Transitioning from on-premises ERP systems to the cloud can make it possible for manufacturing companies to run their operations more securely and with greater agility. ERP modernization to improve and streamline processes will generate more value from talent and data, along with simplifying technology management. The right preparation, supported by an experienced technology partner with an effective planning and project approach, is critical for making such ERP projects successful.
This article summarizes insights shared during a recent, well-attended MSDynamicsWorld panel, called Planning Insights for Manufacturers Moving to Microsoft Dynamics 365. It brought together an executive from Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics (MCIA), a company that specializes in designing, manufacturing, repairing, and overhauling avionics as well as advanced aircraft instruments and power solutions, with representatives from Sikich and Microsoft.
Cloud modernization during the pandemic
In a collaboration with Sikich, MCIA had already transitioned from Microsoft Dynamics AX on-premises ERP to the Azure cloud with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management and Microsoft Teams. MCIA was planning on adding Microsoft Dynamics 365 Marketing in the future. The Sikich team migrated integrations with specialized software tools to the new ERP system and added sales tax calculation software and a banking automation solution at the customer’s request. This undertaking happened during the pandemic, and Sikich delivered the entire project by meeting virtually through Teams.
MCIA benefited from the cloud to enable work from anywhere for anybody who did not need to be in the company’s production facilities. It was also one of the Sikich clients whose business barely slowed during the pandemic. This company and several other manufacturers we work with realized extremely fast growth and gained market share during this period, and others underwent divestitures or made acquisitions. Gaining greater agility and data insight with ERP and analytics tools in the cloud was important for all of them.
The partner difference for cloud ERP deployments
Past experiences with lengthy and disruptive ERP deployments, or perceived security risks have caused some manufacturers to resist adopting cloud technology. As supply chain challenges bring urgency to making timely, insightful decisions and performing diligent material requirements planning (MRP) to meet demand, they may become more ready to consider cloud ERP—especially if it comes with risk mitigation and an efficient, speedy onramp.
The panel participants from MCIA and Microsoft agreed that working with an experienced technology partner who understands manufacturing trends and challenges as well as the technologies is important in completing successful cloud ERP projects. While every engagement is unique, Sikich can draw on learning acquired in hundreds of successful cloud ERP projects when consultants get to know and collaborate with new manufacturing clients.
A vision for what technology can help achieve
In engagements with manufacturers, Sikich often uses the Microsoft Catalyst program to help them design and drive their transformation strategy in the cloud, envisioning and modeling changes in a risk-free manner. We invest time to meet with executives, stakeholders from the business groups, and IT to learn about manufacturers’ unique goals, challenges, and processes. That helps us understand the current state of an organization, where it wants to go, and make intelligent recommendations. We don’t simply translate the status quo of a manufacturing business into cloud ERP technology. We hope to enable client companies to take advantage of the cloud transition to take a leap forward and become more agile, competitive, and successful.
Ensuring user adoption
MCIA was fully aligned with Sikich when it came to involving people in the ERP project. Cindy Highbarger, SVP of Finance and Operations and the executive team felt user adoption was critical for the success of the Dynamics 365 deployment, and would greatly benefit from the participation of employees in many different roles, not just executives and influential users. They did not want to present employees with a finished product without directly contributing to the implementation. Together with the Sikich consultants, MCIA invited the broadest possible engagement from team members. Employees were asked to explore the cloud ERP system before it was production-ready and provide feedback and ideas. The project team also recruited a large group of employees to take part in testing.
Standardizing processes on the industry’s best practices
When it’s time to deliver ERP, we use our own HEADSTART methodology to perform efficient, friction-less cloud implementations with a short time-to-benefit. HEADSTART comprises complete, working models of the Dynamics 365 ERP and CRM solutions, which often already deliver most of the capabilities clients need. It also includes a library of more than 2,000 standardized processes, embedded with proven, industry-best practices.
Implementing the industry’s state-of-the-art instead of relying on customized processes can already simplify operations and eliminate constraints in manufacturing workflows. Optimized processes as a result of a targeted review or the use of HEADSTART to deploy ERP can accelerate the ROI companies realize from their cloud ERP. MCIA also expects a substantial ROI because the company no longer needs to be concerned with purchases, deployments, and management of server hardware and extensive data protection solutions for the data center.
Unburdened by customizations, the HEADSTART approach helps reduce the complexity of ERP and enables the flexibility to introduce process improvements and adjustments as business needs change. And, when many professionals are looking for new opportunities and change organizations, the industry expertise built into HEADSTART and its standard processes can make it easier for manufacturers to empower employees to be effective and minimize their dependency on talented experts. For employees, standardized processes typically are far easier to learn than those that are customized.
Delivering a complete solution
HEADSTART includes not just Microsoft Dynamics 365 solution models and processes, but also provides standardized versions of ISV solutions that help manufacturing clients close remaining functionality gaps. Clients don’t need to evaluate additional vendors and software products to gain the capabilities they need, but can deploy ISV software them at the same time as Dynamics 365. If any requirements still go unmet, Sikich will help identify best-fit solutions and efficiently integrate them with Dynamics 365 cloud ERP or CRM. Like we did for MCIA, we collaborate with the software vendors to make certain that clients get what they need.
Another element of HEADSTART is Azure DevOps, which Sikich uses to help clients manage their Dynamics 365 cloud systems with the frequent updates published by Microsoft. With two major and as many as six smaller updates per year, the time savings and streamlining possible with Azure DevOps can make a real difference. For many businesses, we also use, or show them how to use, DevOps to automate and speed up regression testing.
Creating more value from data
Like many manufacturing companies, MCIA saw an opportunity to accomplish more with data on its Dynamics 365 platform. During its technology modernization, the company stepped away from Bring Your Own Database (BYOD) technology to adopt an Azure Data Lake and take advantage of powerful, real-time reporting and data analytics. MCIA developers received training from Sikich and learned how to put these new data insight capabilities into practice with direct queries to Dynamics 365 tables and the company’s shopfloor and logistics applications.
Cybersecurity in the cloud
Increasing levels of cyberattacks have made the manufacturing industry prioritize and increase their awareness of taking appropriate actions safeguarding their systems and intellectual property, customer data, financials, and other information against unauthorized access, theft, identity fraud, malware, extortion, and other cybercrime. As long as their technology is on-premises, that means acquiring the solutions and implementing the right measures to realize cybersecurity. That can require a large investment and an ongoing, intense management workload for IT. In the cloud, cybersecurity can become easier to achieve, because companies can take advantage of the secure infrastructures and ongoing security innovation and research by a leading provider like Microsoft. MCIA, for instance, had a disaster recovery site with offsite backup for its on-premises systems, but now also benefits from the easy-to-manage backup and recovery capabilities of the Azure cloud.
Here to help
If you would like to explore a collaboration with Sikich to bring modern cloud ERP into your manufacturing operation, you can: