Sitro Group is a great retail case study showcasing the immediate benefits of Microsoft Dynamics AX in processing sales orders, real-time insights into account data and in turn delivering quality customer service.
Outdoor leisure and adventure equipment wholesaler and distributor, Sitro Group Australia Pty Ltd (SGA) was expanding fast and needed to streamline its sales order processing, financial reporting, and inventory management.
Executives wanted sales and purchasing data to automatically flow to each step of the sales and despatch process, reducing the manual labour needed for order processing, accounting cross-checks and warehouse stock-takes.
Between 2006 and 2012, SGA deployed and extended an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform using successive versions of Microsoft Dynamics GP.
With the help of Microsoft Silver Certified Partner for Enterprise Resource Planning MicroChannel Services, IT staff integrated Microsoft Dynamics GP with a third-party warehouse management system, automated foreign currency, duty and customs calculations, created specialist reports using Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services and deployed specialist returns management, service call and sales forecasting modules.
Now, sales orders are processed faster and more reliably. With immediate access to comprehensive data, the finance team can ensure debtors are diligently pursued and creditors are paid on time. Product despatch occurs faster with fewer errors, while logistics and sales staff receive specially configured reports that enable them to work more efficiently and deliver a higher level of customer service.
Sitro Group Australia Pty Ltd (SGA) is a wholesaler and distributor of imported outdoor adventure products, whose customers include national leisure shops, hardware chains and speciality stores. The company's brands include Gasmate camping equipment and barbeques, Chapala Chimineas outdoor heaters, and the Explore Planet Earth range of backpacks, sleeping bags and trekking equipment.
The Melbourne-based company employs 60 staff and maintains three large warehouses in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia where imports are stored and products re-packed prior to despatch.
Since starting business in the 1990s, SGA had developed an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to manage sales order processing, inventory and financial reporting. By 2006 however, staff urgently needed to integrate the separate processes required to make the ERP system work.
"As the business grew, the manual labour required to manage sales order processing became more onerous," says Gavin Joseph, IT Manager, Sitro Group Australia. "For example, raising an order and receiving a cheque were managed in two separate modules, so staff had to look through different pages or screens and then manually integrate data to manage accounts payable and receivable."
In addition, this ERP system was not integrated with the firm's warehouse management system, called AccellosOne. Sales orders had to be printed and sent to warehouse pickers who would locate, pack and ship stock manually.
"Each step in the sales and despatch process involved creating pieces of paper, which had to be manually cross checked and still resulted in despatch errors," says Joseph. "Because sales and warehousing were managed on two entirely separate systems, we needed a cycle of rolling stock-takes to ensure our inventory was accurate and there was sufficient stock to meet orders we had committed to."
In 2006, Joseph began looking for a way to streamline sales order processing, and integrating it with inventory management. But he also wanted to equip the business with a platform that could be adapted over time.
"We wanted a system that could handle strategic financial requirements, including foreign exchange transactions, accurate costing, a multiple pricing matrix to manage discounts and improved reporting tools," he says. "And if possible, we wanted the ability to develop department-specific reports for managers and executives."
In 2006, SGA staff approached the firm that had originally deployed the firm's ERP system, Sydney-based, MicroChannel Services. As a Microsoft Silver Certified partner for Enterprise Resource Planning, MicroChannel Services was also highly-experienced at deploying the Microsoft Dynamics suite of business management products. Ideally placed to offer advice on integrating the two systems, MicroChannel services demonstrated an early version of the ERP platform, Microsoft Dynamics GP.
"Microsoft Dynamics GP was attractive because of two key factors," says Joseph. "First, it was flexible, so we could easily integrate it with AccellosOne and other third-party systems. Second, it was based on an easy-to-interrogate database – Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 – that we could use to develop focused reporting for each stakeholder department."
During the six-month project, three MicroChannel Services consultants helped SGA deploy the core finance modules of Microsoft Dynamics GP to 40 staff. Consultants also helped configure the accounts payable module to manage foreign currency transactions and ensure stamp duty, customs duty and freight costs were automatically apportioned to each purchase.
"The Dynamics deployment automated our sales order process and removed the need for manual tasks and processes," says Joseph. "As soon as sales order data is entered, it feeds automatically into accounts receivable, and as soon as purchase orders are raised, that data feeds into accounts payable."
Using an interface developed by Dynamics-specialist Blue Moon, MicroChannel Services consultants also connected the new ERP platform to the warehousing management system.
"Now, sales order data flows straight through to hand-held scanners," says Joseph. "The picking team know exactly what stock to select, where to locate it, and even the best route to take around the warehouse. This eliminates all manual paper processes in interactions between sales ordering and despatch."
"We also integrated a Blue Moon auto-invoicing tool with Dynamics GP, so that all shipping information is printed on the invoice," says Travis Vigar, Product Manager, MicroChannel Services. "Also, we created a data interface integration, so electronic orders flow automatically into the sales ordering system."
Since 2006, SGA have upgraded their Microsoft Dynamics GP platform as Microsoft make each new version available.
During the upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Dynamics GP, MicroChannel services helped SGA deploy the Field Service Management module, which helps the customer service team log all product issues, track returns, monitor resolution and generate documentation.
With data on each case stored centrally, SGA was able to build a national network of field agents to manage repairs and returns, while retaining the ability to instantly provide customers with service updates.
Over seven years, SGA has gradually built and extended an ERP system that streamlines finance processes, delivers efficient inventory management, provides centralised data management and creates detailed reporting.
Streamlined financial processes
With Microsoft Dynamics GP, the finance team have ready access to up-to-date customer and supplier data, helping them conduct business more efficiently.
"The accounts receivable team know exactly what payments are outstanding so they know when to call customers," says Joseph. "Also, transactions for imports are easily managed because all landed and foreign exchange costs are automatically calculated."
"As a result, we can better manage the cash flow for monies owed as well as ensure our suppliers are paid on time."
Better stock management and order processing
By integrating their ERP platform with the warehouse management system, the warehouse team have increased despatch volume, reduced pick and pack errors and streamlined inventory management.
"We have fully automated packing, despatch, receiving and warehousing," says Joseph. "As a result, we have considerably improved overall efficiency in the warehouse.
"The process of receiving orders and despatching goods is very streamlined. We can now receive a container-load of inventory into the warehouse and dispatch it the same day with ease."
Improved data integrity
By ensuring that data is consistent throughout all parts of the business, managers have full confidence that financial accounts and inventory are accurate.
"Now, we rarely detect a discrepancy between the stock management data and the ERP," says Joseph. "If there is a discrepancy between the ERP and warehouse systems, it does not take long to troubleshoot and rectify.
"Our auditors have remarked that they are very satisfied with the detailed information that is stored and readily available on request."
Regular, detailed reporting
With the ability to interrogate the Microsoft SQL Server database and generate regular, detailed reports, Joseph has improved operational and financial reporting across all parts of the business.
"I now use Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services to provide reports for sales, finance, logistics, warehouse, service and customer service teams," he says. "The sales team know how they are tracking against targets and logistics staff have various inventory reports that track movements. The service teams can track repairs and returns, and finance staff can generate outstanding debtor reports and supplier payment schedules.
"In addition, I have created automated reports for all parts of the business which are sent to recipients at varying intervals. These reports have become an important component of the decision-making process."
Ongoing ERP development
For Joseph, the ability to continually build on the Microsoft Dynamics GP platform has vindicated his original choice of technology. As new versions are released, new capabilities emerge and SGA can evolve more rapidly.
"Deploying the Field Service and Service Call modules enabled us to manage repair, returns and warranty issues much more closely," says Joseph. "Also, we can now analyse patterns in types of faults, the cause of faults, spare parts used, labour hours and product defects. This information is vital to the continuing development of quality products."
"We are currently deploying the Forecaster module in Dynamics GP," he adds. "This will enable the sales team to analyse trends, help the logistics team to plan their purchasing schedule and improve the finance team's ability to manage cash flow."
Microsoft product that was featured
Microsoft Dynamics GP is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) package that provides integrated finance, business and HR management tools for mid-sized companies. By connecting data from all the moving parts of your organisation, Microsoft Dynamics GP gives you the information to take smart decisions that have a direct impact on your bottom line – increasing margins and improving cash flow.
In addition, customisation tools enable you to establish data connections between Microsoft Dynamics GP and a wide variety of other applications, eliminating labour-intensive data transfers, speeding up information consolidation and improving reporting accuracy.