Pro4u Business System: Enterprise resource planning - Anders Carlsson

Success or failure in business can hinge on how well a company's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is tuned to its particular needs. Anders Carlsson, CEO of Pro4u Business System, an IT and management consultancy, emphasises the importance of keeping systems up to date and making businesses truly 'agile'.

ERP systems are central to companies, whatever the industry, providing a single data source for functions spanning an entire business, from customer orders, to supplier and vendor information, and the product catalogue. Used efficiently, they can increase a company's responsiveness to customer demand and changes in the market, as well as streamlining purchasing and financial reporting. But without attention to the specific markers and measurements needed for a particular business, the same systems that should help boost business, will only hinder it.

Anders Carlsson, CEO of Pro4u Business System, an IT and management consultancy dedicated to making client's ERP systems more efficient, outlines why it's so vital to pinpoint the identifiers needed, and to root these firmly in automated processes.

"You should focus on what is the most important thing for running your business, and we talk about 'agile' businesses these days," he says. "What makes you agile? In the worst case, it can be that you don't actually know what you are doing, so you think you are agile just because you are reacting all the time. But reacting to what signals and what measurements?

"If you run a business and you are selling green shirts, when do you notice that the customers don't actually buy them; they buy red shirts? Do you see that when you close your books, or when you do accounting on the inventory, or in your activity logs? Do you have the competence to supply that need in your shops? What if the weather changes?

"I think it's very important to define in advance the simple information you need to identify and give you that input."

In addition to its work today making ERP systems more effective, Pro4u Business System's birth as a company was in fact a response to a certain inefficiency in the market. Working as a project manager for a large-scale ERP project in 2003, Carlsson became frustrated with the limitations of subcontractors, who wouldn't always cooperate with each other, and that presented resourcing problems at important times because there was no control over when individuals took holidays. Together with two colleagues, a salesman and an ERP expert, Carlsson established Pro4u Business System as a company with permanent employees. Today, it works with companies in its native Sweden, as well as Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK.

It implements the standard system, made by market leaders IFS, but also works with companies to improve its existing use by helping them to outline their core needs and requirements, and ensuring these functions are built into the system, and are quick and simple for users where input is required. These markers make it easy to record elements such as day-to-day sales, changes in supply and upcoming changes expected in the market. By collating these diverse data feeds through one ERP system, businesses can become more responsive to supply and demand, and, significantly, they can use the system to identify and prevent recurring faults.

Cover the bases

Pro4u Business System works across a range of industries, offering enterprise asset management (EAM) to power plants, offshore rigs, electricity transmission networks, telephone infrastructure companies and security providers from CCTV to private alarms. It also provides enterprise service management (ESM) to life sciences companies, such as facilitating the flow of documentation demanded by the US FDA during drug testing and certification.

Despite the differing nature of these industries, for Carlsson, it is the similarities rather than the differences that stand out, and these are key to making the existing ERP system work within its core competencies, rather than instigating unnecessary technical modifications.

"Today, the customer is very competent and they don't need someone to interpret what the supplier says any more, they know it," Carlsson says. "But how we can support is by asking the right questions, because we know it doesn't matter if its sandwiches or shirts or radios, we know there are common processes, and we can simplify the system and increase the value of what they deliver.

"IFS has a huge palette of functionality, everything from HR competence licences to percentage of completion calculation, service management, and enterprise asset management in a very advanced set-up.

"Modification, on the other hand, takes time, and it may take a month to define, develop and test. If you don't have that time in a project, it can cause delays and added cost, and increase your risks, because you're not talking about the same thing as you started with at the beginning."

Instead of making permanent technical changes to the system, it is more cost and time-efficient to work within the wide confines of the IFS system. The recently launched version is more configurable than ever, and Pro4u Business System's consultants can work with customers to adapt the in-built processes to suit a diverse range of business needs across vastly differing industries.