Running lean and mean is the only way a mid-sized automotive parts manufacturer can effectively compete against bigger competitors. To run lean, Ajacs Die Sales Corporation had to get mean about tracking costs. So the Grand Rapids, MI-based company replaced pens and paper with a Microsoft Great Plains' Solomon management product that kept tabs on every item produced and sold.
In choosing Solomon, Ajacs passed over software programs, such a Prophet 21, designed for tracking automotive tool and die manufacturers' sales orders and inventory. The company would have had to change its business processes to use those vertical market products. With Solomon, however, "we could change the software to meet our needs," said Steve Wienegra, Ajacs vice president of management information systems.
Solomon's open architecture allows "organizations to easily integrate their other applications with high leverage from data sharing between those applications," said Eric de Jager, director of Solomon product management for Fargo, ND-based Microsoft Great Plains. When customizing, he added, no changes to the source code have to be made.
The Solomon software package offers applications for accounting and finance, field service, e-commerce, supply chain management, manufacturing, project accounting and human resources. Each application has specific modules that cater to different needs. There are 54 modules total.
Using Solomon's management software, Ajacs has been able to track inventory in terms of its annual turn rate. For example, if Ajacs has 10 specific items in inventory and 40 are sold in a year, then that item turned four times. This knowledge helps with planning whether to stock more or less of a product. After using Solomon for a few years, Ajacs has been able to make 20-30% reduction in inventory. That's really helped cut costs, said Wierenga.
Ajacs supplements Solomon with a customized application called AutoPog, automatic purchase order generator, created by an Ajacs value-added reseller. AutoPog groups purchases by sales order and distinguishes which orders can be fulfilled via in-house inventory and which need to be sent out to a manufacturer. A purchase order is then automatically made to expedite the order. This method has saved Ajacs about four man-hours a day, Wierenga estimated.
Wierenga's satisfaction with the depth of information Solomon can store and its ability to then organize and track that data led to greater involvement. In January 2001, he deployed Solomon 4.2's order management, financial, general ledger and application server modules on Ajacs' SQL 7 database. Then, he moved some applications to the newest version, 4.5.
Microsoft Great Plains released Solomon 4.5, last month. According to de Jager, some updates in 4.5 include: an enhanced supply-chain management function; 100% Web-based capability via the Solomon Desktop; management of complex labor environments, such as worker's compensation and union payrolls; and improved inventory management.
The addition of greater Internet data access capabilities in the 4.5 version made Solomon a more comprehensive product, according to Summit Strategies analyst Amy Levy. The Solomon product got a big boost from Great Plain's recent partnership with Microsoft, gaining greater access to Microsoft's resources and marketing clout.
Solomon is now "a foundation for running your business," Levy concluded. It's not just back-office or financial software anymore. The changes were so significant, she said, it can now be used day-to-day.
Through their daily usage of Solomon, Ajacs employees have come to trust the software. Even those who didn't want to give up paper-based processes have been converted, said Wierenga, because the software produces "powerful results with very little information."