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Privately-held Lanham, Maryland-headquartered Hargrove Inc. creates and builds the environments underpinning events such as trade shows, conferences, exhibitions, and political conventions.
As such, explains Barr Snyderwine, the company’s director of information technology, Hargrove needs an ERP system with strong capabilities in areas as diverse as project management and project accounting, purchasing, and manufacturing, and warehouse management. The company’s 365,000 square‑foot facility, for instance, combines cutting-edge design capabilities with an extensive warehouse, as well as a large manufacturing and fabrication shop for such things as stage sets.
But by 2012, Snyderwine and senior Hargrove management were aware that the combination of the company’s legacy Microsoft Dynamics ERP system with a number of third-party and homegrown systems was not able to keep up with both the company’s rapid growth, and the scale of the events that it was undertaking.
“It wasn’t an overnight epiphany, but we could see that our existing solution involved a lot of customization and integration,” he explains. “Over time, the architecture was getting increasingly complex: there had to be a better, simpler, way.”
That said, there were a number of fairly critical high-level requirements that any new ERP system had to meet, explains Snyderwine.
For a start, the level of functional fit had to be extremely high: while complex and requiring extensive integration, Hargrove’s existing solutions had evolved over time to meet the unique challenges of its business.
Second, the system’s procurement and project time-recording capabilities had to be extensive enough so that the existing third-party applications could be switched off.
Third, in a business where due-date performance is absolutely critical, workflow capabilities had to be excellent, and capable of being enhanced by mobile workflow where appropriate.
And finally, concludes Snyderwine, Hargrove wanted to improve on its existing project accounting capabilities, obtaining better visibility into project billing and costing, as well as comparisons with project budgeting.
By early 2014, he relates, the decision was made, after an extensive survey of the market, Microsoft Dynamics AX was selected as the ERP system that best matched Hargrove’s requirements.
With the decision made regarding Microsoft Dynamics AX, Snyderwine began surveying potential implementation partners.
A former IT consultant himself, he had firm views as to what Hargrove wanted from a potential partner, and how such a partner should work with Hargrove’s own team.
“We were very clear that we wanted to do the ‘heavy lifting’ ourselves, using our own people and developers to work on the design, the business process and the architecture,” he explains. “Not only did we believe that we understood our business better than a consultant coming at it for the first time, but we also wanted to retain the necessary ERP expertise in-house. But some firms we talked to didn’t see it that way, and were only interested in undertaking implementations if they were in the driving seat.”
Snyderwine decided to attend Convergence 2014, the Microsoft Dynamics user conference, where he met with eBECS. Here at last, he felt, was an implementation partner with whom Hargrove could work.
“eBECS looked at things the way that we did,” he sums up. “They were flexible, and would work with our people where we felt we didn’t have the skills or the capacity—such as Microsoft Dynamics AX’s project management and project accounting capabilities, for instance.”
Work began in January 2015, with the first phase of the implementation project going live in March 2016.
This first phase, explains Snyderwine, embraces all the core financial functionality, together with procurement, project accounting, project management, and project billing. The next phase, he adds, will deliver project budgeting, and comparisons against budget.
“The implementation went as expected, and users like it,” he reports. “We’ve switched off our third-party procurement and project time-recording applications, and are already benefiting from a number of the improvements that we were looking for—all within Microsoft Dynamics AX, rather than a set of separate systems, integrated so as to work together.”
In particular, he adds, the impact of the changes in project costing and accounting should not be underestimated.
“We’ve changed our costing methods and accounting methods, and are able to use different accounting policies—which is quite an extensive set of changes,” he points out. “The help from eBECS has been invaluable.”
Even before the second phase of the implementation—which will deliver project budgeting together with comparisons against budget—it’s clear that the project is a success, says Snyderwine.
“We were running the business on an elderly ERP system, supported by an ecosystem of third-party and homegrown applications,” he points out. “We’ve now got a single integrated system, giving us a single integrated view of the business. From an IT perspective, that’s cheaper and simpler to maintain, and better.”
“Plus, the procurement functionality is an improvement on what we had, and there are also a number of significant procedural improvements: we can now close projects more quickly and more simply, for instance,” he sums up. “Obviously, project budgeting—and comparisons against budget—will be the big ‘win’, but the benefits to date, from what we’ve achieved so far, are undoubted.”