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Known for reliability and durability, the manufacturer creates products that are used globally by both professionals and DIYers alike. From their facilities in the UK, the company produces and exports innovative products to customers worldwide.

PDMS has had a close partnership with the manufacturer for over two decades and continues to provide ongoing technical support, development, and maintenance to their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. The following case study provides insight into the thinking behind and approach to our current modernisation project with the manufacturer.

A photo of a manufacturing employee in a hard hat and high vis jacket

The decision to modernise

Implemented over 25 years ago, the manufacturer's existing ERP system is used to run their operations and manage their product and engineering data, stock levels, sales orders, time records and financial information. The system has served the company well over the past two decades and remains the foundation for their business. 

Continual development within the legacy ERP has taken place over the years to add new features and functionality that met the business' changing needs. However, the underlying technology has remained the same.  

The system utilises a green-screen user interface to a mainframe residing on a legacy technology that is coming up to end of life. This created a sense of urgency within the company around support and security. The system is also written in an older coding language, and it is becoming harder to find the skills required to support the software and which cannot be migrated to a modern operating system. 

A close-up of a person using a laptop screen with a digital overlay of graphs

The challenges 

The limitations of the green-screen user interface include a non-graphical representation of data and statistics. Compared to modern systems where dashboards and exportable results come as standard, this was an area which, if improved, could help better inform business decisions. 

In addition, newer employees to the business are more accustomed to smartphones and desktops, and may not have encountered a green-screen interface before. As a result, they can struggle with this high barrier to entry as the perceived unintuitive system places a high demand on training and slows the performance of the team. 

Further consideration is to be given around compatibility and integration with other systems. Newer equipment, whether portable devices or machinery for the factory, may struggle to run the legacy ERP for a mobile user that needs to leave their desk while remaining logged in or allow connectivity to exchange data automatically, give commands, and monitor for alerts. 

To overcome these issues, the manufacturer looked to PDMS for the best way to modernise the ERP while keeping the impact to the business minimal. 

An icon of a green-screen interface

The approach to modernisation 

Due to PDMS' long-standing relationship with the manufacturer, we have a strong understanding of their business needs and modernisation requirements. Our awareness of the data structure gave us a head start in considering how we approached the large task that the manufacturer has embarked upon. 

To reduce risk and disruption during this change to the business, PDMS took to re-architecting the ERP while referencing the same database to allow both systems to run simultaneously. The new ERP system provided a separate window into the system, allowing us to migrate users and departments gently in stages. 

The new ERP system was rewritten in an up-to-date coding language and resides on a modern technology stack in a private cloud. This hosting arrangement, as part of a managed service, brings a whole new array of benefits to the organisation such as, but not limited to, business continuity through resilient design as standard. 

A photo of a modern graphical user interface with a photo of a laptop with digital icons overlaid

Enabling a smooth transition 

The ability to have both the old and new ERP systems live and in use across the business at the same time without any downtime is important because it enables a smoother transition and reduces risk. 

PDMS analyses functions and liaises with teams to understand what is necessary in the existing ERP then codes the function into the new one. Training is provided in the new graphical user interface (GUI) then the customer adopts the process when comfortable. 

Rolling out functionality in the new ERP and gradually reducing the use of the previous system across the business is decreasing the dependency on the underlying technology. This is reducing the burden of infrastructure maintenance on the in-house IT department, as well as the expenditure required to renew the hardware. 

The manufacturer recognised that to transform such a fundamental system to the business, a 'big bang' approach would be incredibly disruptive with the legacy ERP turning off and the new system turning on at the same time. It is common to hear of manufacturers who have opted for this approach and been adversely impacted through production downtime and subsequent loss of sales - leading to financial and reputational damage. 

A photo of two people working at a computer with code on the screen

Looking ahead 

Although this was a complex project, PDMS specialises in migrating legacy systems and we always take a pragmatic approach. We understand the importance of maintaining business as usual as far as possible. With our expertise firmly focused on delivering a seamless experience for the manufacturer, we are progressively modernising their systems to meet current and future business needs. While migrating existing processes between ERP systems, we also continue to create new functionality as the business drives further efficiency with, and value from, technology. 

Improvements and efficiencies are already being seen using the new ERP. Feedback from our client includes 'considerable time savings in meetings due to the more graphical representation of daily worksheets' and 'the ability to generate and amend reports instantly to save time'. 

The two teams are continuing to collaborate closely on the migration project to put the manufacturer on a new digital path. As we celebrate over three decades in business, the manufacturer is one of our longest standing clients. We look forward to working with them into the future, supporting their technology platforms as they continue to innovate to meet growing customer demand. 

A photo of a digital screen containing tiles of work items