Small firms are sometimes accused of lacking ambition and criticised when they stop growing and accept their modest place in the business landscape. Nothing could be further from the mind of Criostoir O’Flaherty, owner of Dublin-based Panther Products, a print house in the gift and retail industry that has harnessed technology to compete with larger-scale companies in Europe.
O’Flaherty recognises his firm needed to become more efficient and reduce production costs if he was to grow the 21-strong company. In the business of making branded-promotional items such as pens, electronic goods and key rings, the recurring problem is how to take the costs out of large amounts of orders for small quantities. The challenge was to automate processes for smaller jobs, driving down processing costs. O’Flaherty estimates the automation would also enable Panther to increase order-processing capacity by 500pc in a three-year period. There was also pressure to match the customer service levels of its much larger competitors.
“There are huge companies on the continent with a turnover of €30m to €40m. For them to invest €60,000 to €80,000 on software they just divide it by 10 countries,” says O’Flaherty, “but they are driving the expectation levels of our customers. Their customers can go online see what stage their order is at. Ergo has developed a bit of software so that we can do that too.”
An advocate of technology and its power to be a strategic rather than tactical asset, O’Flaherty went to Ergo, an IT services company, on a recommendation and having seen one of its seminars promoting its online monitoring and technical support service. Together they devised a three-phase plan. The first phase was to review the old systems and replace it with a new IT infrastructure. Then they would seek to improve the process flow of orders, enhancing their visibility. The final phase would be to reduce the amount of manual input into the system.
After the first phase review the decision was taken to invest in Windows Small Business Server 2003 on an Hewlett-Packard DL 360 server platform with the old server re-deployed as an online backup. Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 together with Microsoft Sharepoint and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 have been the cornerstone to delivering enhanced communications, greater collaboration and improved employee productivity.
The company’s 11 desktop PCs were replaced with Dell Optiplex GX280 PCs with advanced memory and processing power. The sales and management team were equipped with Dell Latitude D500s notebook PCs and all systems were equipped with Microsoft Windows XP and Office Professional 2003.
Security was at all times a top priority. Password-protected files and folders and assigning accountability to defined individuals via Active Directory enhanced access control while Ergo also initiated patch and security download management procedures.
With the infrastructure in place, Ergo is now working with Panther on improving the process flow of orders and to reducing the amount of manual input into the system.
“Ergo helped us realise our vision of using IT as a strategic business tool in order to compete effectively with large-scale European print houses,” says O’Flaherty. “Its cost-focused solution was tailored to our SME needs while, at the same time, it left room for the development of our business. Four years ago IT was a major concern for me. Now it’s Ergo’s concern!”
Pictured are John Purdy, managing director of Ergo, and Criostoir O’Flaherty, managing director, Panther Products
By Ian Campbell