Essentra Combines Aging ERP Data with Unifi
Essentra is a leading international supplier of specialist plastic, fiber, foam and packaging products with three Strategic Business Units: Component Solutions, Health & Personal Care Packaging and Filtration Products.
The company produces and distributes millions of small but essential components. From pharmaceutical blister packs to specialized tape products, Essentra is also the only independent filter manufacturer to the tobacco industry. Headquartered in Milton Keynes, UK, Essentra’s global reach extends to 33 countries and includes 53 principal manufacturing facilities, 64 sales and distribution operations and 5 research and development centers.
A Data Dilemma Through Acquisition
A FTSE 250 company with annual revenues of over 1.2B ($1.8B), Essentra’s leadership team is on a mission to move into the coveted FTSE100 roster of companies with over 2B ($3B) in annual revenue. To complement organic growth in each operating division the company has acquired 15 companies in the past three years. For the IT department, the acquisition and integration of incumbent systems poses huge problems. Many of the acquisitions have outdated legacy systems running on ancient, by today’s standards, AS400 mainframe computers. To compound the IT headache many of the personnel who originally installed and maintained these legacy systems are no longer with the company and the IT team has to sleuth their way through custom software on outdated operating systems.
It’s not surprising, then, that Brad Schechtman, regional VP finance at Essentra North America, describes the laborious, monthly task undertaken by two of his team to consolidate ERP data from seven different ERP systems. This essential insight needed to understand manufacturing costs and thus profitability takes days and runs to many dozen spreadsheets. The process is fraught with the potential for human error, indeed in cross-checking numbers with each other, the financial analysts often arrive at different results.
2020 Data Vision Enabled with Unifi
Essentras CIO, Andy Gamble, approached Unifi to help solve their data dilemma. Essentra assigned Nina Rush as program coordinator. Nina’s unique combination of technical and financial skills and experience helped facilitate the initial discovery and engage with multiple members of the North American IT team and finance to understand the requirements and deliverables of a proof of concept. Nina has broken the task into three phases:
Phase I: Consolidate data sources into one Unified database
Phase II: Creation of centralized and standardized business KPIs
Phase III: Produce an enterprise-wide Master Data Management plan
The first task was to identify all the parameters from an accounting perspective that described Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) such as; raw materials, fabrication, parts shipping, assembly, distribution costs etc. This comprised of some 25 separate data attributes including; product, customer, accounting, calendar and sales invoice data.
The next task was to identify, for each of the 15 North American ERP systems, a common language for these parameters. The challenge for this activity was compounded by the fact that each ERP system has a unique set of parameters and operational methodology. For example, even though 8 of the 15 ERP systems are based on FourthShift, each instance of that software varies from the other. For example, in one legacy system a parts distribution cost attribute was called parts_shipping and in another system, the same attribute was called component_transit. Having identified the common language the normalization could begin in earnest.
ERP Data in the Cloud
Given the geographic dislocation of the Essentra data centers, Unifi decided to create a private cloud instance of Hadoop at AWS. The Unifi solution is a simple client on the Hadoop environment. A secure VPN connection is established between each Essentra data center and the AWS environment with redundant failover so that the AWS environment integrates seamlessly with Essentra’s internal data sources.
Under the Unifi role-based permission system, each user at Essentra has their own account on Unifi. These users are managed within the Unifi platform but are authenticated through Essentra’s Active Directory. Data sources are assigned by the IT administrator at a user or group level. Data attributes can also be viewed at a column or row level by specific users.
Unified Financial Data A First Look
The first phase of the project is now complete and for the first time in the company’s history the finance depart can receive a unified view of their data across all North American ERP systems within minutes. The financial analysts are still viewing familiar Excel spreadsheets without all the data gathering and normalization effort previously required.
Essentra is now evaluating BI tools to move into phase II of the project. This will allow the finance department to create a set of standardized Key Performance Indicators for the business and display these dynamically. Unifi formats the transformed data into native BI formats for fast loading of data on the BI tool. The early success of the data gathering, cleansing, normalizing and transformation of data at Essentra has given an impetus to roll out the solution on a global scale. Soon all 23 ERP systems in three separate global regions will be connected to Unifi. Let the insights begin!
Integrate 23 different ERP systems to provide timely reports to the CFO
Deploy Unifi to seamlessly integrate legacy data, cleanse and enrich the data and then format for viewing on BI tools
Monthly accounting tasks are now delivered in minutes rather than days.
Nina Rush, Head of PMO & Strategic Business Partner