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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
War Graves Commission Automates Ordering Process with CRM System
Tasked with rapidly designing and implementing a new system for ordering replacement headstones within its cemeteries, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission turned to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and award-winning Microsoft Dynamics Partner eBECS. Against a tight deadline—and with a requirement to codify and develop more than 500 complex rules to govern automated headstone inscriptions—eBECS and Microsoft Dynamics CRM delivered to schedule.
Based in Maidenhead, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is funded by six member governments of the Commonwealth—Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The commission honours the 1.7 million servicemen and women who died in the two world wars, and cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries.
The commission, explains Liz Woodfield, Head of Information Systems, needed to increase the production of headstones from 5,000 to 22,000 a year, but it also had to speed up the replacement process. And, with the centenary of World War One approaching, timely delivery was vital. “Our headstone ordering process was largely paper based,” says Woodfield. “It required considerable manual intervention for both data validation and entering headstone information. It also relied on information from a number of different databases. There were significant delays between ordering and delivery.
”The Commonwealth War Graves Commission needed to establish a seamless process that required minimal manual intervention—from the point of ordering through to production.
In mid-2012, a formal request for information, specifying the requirements for the system, was sent to a number of potential suppliers. The majority of the responses suggested Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a solution. Woodfield says: “Selecting a partner was difficult, but two of the companies stood out. We chose eBECS because we felt comfortable that it could help us work through a complex process, and that it would develop and incorporate additional functionality with Microsoft Dynamics. We also felt confident that eBECS would be able to meet our deadline.
”With the go-ahead being given in late August 2012, eBECS and the commission decided on a pilot implementation date of 14 January 2013. Woodfield says: “It was incredibly tight, with minimal room for error or delay. It quickly became clear that the data we were working with was far more complex than anyone had suspected. Plus, critical data on individual casualties wasn’t always in the format we expected.“
We had to change the structure of our casualty database to feed in all the additional information required to order replacement headstones. Personal inscriptions had to be inserted into the database and a review of the regimental rules showed that the complexity of this data meant we would have to defer implementation of some of these rules until after the go-live date.”
Even so, working closely with commission personnel, the eBECS team was able to codify and fully automate more than 500 inscription rules, automatically creating a text file for use by the headstone-engraving machine.
With Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the commission saw its project delivered on time. The headstone ordering process is now automated, with inspectors’ visits being much more productive. “eBECS delivered a functioning system in the required timescale, allowing inspectors to go on site and start using the system in a live environment,” says Woodfield. “CRM is an important part of our overall information systems strategy, and, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, eBECS delivered a critical building block.”
Timely delivery to tight deadline. The project went live on the target day of 14 January 2013. But a lot of work still lay ahead. “It was very much a ‘live’ pilot,” says Woodfield. “We were working through issues as we encountered them, in a live environment.” Critically, the implementation team had one factor in its favour—there were still orders in the manufacturing queue that had been placed under the previous, manual system. These orders provided a buffer during which improvements to the new system could be made. By April, the system was live.
Automated process increased effectiveness. Now, inspectors in the field are more effective. When they visit cemeteries, they’re equipped with tablet PCs loaded with data from the commission’s casualty database. Using these, they generate headstone orders that are then routed automatically to either the records department at head office or the headstone workshop in Arras, France, to be fulfilled.
If there’s a discrepancy between the headstone on the ground and the data downloaded onto the tablet, it is forwarded to the records department at head office for validation. If the data meets the system’s completeness check, the order is sent directly to the engraving machine at the commission’s production centre.The headstone is then engraved and shipped to the appropriate cemetery in order to be erected. “We now have an automated process for headstone replacement that has reduced manual intervention from 100 per cent to less than 20 per cent of headstones.
This percentage will reduce significantly again once we have completed our review of the regimental rules,” says Woodfield. A large part of the credit, she insists, is down to eBECS and its promise that the tight deadline would be met.