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How Syscom PLC is helping the UK furniture industry to help itself

There can be no denying that the UK, and indeed the world, is in the midst of something of a technology boom. Every year we are presented with more and more breakthroughs and innovations, so much so that itv can often be hard to keep up. And while it can be tempting to stick to the tried and true systems of the past, what is certain is that no business with designs on success can afford to be anything less than cutting edge in the software it uses. That is why business solutions provider Syscom has made it its mission to ensure that the UK furniture industry isn’t playing catch-up when it comes to competing on the global market. Dedicated to providing powerful business software and IT applications for nearly 40 years, Syscom’s product portfolio includes a range of products that have been authored by the company itself. This includes Microsoft Dynamics AX, which offers furniture manufacturers a powerful, agile and premier manufacturing software solution that enables them to run and continuously improve processes.

Already in use by 13 manufacturers in the UK, Syscom invited a number of companies to see the benefits of Microsoft Dynamics AX for themselves at a seminar held at Derby County Football Club last month. Since then, a further seven companieshave requested a visit from Syscom to further discuss what Microsoft Dynamics AX can offer their business. Intrigued, we got in touch with Syscom’s head of sales and marketing, John Ewing, to find out more. 

He tells us: “What we were asked for, by the Furniture Industry itself, was a product that was both scalable and adaptable to allow companies working within the UK to extend their reach. There are a lot of cheaper products flooding the market from further afield and in order to compete we’re finding that our customers are having to think on their feet by looking at IT to either cut costs internally or simply get the order right in the first place.” Often seen as an inevitability, mistakes in the initial ordering process can often turn out to be very expensive. Being able to ensure that everything is input correctly right from the start was one of the main features Syscom identified as being sought after throughout the furniture industry. When you consider that many manufacturers will take in thousands of orders every day, there is a huge amount that can go wrong and ultimately cost the business time and money. By ensuring that orders are right from the very beginning, Microsoft Dynamics AX ensures a much smoother flow throughout the rest of the manufacturing process, and that’s not all. 

John explains: “Part of what Microsoft has been doing for years is forecasting and demand planning, looking at the trend of each item and knowing which items are being regularly used and should never be out of stock and which aren’t being used so could be cut back on or put on offer.

When you’re faced with getting the order right in the first place and then stock management it really does start to suggest the need for a newer type of system than a lot of the ones that are currently in use.

We’re not suggesting that the existing systems couldn’t handle this, but what we were finding is that, with the aid of Microsoft and the industry itself, all of this is achievable within the one product. The advantage being, is that it’s simpler to manage company wide and crucial information when it is visible and understandable”. 

Classed as a fully-integrated ERP system, Microsoft Dynamics AX is able to ensure every single department within a single business is completely integrated with the next. This means that, once an order is entered, the operations team will be instantly made aware and can begin to prepare the item. If the customer changes their mind or chooses to postpone their order then this too will be instantly fed back to the necessary parties, who can then turn their attention to more urgent orders. By providing this kind of production planning, Syscom also allows manufacturers the chance to fully align with any third party logistics providers they may be using.

“A lot of businesses rely upon third party distributors to get their products out far and wide, so they may not have the freedom to be able to produce things as and when they feel like it,” comments John, continuing: “What Syscom has done is a little reverse engineering to create a diary or align production planning with dispatch deliveries of third party logistic providers, which means you can align what you make with the orders that are going through the door. So, for example, all the orders to go to Edinburgh get made in one go and then all the Devon orders are made in another batch. “When you’ve got all of your orders collected together, then what we have also built-in is a facility to ‘bulk pick’. So you bulk pick all of the fabrics and requirements of all of the sofas or other pieces that are needed to satisfy that delivery and you’re not going backwards and forwards repeating yourself and wasting time.” In fact, effective use of time is so important to Syscom that John estimates the business is able to instantly save the companies it works with around 20% of their time. A percentage that only continues to grow the more the software is fine tuned to suit the individual needs of those using it on a day to day basis. A great example of this is the handheld bar code scanners Syscom provides for those working in stores. 

The storekeepers need only strap the device to their hand and immediately they will have the power to quickly scan along a line of materials, such as rolls of fabric, and be instantly notified when they have found what they need.

Always looking for ways to offer the industry exactly what it needs, another request fielded by Syscom for its software was primarily to do with data, as John describes: “We know that from data we produce information which then produces insight, but when you’re looking for that information, it is a lot more challenging to obtain what you need, especially if you systems are old, or hard coded as many are that call for specialist IT resource for the most simplest of tasks. 

“Ordinarily, for companies to generate reports using old systems they would have to call upon separate organisations to come in and do it for them. Microsoft decided there should be no need for this when you could do it yourself, so they created the facilities internally within Dynamics AX that will ask for whatever kind of report you’re looking for and help build it for yourself.”

In the end, what Syscom is offering is help for the industry to help itself. Not satisfied with allowing companies to continue with systems that had been hard coded and couldn't be changed, Microsoft Dynamics AX is highly adaptable. Indeed, the final piece in the jigsaw for Syscom has been to get the product in front of the businesses who will use it every day and find out ideas for what can be done to give the system more value. And while the product is standardising the way in which things are done, in no way will it ever detract from the uniqueness of a business. After all, a system will only ever be as good as the people who are using it. All Syscom is aiming to do is give manufacturers every opportunity available to make the most of their offer.

As John concludes: “We’re not in it for the short term game. We have a long term strategy to get the industry working harmoniously so that companies can compete with overseas companies that really are reaching out and stealing customers and market share. They are not using any advanced technology, they’re just using what technology they have available in an intelligent way. If we can help UK furniture manufacturers to achieve the same thing by using available technology in a better way then they will be able to compete head to head with these organisations and maintain, if not attract more, business. “The quality of British product is second to none, in my opinion, and it’s a shame that so many companies can claim to offer
similar quality for a much lower price. If we can at least level the playing field from a technological perspective then it will allow our British manufacturers to stand up and be counted.”