Cloud computing long ago ceased to be a pie-in-the-sky idea and has become a viable technology for business. Forward-thinking manufacturers have been keeping an eye on the growth of cloud computing, but for many, making a permanent move to the cloud still means rethinking their entire way of doing business. This was the journey taken by Chirch Global Manufacturing, LLC, a Cary, Ill.-based manufacturer of metal stampings, fabrications and assemblies, when it decided to implement the Epicor Express cloud ERP platform.
Anthony Chirchirillo, CEO of Chirch Global Manufacturing, is also the founder of the Chirch Global Manufacturing network, which he describes as a group of family-owned, privately held manufacturing companies that work together to provide buyers with a "one-stop shop" for manufacturing needs across different verticals.
Chirch's adoption of Epicor was born from Chirchirillo's leadership and interest in the emerging cloud computing market. "We had made a decision to go to a cloud-based technology, because we saw it as the wave of the future," he said.
The decision to move to a Software as a Service (SaaS) ERP environment took into account a number of factors, according to Chirchirillo. "As a small to mid-sized manufacturer, it's hard to keep abreast of all the changes in technology," he said. "By going to an expert that is focused on [such changes], it permits us to focus on our business as opposed to software updates."
Additionally, Chirch wanted its ERP to be untethered from one physical location. Chirchirillo cites the company's recent move to a new main office as an example of why this is still a necessity. "Because we're cloud-based, it didn't matter where our information system was -- our ERP was immediately accessible through a high-speed network," he explained. "It was a nonissue for us in the move. Had we been using server-based technology, we would have had to transport equipment and reinstall software."
Making the move from in-house ERP to cloud ERP
When Chirch acquired the metal stamping company once known as HFK Corp. in 2008, the software being used there was an outdated version of Epicor Vista. "It was an ancient system that lacked documentation, so our push was to not just try to catch up with the updates for that, but to go to the future in the cloud," Chirchirillo said.
Chirch has been using Epicor Express since the product's inception, serving as a beta user in 2010, according to Chirchirillo. After looking at the cloud-based ERP systems on the market in 2010, Chirch chose Epicor because it had long-running experience in meeting the specific business needs of manufacturers, Chirchirillo explained. While other SaaS ERP vendors started with a cloud system and later developed a manufacturing-specific product, Epicor had done the opposite. "Epicor had a history deep in manufacturing," he said. "When they married that [history] with cloud technology, we saw that as an advantage."
Once the selection process was over, Chirch ran the cloud ERP platform parallel to its old in-house ERP for 60 days before switching completely over to Epicor. The company used an internal "champion" who was very familiar with Epicor to help steer the project during the implementation phase, according to Chirchirillo.
"It was very helpful to have someone who really understood the system to help the individual users get up to speed," he said. "The implementation phase went smoothly, which I attribute to [the champion] and the Epicor support. They were with us throughout the whole process." Chirch officially went live with Epicor Express in June 2010.
Epicor Express improves communication with customers, contractors, partners
Today, Chirch is using Epicor Express across the entire company, according to Chirchirillo, and the changes in the way it does business are evident. "Job costing has shown a substantial improvement from the way we used to do things," he said. "Now we can peer into our system and see live information as to how the profitability and gross margins are doing."
On the sales end, a regularly occurring customer survey feeds data into Epicor Express, according to Chirchirillo. This provides ongoing communication and feedback from Chirch's buyers, letting the company know how its performance is being ranked.
Another benefit of Epicor Express for Chirch is the system's customization abilities, Chirchirillo added. As the company's products often involve subcontractors, Chirch's Epicor system has been customized to flag the date when a subcontractor is supposed to deliver a product. Twenty-four hours before the due date, the system sends a reminder email to the subcontractor. "It really brought a lot of efficiencies to our process, as opposed to finding out that day that a subcontractor isn't going to deliver -- and I think the mere fact that we're watching them has gotten us more attention," Chirchirillo said.
Employees across the company have responded well to the Epicor cloud system, which allows them 24/7 access to the ERP system to check on the progress of jobs and product orders without needing to go into the office, according to Chirchirillo. "Being untethered from a physical system has been one of the biggest benefits we've noticed," he said. "We've gone from being a commodity -- being just a metal stamper -- to forming an alliance with 14 manufacturing companies that can [deliver an entire product] to customers. We couldn't have formed that network on the old platform."
Chirchirillo noted that he would like to see more social networking capabilities in future versions of Epicor Express, which would help Chirch and its partner manufacturers communicate even more easily. "The whole wave of instantaneous communication is of interest to us," he said. "That would be a great feature, and the platform is already there to leverage it."