Fresh slices: Irish bakery goes live with Lawson ERP; gets early notice of benefits

On the point of going live with a pre-configured food-industry variant of Lawson Software’s M3 enterprise suite, Irwin’s Bakery—Northern Ireland's largest independent baker—finds itself in the comfortable position of having highly specific expectations about the impact of its new software suite.

By Malcolm Wheatley, senior contributing editor, Portadown, County Armagh, May 14, 2008

On the point of going live with a pre-configured food-industry variant of the M3 enterprise suite from Lawson Software , Irwin’s Bakery —Northern Ireland’s largest independent baker—finds itself in the comfortable position of having highly specific expectations about the impact of its new software suite.Company policy prohibits Supply Chain Manager Kieran Harney from disclosing too much to the outside world, but there’s a firm expectation of “very significant gains, and a very wide set of benefits,” he stresses.Yet back in 2006, Harney explains, when an enterprise suite was first mooted, significant doubts existed as to the possible benefits from such a move—which would be very much a “first” for the traditional family-owned firm, and one that would require an investment approaching [euros] 1.0 million.“I had experience with SAP , and other people within the business had exposure to software suites from other vendors,” he says. “We felt we knew enough to be able to gauge if particular systems would or would not work in our environment, but not enough to assess the likely benefits.”By the end of 2006, a “long list” of eight possible solutions had been whittled down to a short list of four—among them Lawson “a day in the life of the business,” says Harney. And it was during just such a discussion about how an enterprise suite would benefit the business that Lawson personnel first mentioned the company’s Opportunity Analyzer consultancy offering, he relates.“Immediately, it ticked all the boxes for us,” says Harney. “We could see straight away that it would give us the information that we didn’t have: exactly how—and where—an ERP system would provide us with benefits.”Located in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, Irwin’s employs 450 staff, and produces more than one million bakery items each week—many of them bread and baked products for the local market, but with a far-from-insignificant proportion comprising specialty traditional Irish items sold throughout Eire and the U.K. As such, says Harney, the company deals with around 1,000 suppliers and 1,200 retail and food-service customers.And it was in respect of ERP’s role in forging better links between suppliers and customers that some unexpected gains appeared, explains Ulf Carsten Carlberg, global director for Opportunity Analyzer at Lawson.Fairly quickly, for example, it became apparent that with a customer base that included some of Britain’s leading grocery supermarkets—giants such as Tesco and J. Sainsbury —there were opportunities to engage in collaborative planning. Moving closer to production, it also was possible to identify quite distinct improvements to the sales & operational planning process. The ability to continuously monitor production performance, too, would provide a useful benefit stream.

Kieran Harney, supply chain manager for Irwin’s Bakery, says enterprise system vendor Lawson Software’s Opportunity Analyzer consultancy offering allowed him to see straight away exactly how—and where—an ERP system would provide the Northern Ireland-based business with benefits.

Objectivity was the order of the day, stresses Carlberg. During such an analysis, the consultants engaged on the assignment are deliberately vendor-neutral. “We don’t talk about our software at all,” he says. “We’re there in the role of consultants to identify and analyze the opportunities offered by ERP systems in general.”Indeed, he adds, the approach can help manufacturers protect themselves from one of the prime causes of implementation failure among ERP systems in general: the risk that the installation of a given system will be seen as an IT project, and not as a strategically important business improvement project.“By building a link between the strategic objectives of the company and the business processes and activities that are most critical to achieving those objectives, it’s much easier to gain consensus and remove sources of conflict,” says Carlberg.“This investment is about more than just a new software installation,” agrees Brian Irwin, executive chairman of Irwin’s. “Ultimately, it’s a platform for integrating business processes across our all departments, enabling us to reduce waste and tighten our supply chain—something that’s critical to a company of our size and scale.”And although both Carlberg and Harney insist that Lawson didn’t exploit its position to push its own product, they concur that the assignment deepened the relationship between the two businesses. In the end, Lawson’s newfound familiarity with the operational intricacies of Irwin’s won the day. Go-live is set for the end of May, says Harney.“The big winner will be the consumer—but the benefits will extend across the supply chain,” he concludes. “Our suppliers can expect more complete and timely stock-ordering information; our staff will have less paperwork to contend with, freeing up their time to focus on operational issues; and the management team will have instant access to real-time information to enhance decision-making and save valuable time.”Best of all, the precise impact of such benefits is known in advance.