The Wintergrate years
Part of the company’s heritage was an inhouse ‘stock and sales’ solution called Wintergrate, which supported the business for 30 years.
Three of the original developers made up the team maintaining Wintergrate, and their irreplaceable specialist knowledge kept the system running. However, no employee can be expected to stay forever, and any outdated technology creates a level of risk to a business. That, and Wintergrate’s lack of financial and operational capabilities in particular, indicated that it was end-of-days for the system.
Weaving Microsoft Dynamics 365 into the mix
In anticipation of eventually replacing Wintergrate, Bremworth adopted the financially savvy Microsoft AX in the early 2000s, and subsequently moved through several upgrades.
“When I joined Bremworth in 2014,” says Trevor Jones, Group IT Manager for Bremworth, “it was obvious that Wintergrate presented all sort of issues for us. It was a mission-critical system, so if we’d lost the resources to support it, or it failed, we’d have lost all of our sales, production and stock records. We wouldn’t have known what to make, how to make it, who owed what, and what we owed them.”
Jones prepared a three-year technology road map for the business, starting with an upgrade to Dynamics AX 2012 (on-premises) and the implementation of Dynamics CRM in its Australian operations. After a busy five years, which saw Bremworth divest itself of several subsidiaries and renew focus on other areas of the business, the company reviewed its ‘where to from here’ plan for AX 2012.
While upgrading to Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations was the next logical step, the Bremworth team was hesitant to make the move. “We’d seen several Dynamics 365 demos from other partners,” says Jones, “but weren’t convinced that the time was right, or that there was enough local experience or knowledge to make the upgrade a success. It took a Fusion5 demo of Dynamics 365 at Microsoft to convince me. The Fusion5 Dynamics’ team really knew their stuff and presented clear and compelling reasons why we should upgrade. And why we should do it with them.”
The project led off with Fusion5 replacing Dynamics CRM with Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. This laid the groundwork for implementing Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations.
Once the solution was in place (sans the majority of the old modifications), Fusion5 implemented the procurement and accounts payable (AP) functions.
Previously, Bremworth’s AP team manually scanned incoming invoices and then emailed them out for approval. Or even sent the physical invoice, complete with a handwritten pink slip, to the authorising manager. Accounting staff tracked the progress of each invoice through the AP process on a spreadsheet.
Fusion5 recommended SignUp ExFlow to automate the business’s document-heavy invoice process, and to deliver the incoming data directly into Dynamics 365. Once implemented, ExFlow was a genuine hit with Bremworth’s business users.
“Now our vendors all email their invoices. ExFlow detects PDF attachments sent to AP email addresses, reads the invoice and pulls the vendor name, invoice number, and due date data into Dynamics 365 and automatically routes the invoice for approval to the right person,” says Jones.
“It’s a wonderful piece of software. It really does have a wow factor to it. It used to take three or four people to code invoice data, manage approvals and pay vendors at month’s end. Now it’s easy for one person to manage.”
The end of Winter
Bremworth took a carefully staged approach to implementing Dynamics 365 and phasing out Wintergrate.
With the financials firmly in place, the next step was rolling out Dynamics 365’s manufacturing capabilities at Cavalier Spinners in Napier and Whanganui. A sizeable company with two large factories, they procure raw wool from another Bremworth subsidiary, which they dye, blend and spin, before sending it back to the parent company to be made into carpets.
The implementation of Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations into the spinning business included the introduction of master planning, advanced warehousing, costings and procurement. All of the pre-implementation work was done pre-COVID-19 lockdown, and the solution was rolled out as soon as New Zealand returned to Level 3.
“The project came at the right time for the business,” says Jones. “We had loads of integrations and bolt-on systems which used Access and Excel. They were quite advanced, but we didn’t have the skills to maintain them, so we were at risk if they stopped working or we changed business procedures.”
While Bremworth had imagined that implementing manufacturing in the yarn plants would be relatively easy, it was a more challenging exercise than they anticipated. “In theory making yarn should be a reasonably simple thing to do,” says Jones, “but we’ve managed to make it incredibly complicated. If you asked me now how many ways there are to make a piece of string, I’d have to say thousands!”
Despite the complexity, Bremworth opted to implement a minimum viable product. “We made a strategic decision to go live without making any modifications,” says Jones. “And we stuck to that decision and kept it completely standard. Our no-modification stance helped us keep the project on time and under budget.”
A good yarn
While it’s early days, Cavalier Spinners are already realising benefits from Dynamics 365 such as improved data accuracy, supply chain visibility and reduced lead time for delivery. “One of the things that we noticed straight away with Dynamics 365,” says Jones, “was a huge gain in visibility – now everybody can see where work is up to.
“It’s already helping with production planning. We used to do all this manually. With Dynamics 365 we can see what we have in stock, raw materials that are required, and what else we need to buy etc. Because all the data is in the system now, we can identify any inaccuracies in our information, formulas or our rates. It’s great.
“The other thing we love is being able to look at our actual end-of-month costs on a batch-by-batch basis. We respond to changes very quickly, and doing a cost roll-up is now a fast and easy process. We also made a lot of procedural changes, some new, some expected. Overall, our people are impressed with what’s possible now.
“Along with our rebrand to Bremworth, we made wool carpets our focus, not plastic or nylon. So that will make the yarn mills even more important to us. In fact, we anticipate that the output will double over the next three years, so there’s all sorts of challenges. If we didn’t have a system in there, in time, we really would have been in trouble.”
The bigger picture
Dynamics 365 gives Bremworth a single unified platform which reduces the need for costly and complex integration to other solutions. Their data accuracy improved, as did supply chain visibility, while operational lead times reduced.
And as a 100% cloud-based solution, it aligns with the company’s move to Microsoft Office 365 and Azure.
“We’ve adopted a complete and modern desktop environment with the Microsoft always-on VPN,” says Jones. “Our exchange servers and file servers are in the cloud, as are most of our business applications. Office 365 comes with so many new apps, it’s difficult to keep up. But the beauty is that everything truly integrates with Dynamics 365. Very, very well.”
Working with Fusion5
Jones has worked with a variety of Microsoft partners over the years, but enjoys Fusion5’s open, personal and less corporate style.
“One of the critical things about implementing an ERP system is having a partner put the system through all the hoops for you first, so you don’t have to make modifications later. They could do this because they know Dynamics 365 really, really well. Their support services work well for us too. It’s a comfort to know we have a team of experts on hand to clear up any post implementation issues and tasks.”