailed to each other. People would update the numbers on the spreadsheet and then pass it down the chain. So, it’s quite a transition from no:
- inventory management system,
- material tracking through the warehouse systems,
- visibility from a management perspective on what’s happening in the production process.
Because of the advice that CopperTree gave, they are in a very different position after the work we did. Since they were coming out of bankruptcy we had to focus on what work we did. So we started on the security piece. If we don’t have a secure network, the rest of it needed to get it as safe as we can make it. Then we needed to work on the best way to build a motor home, and the best way to:
- track inventory,
- receive goods,
- know workflows.
In the last two and a half years we, and other partners, created a process that works and is producing. Empty vans come in one end of the building and finished motor homes go out the other end of the building. The transformation is very, very dramatic. Thus, we went through three CFOs and had to restart each time we went through it to a certain extent. All in all, the manufacturers’ recommended changes brought them up to speed.
Yet, many staff members in the organization who had been there for 15-20 years clung onto the way we used to do it. While a 20-year-old application was good enough in the past, it’s not good as a security or management tool. It won’t function in the new environment that they’re in. They went from 800 or 900 employees down to the 200 they’re at now. That significant growth from three people in an empty building to 200 employees. Such employees produce products and have an understanding of:
- where they are,
- what things cost,
- and what production looks like from their perspective.
The organization went from a very large organization scaled back to shut down for a while. They almost went through another startup stage, but are now back to full production. Additionally, they’re continuing to grow their capabilities as they go into the future.
Technical Challenges: Why Leveraging Technology is Important for Other Aspects
Generally, they needed to use every facet of our expertise. Our technical expertise dealt with merging different hardware parts into one network. As well as we had to determine what was a go-forward piece of equipment and what was not. So, it was very much a technical challenge for our team and also for myself in the VCIO role. It was very interesting to decide and give advice on what to do next. Decisions like the next best move with the time and resources available in the next six months.
So, once we secured the environment, the challenge was having limited resources. This is because it’s a startup, and when you’re not generating revenue, costs become acute. Thus, they rely on the advice we provide on the next step on the road to where we are now. It’s been almost two and a half years now, and we’ve come an awful long way. It’s been a very interesting, unique challenge. And it taxed every part of our organization’s skillset, and we’ve done very well with that.
What We’re All About-Leveraging Technology
This is a classic example of leveraging-using technology to drive business outcomes. It’s not about the technology. It’s about how we deliver whatever the client is trying to deliver. And how do we do that better by leveraging technology? I get excited hearing stories about organizations going through that transformational process. Especially when they figure out better efficiency and improve services by leveraging technology. And that’s what we’re all about as an organization, and that’s what gets me excited.
How we Started
The first significant conversation was not about IT once we got the network up and going. The first big conversation I had started with the phrase, “All right, how do we build motor homes?” Because that’s where we started. How do we:
- get them in the door
- know what’s here
- market these things
- control warranties
- deal with a dealer network
- communicate with a dealer network
Every single facet of that business we needed to rethink from start to finish. It was a sound product. It’s a very well-known product. There’s nothing wrong with the business model. They suffered from some poor management early on and quite a bit of bloat, as well.
You have to learn from these lessons, right? And the management team did learn from those lessons and relied on us for what’s the best thing to do now. I have this much money and I wanna move the cart forward as fast as possible. And that’s where our expertise came into play there. We give business leaders advice to focus on building up their business from scratch. This way they won’t have concerns about if they are going down a path they regret later on. So, we gave them a surety that the major steps we’ve been taking are the right steps to go in. In fact, we’re on our fourth major step in two years, and they benefited a great deal from that.
Impacts of Leveraging Technology
Organizations leveraging technology are the ones most successful in today’s market. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen that organizations are relying on using technology. Some people are realizing for the first time how dependent they are. It’s making them figure out ways to do more. As well as make them look at their technology stacks and say:
- “Are we leveraging this to its fullest extent?
- “Are there other things we could be doing”
- “Could be streamlining communication or automating processes?” The organizations that figure that out are the ones that are successful in the long run.
The most important tool that executives need to run a business is the visibility of the data. So, you need to understand what’s happening around you. When starting with this client, simple questions relied on someone down the hall. The person next door with 12 years of experience could answer questions like “how long does it take to build?” Now the executive has an idea of how long this phase takes, and someone else has an idea of how long that phase takes.
Benefits of Leveraging Technology
But leveraging technology in a manufacturing environment is not a complicated process. It gives you the assumptions you use when you make key financial decisions based on facts. For example, it takes exactly 12 minutes to install the rear seats. We project we will need 2,480 wheels in the next year. Now that we know our production rate, we now know how long it takes to produce a single unit. Additionally, we understand what our demand is from our sales channel. We can start to look at things like how many wheels to order today so that I keep my production flow steady. As well as make sure I don’t have a warehouse full of wheels and hope in five years, I’ll go through them.
The most important thing IT offers to business leaders is a surety that the numbers for making decisions are accurate and available. Oftentimes the challenge for leaders is to explain there’s a technology that’s:
- simple to use,
- easy to install,
- effortless in providing that information without an enormous investment.
Simple Leveraging Technology Solutions
We looked at several ways to find where the product was in the production phase and found a simple solution. That being, sticking a QR code on the top of the vehicle and having cameras mounted in the building. So, when the vehicle drives from one manufacturing phase to another, the camera reads a QR code. It will say “I’ve left station one, and now I’m station two and I’m station three”. So it’s a simple technology. It’s deadstock reliable. It doesn’t rely on any human error. The van must drive from location A to location B to have its dashboard installed or its shower installed. We didn’t even have to rely on a person remembering to push a start button or a stop button. The camera idea is good in providing data surety and eliminating any human error that could be in there. And it’s such a simple solution.
But, unless you’ve got a trusted advisor to say:
- “Hey, there’s a better way”
- “There’s a cheaper way”
- “There’s a faster way,”
Oftentimes companies don’t have the resources. Especially in this scenario, to spend six months determining the best way of knowing that. They on someone to say, “All right, we need to get from nowhere to somewhere “very fast.” And they have to rely on the experience of their managed service provider to give them that advice.
This is one example of an organization that we’ve been able to help. If your organization has challenges or is looking for ways to leverage technology, please reach out. Thanks for joining me today as we talked about a case study from one of our manufacturing clients. To learn more, please visit our website at coppertreesolutions.ca.