Alba Spectrum reengineers Dynamics GP Order Processing and Logistics system for Hiller Carbon
Hiller Carbon, LLC, is a leading supplier of specialty carbon products to the steel, paper and chemical industries. Since their founding in Florida 35 years ago, they have developed industry-leading expertise in carbon processing and milling operations, product quality control and logistics.
By 2014, CEO Marty Hiller realized that Hiller Carbon’s growth required the company to re-engineer the systems tracking its operational processes. A 2014 internal review of Hiller Carbon’s operational processes showed that several functions were manually maintained, with functional issues. For example:
- Sale terms required some invoices to separately display freight and other costs, but bundled these costs on other invoices.
- Logistics coordination between customers, Hiller depots and shipping companies was conducted outside the system through phone calls.
- Too much time was needed to match fulfilment and delivery confirmations for each truckload with vendor invoices.
- Hiller Carbon management, sales people, vendors and customers could not view the information needed to coordinate fulfillment operations on a timely basis.
Marty reached out to Hiller Carbon’s Microsoft Dynamics GP Project Manager, Rachel Johnson at Crestwood Associates LLC, to suggest how their system could be improved. Rachel’s analysis discovered that while several Dynamics GP add on products could be helpful, no solution was a complete fit or could be fully, and affordably, adapted to suit Hiller’s requirements.
Rachel and Marty decided to approach the project in two stages: Phase 1 would quickly solve as many problems as possible using off-the-shelf solutions, and Phase 2 would review the solution in use and decide the viability of a customization project.
The solution implemented, created inter-connected records for GP SOP Invoicing, PM Transactions, and IV Bill of Materials.
This solution reduced paperwork and time needed to create customer invoices, but several problems remained:
- Each permutation of product/depot/customer/shipping method and delivery rate was defined in a separate bill of materials (BOM). This accumulation of BOMs rendered it difficult to check for errors. Furthermore, each change in product cost, shipper or shipping rate required the editing of multiple BOMs
- Hiller Carbon staff had to run the macros and then print, scan and e-mail invoices. Any error required the transaction to be voided and the process repeated
- Vendor purchase orders to fulfill customer sales could only be generated after the material was delivered to the customer
- It was difficult to accommodate customer requests to aggregate or separate Freight Charges
- It was not practical to give GP access to inventory storage, processing and logistics subcontractors, resulting in delayed date entry and significantly affected coordination efficiency
In all, the process was still cumbersome and required much manual intervention.
Hiller had recently experienced a significant increase in business volume. The need to streamline the process and increase accuracy was becoming more urgent. Marty and Rachel decided to look again for a development partner with the expertise to reengineer the process and develop an affordable end-to-end solution.
Rachel observed that “Marty Hiller has a clear vision of Hiller’s objective. The nature of his project requirements made the search for a solution easier to discuss, but also very challenging to achieve within the framework of a regular ERP system. Marty Hiller will say Hiller Carbon’s processes are simple, and he is correct in one sense. It comes from years of Hiller Carbon refining and tailoring their sales fulfilment operations to provide a competitive edge.”
Although Hiller’s ERP system needed multiple GP transactions to define each sale, Rachel realized that Hiller Carbon actually needed fewer than half a dozen data fields to procure, process and deliver product. The challenge was to create a system that matched the processes that Hiller had already developed.
After further discussions with several GP Development consultants, Rachel’s yearlong search to develop a comprehensive solution ended when she contacted Alba Spectrum, a Dynamics GP designer/developer who specializes in extending GP functionality to complex business requirements. Initial discussions indicated to Rachel that Alba had the right combination of business experience, design expertise and technology skills to successfully implement a project of this scale. Alba’s CEO, Rod Bergl, stated that Alba Spectrum “had previously completed a large project for one of Hiller’s major customers, a global steel manufacturer, which included similar issues. We saw that a similar approach would be relevant to Hiller Carbon.”
"While existing ISV products for GP provided some of the functionality our client needed, they did not solve the underlying problems, and the other consultant partners that I contacted were not interested in significant customization. Ultimately, we determined the best solution for Hiller Carbon was not a specific product but a specific ISV Partner: Alba Spectrum."
Microsoft Dynamics GP Project Manager
Rod and the Alba development team worked with Rachel to re-evaluate the project. A detailed onsite walk through of Hiller’s operational cycle showed that some key requirements like contract pricing rates and shipment dispatch had not been identified during the original project. It also became apparent that the data needed to coordinate each sale could be defined and entered in a much simpler format.
How we helped
After conducting an in-depth requirements analysis with both Hiller Carbon and Crestwood, Alba Spectrum identified a five-step Order Processing System:
Contract Administration, defining how Customer-specific products were linked to depot locations and delivery methods
- Order Entry
- Dispatch (scheduling delivery dates and trucking services)
- Fulfillment (confirmation of delivery and net weights delivered)
- Settlement (automated creation of customer invoices and vendor vouchers for processing and trucking charges)
Alba Spectrum used this analysis to present a detailed requirements document and a design simulation to the Hiller Carbon team for review and input, resulting in Hiller Carbon’s enthusiastic decision for Alba to develop the solution.
Development was based on Alba’s Advanced Work Flow framework (AWF), which provided several benefits:
- A web portal provides a simplified, intuitive user interface which can be viewed and updated by external contractors
- Processes are designed and maintained within the Alba Workflow Development Environment rather than in code
- Each process stage can automatically notify selected participants when action is required or completed
- The portal provides a graphical reporting interface, enabling management to assess performance of each process at a glance
- GP integration is managed through AWF
The development team was led by Ric Paras, Alba’s Development Manager for workflow and web-based applications. “Hiller’s business processes were complex, with multiple integration points between GP to the Web Portal,” said Ric, “but AWF enabled us to deliver a cost-effective workflow enabled solution for Hiller that increased efficiency within an easy-to-use interface.”
The project was completed on budget and close to schedule.
Data Visibility: Hiller’s vendors can directly see upcoming orders and no longer need to send invoices for loads going to customers. Since the vendor and trucking invoices are now generated in the Portal during the Settlement process, the amount of time needed for review has been dramatically reduced and the vendor payment cycle is much faster.
"One of the biggest benefits we have realized since implementing the Alba Spectrum solution, is the combination of automating the process and cutting down on the time needed to manage it. A major priority at Hiller has been to eliminate as much manual work as possible, and Alba Spectrum has enabled us to achieve this goal. Alba’s extensions to GP have become a major asset for our operations."
Chief Financial Officer
Fulfillment and delivery information is entered directly by each vendor, and each stage in the process flows directly into the next. Vendor invoices are generated directly from shipment confirmations, so 95% of the work previously needed to match vendor invoices has been eliminated. Vendor invoices are also directly tied to the Customer sales documents
Payment vouchers are now created when an order is fulfilled and settled. The time and effort needed to initiate, process, deliver and settle each customer order has been dramatically reduced All related documents for each Order are explicitly tied to it within the database
Hiller has better visibility into their operations:
- Staff can track the sales and compare product margins across multiple customers, because freight and any other secondary costs have been segregated from the BOM
- They can view easily evaluate order, schedule deliveries and identify any slowdowns in the system
Rachel commented that “Crestwood’s partnership with Alba allowed us to offer Hiller a solution providing everything the client needed and nothing they didn’t, within an affordable budget.” This partnership proved invaluable as Alba’s team guided Hiller from initial design to final deployment. As with any custom effort, there were challenges and changes, but Alba’s design approach enabled Hiller to integrate their key operational functions in a way that hadn’t been possible before.”
If you are interested in learning how Alba Spectrum can develop a solution for you to maximize the value of your investment in Microsoft Dynamics GP, contact Luanne McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-219-2377.
About Hiller Carbon LLC:
Since establishment in 1975, Hiller specializes in the sourcing, processing and marketing of specialty carbon products. Their strength in integrating custom-tailored raw materials with efficient logistics provides the high quality of service needed by heavy industry clients, making Hiller a major supplier of carbon additives to the steel industry. Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, the company ranks among the top 150 privately held firms in Florida. For more information, please visit www.hillercarbon.com.
About Crestwood Associates LLC:
Crestwood Associates, a Microsoft Dynamics Gold Certified Partner and 10-Time Microsoft President’s Club member, and Acumatica US Partner of the Year (2016), brings the knowledge and experience needed to implement and maintain ERP and CRM solutions for the SMB market. We offer deep expertise in Microsoft’s Dynamics GP, Dynamics SL, Dynamics CRM and Acumatica product lines, along with in-house development, integration and customization expertise. Crestwood serves over 700 clients across 22 states and is headquartered in Mount Prospect, IL with additional offices in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. For more information, please visit www.crestwood.com.
About Alba Spectrum:
Alba Spectrum Corporation, a Silver Certified Microsoft Dynamics Partner, tailors Microsoft Dynamics GP to the needs of evolving organizations. Since 2004. Alba Spectrum’s primary goal has been to help midrange companies improve operational performance. By streamlining everyday processes and optimizing functionality, directly for clients and in partnership with GP reselling organizations, Alba Spectrum helps businesses improve productivity and profitability while staying on budget. For more information, please call 1-773-384-9264 or visit www.albaspectrum.com