Case study: Plumbing the plains

5 Dec 2005

Arcon, a supplier of heating, plumbing and bathroom fittings, faced a huge challenge when it decided to replace its legacy IT systems, not just for the organisation’s business processes but also for the 35 employees.

“The old system was a Unix-based system that was a nightmare to use. We had a whole load of manually written delivery dockets that were coming in to one girl to key in to her computer,” says Andrea Brennan, Arcon’s company secretary and financial controller. The introduction of Microsoft Great Plains from Mentec was brought in to drive further process efficiencies and underpin its rapid business expansion, but it was an even more fundamental change for some employees. “It had a huge impact because all the work had been manual up to that point, some of them hadn’t even switched on a computer. We had to put our ‘go live’ date back a month for training issues. It was a huge learning process for everybody in the company.”

Arcon has 35 employees and distributes more than 7,000 products to plumbing contractors, architects, interior designers and consumers from its Dublin premises. When the firm expanded from its heating and plumbing products to launch a bathroom outlet and showroom in 2003 it was time to replace its business and management systems that lacked any integration around work-flow management.

“Our biggest considerations in changing the system was easy adoption and providing an intuitive user experience. We had to prove to them that the new processes would be quicker than using pen and paper,” says Brennan.

Great Plains is an easy-to-implement, scaleable enterprise resource planning system that meets the business process needs of SMEs. As well as providing functionality for financial accounting, analytics and reporting it handles project management, inventory and order processing.

“Great Plains came from a process of elimination,” explains Brennan. “In my own mind I envisaged a Windows-based system that would be like an Excel package, a familiar spreadsheet approach. To support it I’d looked at the Microsoft Small Business Server a few years ago but it was horrendously expensive at the time for a small outfit like us to invest in. Then I heard that they had reduced the price of it and combining it with Great Plains seemed to meet Arcon’s requirements.

“It’s great – instead of fiddling about with floppy disks, I can export to Excel with one click,” says Brennan. “We’re still in the early stages. But once everybody is running smoothly with it we’ll really be able to build and improve on what it can do for us. It’s a year since we made the decision to go with it but we’ve only been live since May this year.”

Commenting on the product and the implementation partner, Brennan summed up: “Mentec with Great Plains provided an intuitive solution that addressed our functional requirements, and Mentec brought a lot of distribution experience to the table, as shown in the new system it installed for barcode scanning proof-of-delivery documents, which automatically triggers invoicing without the need for re-inputting.”

Pictured: Paul Hennessy, Irish sales director, Mentec International; Andrea Brennan, financial controller, Arcon; and Tony Callaghan, managing director, Arcon