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The manufacturing industry is now seeing immediate benefits due latest ERP systems

By Rahul Kamat ,

Added 03 July 2024

Interview with Phil Lewis, Senior Vice President, Solution Consulting International (EMEA & APJ) at Infor and Rahul Marothia, Head IT, GMM Pfaudler.

Rahul Kamat: What are the biggest IT challenges you have ever faced in the manufacturing sector and how do you address them?

Rahul Marothia: When we talk about the IT challenges specifically from the manufacturing point of view, the first challenge that we face is the adoption. People and users are not as tech-savvy as people from the IT industry are. When we talk about the challenges, multiple challenges arise in different domains. For instance, when it comes to data, the primary challenge is how the data will be captured as we don't have any database.

The second challenge is the automation of business processes. From the manufacturing point of view, we have an order-to-cash cycle where we must key in the sales order and then do the procurement, followed by planning production and the rest of the activities. The entire business flow chain is there, but sometimes the user comes and tells us that this is a tedious job why is it that they need to do data entry repeatedly, why they need to punch in the data, why the system is not capturing from the historic data.

For example, if I want to raise a purchase order to an ABC supplier, the system should give out the last five to six purchase orders and confirm whether these are the items I want to buy again. GenAI and digitalization are some of the things that are on the rise now and machine learning is new for us. When we talk about the equipment, we are manufacturing on our premises, and once the shipment is done, we should have data coming from our equipment so that we can be more proactive to our customers that now this is the right time to have a preventive maintenance.

The second thing that AI users want is after they are done talking the system should create a sales order exactly. They should just speak and the system should approve all the purchase orders pending in their approval workflow.

Now these are small things they want to have, and this is something which we want to work on. We are still working on it. There are many new initiatives we have taken in our organization, and we'll continue to do so.

Rahul Kamat: Phil you take care of the EMEA and APJ regions. What do you think of the entire landscape of digital transformation in these two regions?

Phil: My region is everything outside of the Americas. What has interested me is seeing different countries and regions evolve technologically. Some of the first few countries to evolve technologically were Nordic, Scandinavian, and European. What has interested me on this visit to Mumbai is that we had a meeting yesterday with 60 of our partners across India. They were talking to me about warehouse management and its application.

Customers are now seeing the immediate benefits concerning productivity and efficiency brought by automation, AI, RPA, and Gen AI. These technologies are making people understand that they can make a difference in their business.

It is not something where one needs to re-implement all their systems or rip and replace the applications that they use. It is additive to whatever they already use. There is a real hunger and a real desire in India to apply technology to traditional businesses and new businesses and use these technologies to accelerate productivity across the business.

Rahul Kamat: You've been a customer of Infor for quite a few years. If I may ask you, how has the implementation of an ERP system like Infor benefited your company in terms of efficiency and more importantly, decision-making?

Rahul Marothia: With Infor the entire business process models are connected. Ease of reporting activities is something we do not find in the older versions of the ERP systems. There may be some customization that is required, there may be some kind of new functionality which all versions bring with them. For example, there is extensibility functionality, which is for adding some kind of small logic in the program. For instance, we have to create a new report but with extensibility, we can have a small logic and our business can run smoothly.

Specific Customer Defined Field (CDF) is something my user wants to have only for their department purpose so that we can have only drag and drop and they can start working and using it for the report criteria.

On top of it, with the latest Infor ERP, we have the proper workflow, the purchase order workflow as well as proper approval cycles. And obviously, they allow us to do the customization which is an add-on package from the vendor.

Rahul Kamat: Phil, when we talk about tailor-made solutions, every customer comes out with their own set of challenges and requirements. How does Infor tailor its solutions to meet the specific needs of different industries?

Phil: It is one of our biggest differentiators. We don't just have one ERP system, we provide ERP systems for industries. So, the system Rahul uses is Infor LN. We also have another ERP, and we call them core systems. We have a core system that does food and beverage, which happens to be more process-based manufacturing. And then we have another one that does public sector and healthcare.

This is something that we take seriously. We call them Infor-specific solutions and when we look at all customers, they all operate within an industry. We believe that it is up to us at Infor to build industry-specific solutions. Customers know that if they're in discrete manufacturing or they're in food and beverage in fashion or distribution, the system that they get from Infor is built for their industry.

That limits the number of modifications and customizations that need to be made. Many of our competitors are still in that world where they must modify to provide industry solutions to their customers. The first element is making sure that the prospect has the functionality for the industries that we want to support. We then move on to the next bit of specificity, which is customer specificity. That is difficult because there's no way that we're going to create customer software. After all, we'd have to create an ERP for every customer.

We have several tools within our Infor OS platform that Rahul mentioned, our technical platform. And that does several things. It has full-blown automation, data management, and AI capabilities built into it.

One can do a lot with that. They can do a lot with intelligent workflow intelligent automation and intelligent analytics. But we also have an element within our platform that we call extensibility. All our solutions nowadays are running in the cloud. And when they run in the cloud, one cannot touch them. Because a code base is being run that's shared by multiple customers.

The features, functions, and capabilities are kind of almost set in stone. The extensibility enables one to build what they need from a customer perspective. It's not within the ERP but it's alongside it.

Rahul Kamat: Mr Marothia, in one of your answers, you talked about data management and data analytics. In that case, how the company is leveraging Infor to help the data and analytics to improve its operational efficiency and more importantly, the business insights?

Rahul Marothia: Data coming from the Infor ERP solutions is a complete backup of the data. For example, we are a listed company, and we need an order booking report or a backlog report. What is the specific reason that our salesperson buys, and how many shipments have been completed in a day? So, all these reports are coming in a fraction of a second and they have good functionality.

The second benefit that we got as a customer of Infor is that we were on the cloud; a single tenant, but we again migrated to on-premise. We have the full liberty to have database access. We have the entire database for the ERP which we can integrate with a third-party software. Being in a manufacturing company, we are running different software for in-house purposes. For instance, there is inspection integrated with ERP, my service mobile app for service engineers as well as my 24x7 maintenance application again is integrated with ERP.

My order forwarding note when we talk about the technical specification, what we submit to our customer, for the repairs or any kind of equipment, the database or bare minimum data is coming from ERP. We have a lot of databases coming in. Now the point is when we talk about a data lake, we also want to have a centralized container for all the data.

Rahul Kamat: What are the steps taken by GMM Pfaudler to ensure that its IT infrastructure is very safe?

Rahul Marothia: We have an information ecosystem, and when we talk about the Information Security Management System, we have state-of-the-art security in place. Most of our critical applications are in the cloud. Additionally, we are prioritizing data privacy. When customers come on board and purchase equipment from us, we collect certain data from them. We also have a data leakage protection (DLP) in place, where we can get all the alerts like - what kind of data is transferring outbound to the domain of the organization.

We also have SIEM in place which gives the person an alert from the entire IT ecosystem, be it switches, firewalls, or endpoints. We get consolidated alerts on the dashboards. And immediately my team takes action. Even if it is a false positive action, we will be on top of it.

Rahul Kamat: Lastly, Phil, how are you addressing the growing demand for sustainable and innovative solutions in the entire enterprise?

Phil: It is a profound topic. It is another topic that we discuss with our customers almost every day. I believe the standards from a regulation and statutory perspective will be driven by the EU. A few years ago, Europe kind of defined the standards for GDPR. And the rest of the world followed because it was a comprehensive and well-thought-out plan. The same is happening with ESG.

When it comes to sustainability, there are two standards called ESRS, which are the EU sustainable reporting standards. Another one is called GRI. These two standards have been defined and built by the EU.

Companies now are being told how they need to report. The problem is that they're not ready to report it. That is where we're helping and, again, the way that we put our technology platform together. The biggest barrier for people reporting that sustainability position is the completeness of data.

It is not just about the ERP, it is not just about one application, it's about all the person's data. It's about their customers, suppliers, and supply chain. One must be able to pull that together. And Rahul mentioned earlier about the data lake. Data Lake is a fantastic capability for pulling everything together. So, one can do amazing things with it. They can analyze it, run AI algorithms against it, or can also build reports against it.

That's the approach that we're taking. We understand how people need to report and how people need to monitor their business. So, we built a data scheme on top of our database. So, it's not specific to any application. It's specific to the data lake. And we built our reporting and dashboards on top of that, and we're now making it available to customers across all our applications. Otherwise, we'd have to build reporting and dashboards specific to all our other customer core ERP.

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