Store fixtures vendor Wilson Display underwent a 90-day implementation of a new manufacturing system in what was an unusually complex business environment for a small enterprise. The risk of an accelerated implementation and why SMEs are resistant to technology change

T.O. business adopts SAP Business All-in-One

For a small company, Wilson Display Ltd. runs a fairly sophisticated business that spans design, production and installation of store fixtures. But the combination of complex and small business makes finding the right IT systems tricky.

“Most companies are distributors, marketers, warehousers … we take raw steel right from the sheets and the rolls and we completely bend it, cut it, weld it,” said Frank Ruffolo, president of the Toronto-based manufacturer.

Earlier this year, Wilson Display replaced its legacy IT systems with SAP Business All-in-One, an integrated small-to-medium business (SMB) package from the Germany-based enterprise resource planning technology vendor. But the company was under time pressure to integrate the sort of manufacturing system that a company its size would not normally need, recalled Ruffolo.

The allure of the SAP offering was the promise of a fast implementation and the capability to match the functionalities of the old system right out of the gate, said Ruffolo. While the implementation was successful and on time, Ruffolo admits in hindsight that it was unrealistic to think a 90-day implementation can ever be smooth.

But the kinks were ironed out along the way and Wilson Display now has access to data it hasn’t even begun to make use of as well as the comfort that it won’t outgrow the new systems, said Ruffolo.

“We can run our business which is a good thing,” laughed Ruffolo, alluding to the complexity of Wilson Display.

Part of that complexity is that, besides standard design, the company does a lot of customized work for customers, often mixing the two components, said Ruffolo. “The engineering and costing package allowed us to deal with it very efficiently,” he said.

The pricing also worked for Ruffolo because he could buy licenses instead of packages. “And that was a big advantage for us because we don’t use a lot of each package,” he said.

Wilson Display deployed Business All-in-One with the help of Markham, Ont.-based IT consulting firm Illumiti Inc.

A speedy implementation is key for any project that is time and materials-based, said Nir Orbach, CEO with Illumiti. “Really, the cost of the implementation is driven by how quickly we can get to the end result,” said Orbach.

The 90-day implementation period was met through a combination of ASAP Focus, an SAP methodology for fast deployment, and additional direction from Illumiti that focused attention on areas that will offer competitive differentiation and adoption of best practices on all other processes, said Orbach.

But the biggest challenge with any quick implementation is change management, and Wilson Display was no exception, noted Orbach.

A 12 to 14- week implementation is not a long time to absorb change “and the implications to the business of replacing multiple systems with one integrated solution,” he said.

Illumiti addressed change management at Wilson Display with pre- and post-implementation systems training.

But resistance to changing how an SME traditionally adopts technology is lessening, said Conrad Mandala, vice-president for small to medium enterprises with Toronto-based SAP Canada Inc.

The economy has a lot to do with that new push towards greater investment in IT infrastructures in order to compete, evidenced by an unexpected expansion in SAP’s customer pipelines this year, said Mandala. “Our pipeline is as big as it has ever been,” he said.

Part of the resistance up till now towards packaged IT offerings versus the dispersed and siloed systems approach, said Mandala, is the comfort in running a small business on Microsoft Office documents. 

“When I’m asked who my biggest competitor is in the ERP marketplace I say very quickly that it’s Microsoft Excel,” said Mandala.

But Mandala admits that SAP’s presence in the large enterprise space contributed to the image of the vendor only toiling in that space, causing many SMEs to turn away. But SAP has put effort into changing that in the past 18 months, he said.

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