How Ian Bell used a rigorous selection process based around feature/function sets. How Bell, as a change agent at Richmond Meats, saw that the company had fallen behind in its computing environment. How Richmond Meats’ system involves multiple companies, multiple currencies and multiple time zones. How Bell has been able to incorporate other companies’ systems in record time. Why Bell is now looking at a web portal in place of Citrix.You’ve heard about being the meat in the sandwich. Usually the phrase refers to a person who is, to mix metaphors, getting the hard end of the stick. The job of Richmond Meats information technology manager Ian Bell is to get the meat into your sandwich — literally. And the better he does his job, the better your meat will taste.Bell came to Hawkes’ Bay-based Richmond Meats in 1996. He was hired by then chief financial officer John Loughlin, who was later to become CEO, as an agent of change. What Bell soon saw was that the company did, indeed, need change. In fact, something pretty serious needed to be done in the area of systems replacement. Richmond Meats was a long way behind in its use of technology. “I don’t think that was unusual for the meat industry,” says Bell. “Being such a low-margin industry they had tended to invest in technology only where they had to.”What made things even worse for Bell was that the company had in previous years been involved in a number of mergers and acquisitions that had resulted in a range of disparate systems. The role of IT had fallen to the level of data entry. It was adding little to the business apart from producing invoices and paying farmers. The vision that Bell created and Loughlin bought into was to put in technologies that could be used to leverage growth and add value. “It wasn’t a hard sell with John because he had come from a financial background,” says Bell. “And he was looking for somebody to innovate and change anyway.Bell prepared an RFP (request for proposal) and got registrations of interest from around 20 prosapective vendors. Bell’s team evaluated 15 responses. At that stage they weren’t particularly looking for an ERP (enterprise resource management) system. Rather, they were considering incumbent vendors and a best-of-breed mix to meet their needs. “When it came down to doing the evaluation it was the ERP class of system that stood out for me and the evaluation team, which involved quite a wide range of users,” says Bell. “It got down to SAP, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards. We dismissed PeopleSoft because at that time it was short on feature and function sets. The choice was between SAP and JD Edwards, I guess.”The team formed the opinion that JD Edwards’ functionality was as good as or better than SAP’s functionality in terms of their requirements. The team also came to the conclusion that JD Edwards’ user interface was much better, with more customisation capability and greater integration with standard office products. Data could easily be exported to Microsoft Word and Excel.An evaluation in terms of cost per chair was done and JD Edwards once again came out on top. “We didn’t actually do a formal return on investment study,” says Bell. “But what I did was bring — to put it crudely — a bang for bucks methodology into the organisation. I used a very structured process to evaluate and prioritise functionality prior to seeing the products. We built a matrix of the feature/function sets we required and how important they would be to us. Then we applied to that matrix an evaluation of the products and how they scored. Basically, we had a feature/function set on a scale of one to five. We multiplied all that out and applied a dollar value to it. Using such a scale you might end up with two products that have the same score and feature/function set but one might be significantly more expensive than the other. In other words, you can calculate the best value for money.”Bell started the selection process in April 1997. As it turned out, the JD Edwards suite gained the best score on the feature/function set and also significantly outpaced the other products on a dollar basis. The contracts were signed in 1997 and the implementation started in May 1998. “One of the most important aspects of the JD Edwards suite — and it is a hunch that has become well and truly proven five years on — was the quality of the software vendor’s technical foundation. JD Edwards had made the leap from two-tier client-server to N-tier client-server, and what we saw was a technology foundation that we believed was going to be much better and faster in bringing new product and new feature/function sets to market than SAP could handle. Our evaluation was that SAP was a very rigid technology, a very rigid architecture. We wanted a product that was going to grow and change and that promise has well and truly exceeded our expectations. It must have been some divine inspiration that said this architecture is going to be a winner for these guys … And it has been.” High praise indeed from a user. Richmond Meats went live with financials in November 1997. In March of 1998 the company acquired the processing assets of another company and took only two hours to reconfigure OneWorld to bring on another six processing plants. Later that year Richmond Meats merged with another company with two processing plants. In this case, merging the computer systems took only 35 minutes. “We started off with financials and we implemented sales. We have implemented distribution and have written a module from the ground up to pay farmers for livestock and that sits underneath accounts payable,” says Bell. “We’ve got in place the asset management module, and we will be implementing a New Zealand version of the payroll module, which has only just been released to the market. We have also been doing some development for what is called catch weights, where we measure every inventory item by multiple actual units of measure. For example, if we are dealing with a hide off a cattle beast we need its actual weight, its actual area, in square feet and square metres. That’s been quite a significant development. We have initiated a supply chain optimisation project as well.” The size and cost of the latter project won’t be determined for another two to three months.“As part of the project initiation process we have been talking to a number of vendors and independent supply chain experts and we have identified the feature/function set of the products we will need.” Those functions and features include linear optimisation, stochastic modelling, “probably some heuristic stuff”, product optimisation and distribution optimisation.“Now we are going through the process of lining up those requirements with product and feature/function sets. But my initial view is that it seems JD Edwards has quite a full kitbag of tools. I would be surprised if it can’t meet most of our requirements.”Currently Richmond Meats is using OneWorld XE with Win32 clients and Citrix desktops. Bell says he and his team had evaluated the Java client, the Win32 client and the HTML client. He says the HTML client was unable to offer full functionality for users when it was first released and so he chose the Citrix route. “We have deployed Citrix thin clients throughout the North Island and internationally — at our offices in London, Brussels, Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States.”The fact that all this is running out of a single data centre — and a common database — in Hastings is impressive enough. It gets even more impressive when you consider that this database involves multiple companies, multiple currencies and multiple time zones. Bell believes that the frame-relay network is a cost-effective solution. Other options have been considered in the past and were found lacking. “We decided in the initial stages that we wanted to guarantee the network service level. And to do that we have invested in a contract with TelstraClear to provide those international data circuits. There were a few teething difficulties in getting the lines established but once they were in place we had no problems. Where Citrix is concerned, we are using the zero latency client, so for the user it is just like sitting on a local server.”In fact, the Citrix environment is working so well that no expert staff were required in Singapore when the connection went live there. Training was also handled from New Zealand.“Having a single database throughout the entire organisation means we have total visibility on working capital and on inventory, which is a major component of our working capital. That is where the real benefit is concerned. At the same time we have been able to meet the local needs for individual countries. For example, the Belgian government requires statutory accounting and fixed formats. OneWorld has Belgian localisations, so it was a simple matter to map our company chartered accounts to the Belgian government’s requirements. Having that sort of capability has proved a major benefit to us.” Looking forward, Bell says he has plans to re-evaluate the HTML client. The latest JD Edwards release for HTML is now fully functional, he says. It has the same feature/function set as the Win32 client. “It could be cheaper, because there are Citrix licensing issues. We are getting to the point now where we will probably need another Citrix server and another bunch of Citrix licences. The Citrix licences are pooled but we still need to have a terminal server licence. So it is time to review the HTML option now that it has become fully functional.” Bell is also using wireless services at Richmond Meats — one plant has been doing so for three years. “The new inventory we are about to put in place is all wireless.” Another area he is looking at is e-commerce, and perhaps getting Richmond Meats’ trading partners involved as well.