For years, an IT staffer at ITW Construction Products had to come to work early every morning to prepare the company's ERP system for the new day. At first, the process of incorporating the previous day's business activities into the ERP database took thirty minutes. As the company grew, the job ballooned to 2 ½ hours. Rather than continuing to waste valuable time repeating the same tasks day after day, ITW brought Automate on board. In just a few hours, IT managers used the software's robotic process automation (RPA) wizards to trigger, run, and error-check ERP updates on a hands-free basis—slashing over 12 hours off the IT workload every week.
ITW Construction Products is a Toronto-based company that sells fastening products ranging from self-drilling screws and toggles to power nailers and staplers under the Paslode, Duo-Fast, Buildex, Ramset and Red Head brand names. The company is affiliated with Illinois Tool Works Inc., the multibillion-dollar publicly traded conglomerate headquartered in the U.S.
Every morning, ITW’s SYSPRO ERP system must be updated with the most current information on everything from inventory and sales to accounts receivable. All data from the previous business day must be entered before the office opens to ensure that updates run smoothly without inadvertent interference from logged-in employees or disruption to system availability during business hours.
Before Automate was implemented, one technician would manually sign into SYSPRO early in the morning and click from screen to screen to launch the necessary update processes. Since activity for each of the five ITW brands must be handled separately, the same steps had to be repeated five times every day. Several years ago, fed up with the time being taken away from other IT duties, IS Manager Sasha Veletic jumped in to relieve his staff by doing precisely what ITW's customers do: adding the right tool to his toolbox.
Veletic quickly latched onto Automate, the business process automation software that allows users to create step-by-step automation routines simply by dragging and dropping a series of pre-programmed actions from a plain-English menu into a task window. The software enabled ITW to do the basic automation work in just one hour, avoiding the time and expense of hiring programmers to write scripts from scratch.
"Custom scripting would have cost tens of thousands of dollars and resulted in a patchwork of different batch processes that would be difficult to troubleshoot and maintain," Veletic said. "Utilizing Automate allowed us to automate all processes within a single framework quickly and easily, and the software offers so many options that it actually reminded us to address a few things we might have missed if we had gone the custom programming route."
Veletic used Automate to create a series of routines automating processes ranging from sales updates to backorder release reviews. In the latter case, for example, the ERP system checks backorders against inventory and releases them for picking and shipping if previously out-of-stock products become available.
At first, ITW initiated the automation sequences manually each morning so that IT personnel could be present to deal with errors and delays caused by issues such as users who failed to log off SYSPRO before going home. This freed IT personnel from configuring the updates every day, but it still required human intervention that could be eliminated by using Automate's ability to launch tasks automatically by time, events, or other triggers.
Eventually, expanding corporate data needs swelled ERP update chores from thirty minutes of work to 2 ½ hours. ITW needed a way to run the updates overnight without having an IT employee on site. In response, Veletic upgraded to a newer version of Automate that provided advanced error-handling as well as scripting options that enabled ITW to instruct the software how to deal with special situations that might cause the job run to fail.
With those new controls in place, ITW set up Automate to trigger the update job at 3 a.m. and run unattended until it finished just before dawn. The software is installed on a Windows production server and configured to alert Veletic by email when the day's ERP update is completed or when there is a job error that needs his attention.
Thanks to Automate, ITW's ERP updates now run without any IT involvement whatsoever. "We save 2 ½ hours of IT time every day, we don't need IT staff to come in early or stay late to run the updates manually, and we have a robust system with checks and balances so that we don't get blindsided by a glitch that stops the job run," Veletic said. "In the morning when I wake up, I see on my BlackBerry that the updates have been successfully completed. It's one less thing to worry about."
In addition, having Automate handle update responsibilities overnight has virtually eliminated ERP system downtime that sometimes occurred during work hours when morning updates ran too long or were interrupted for various reasons. The resulting 99.9 percent uptime helps keep Customer Service, Accounts Payable, Purchasing, and other departments running smoothly.
Bottom line: Automate has allowed ITW to build a better ERP update strategy. Nothing could be more appropriate for a company in the construction business.
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