SCI looks to Navision to make business shine

In the business world, where the mantra of competitive advantage is continually promoted, there are few organizations which can lay claim to something that their competitors cannot. Surface Coatings Industrial Corp. (SCI) is one of those.

According to its CFO William MacIntosh, the Mississauga, Ont.-based company is one of only two organizations in the world to own a Deqotec physical vapour deposition (PVD) coater — a state-of-the-art machine which applies an assortment of decorative surface coatings such as gold, chrome and brass to metal and plastic objects ranging from razor blades to faucets. SCI is also the only company to hire itself out as a service provider. MacIntosh explained that with SCI’s technology, items undergoing treatment are coated within minutes, compared to industry standard hours-long processes.

Given those factors, SCI pursued a highly-customized ERP system.

“We’re rather cautious,” MacIntosh said. “We’d rather do it right the first time, so we stepped back and took a look at the whole package.”

Since SCI is a division of Balzer International, based in Liechtenstein, SCI naturally looked at the ERP vendor used by the European home office, but it didn’t stop there. Great Plains Software, J.D. Edwards, Solomon and SAP were all in the running, along with Navision — Balzer’s preferred choice. MacIntosh, too, liked Navision.

“We looked at other systems,” he said. “I wouldn’t touch SAP with a 10-foot pole. You pay a million dollars just to get hold of it and then you have to spend another 10 million to reengineer it. Navision was so flexible.”

John Macdonald, marketing and channel manager at Navision Software Canada Inc., admitted that having Balzer as an international client helped, but said the Canadian office still had to win the business. “It is a very competitive marketplace. Every time we need to win that business.”

A big part of that win is hooking the potential customer up with the correct third-party support, since Navision farms out the installation and implementation. In the case of SCI, the integrator was PYA Solutions Inc., which is headquartered in Montreal but which also has a branch office in nearby Markham, Ont.

Even more important than location, however, was good faith on everybody’s part. Brian Perriman, PYA’s vice-president of the Ontario division, explained that PYA was also a bit of newcomer.

“We were the first company certified as a Navision Solutions Centre, the others were about three months behind.” Perriman said PYA had to prove to MacIntosh that they could work together.

“I went to see Bill four or five times before we started talking about the contract. I didn’t really do a whole demonstration. We were just seeing that we could work together to accomplish things,” Perriman said.

The PYA team also had to deal with a few issues of their own, since they were new to Navision. “There was some concern about how the product would hold up in a production environment. We have heard promises by software companies before and their products didn’t work.”

As time passed, Perriman’s confidence in the product grew, as did his involvement in SCI’s business plans. “For six months [MacIntosh and I] sat together while he planned his own chartered accounts,” Perriman recalled. “We had no real data to work with — that’s something I’ve never done before. From our point of view, it helped us learn the business. It was two months before we entered a journal entry.”

“We knew we had the time,” MacIntosh explained. “The plant takes a long time to get ready.” By MacIntosh’s reckoning it took him a much shorter period to learn the Navision system. “It took about four weeks to get comfortable to operate the whole thing. At the same time we were building a number of systems and doing the G/L set-up.”

Learning the ins and outs of Navision is important since SCI is without an IT support team. MacIntosh and his assistant comptroller are it. In total, the company numbers 14, although up to 30 new people will be hired shortly. MacIntosh estimates that by November the SCI plant will be working at about 60 per cent of its capacity and should reach 100 per cent in early 2000.

After that, the company plans to move its headquarters south of the border to better service its clients, the majority of whom are Americans, and then open one additional plant there about every six months.

That is the future. At present MacIntosh and his colleagues are working to get the Mississauga facility fully operational. So far the basic Navision Financials components are running the payroll, G/L and chartered accounts systems and WEASY — a basic manufacturing module developed for Balzer by Analytics, a German firm — was installed at the end of May, but most of the work is yet to come. An advanced distribution component has yet to be added, as does a barcoding module, a costing module and a time and attendance system — all elements that will play crucial roles.

“At some point they are going to tackle every area of their business through e-commerce,” Perriman said. “They are not afraid of advanced functionality, because in a start-up you have to have an unorthodox approach.”