Britehouse Digital uses SharePoint to automate industrial equipment rebuild centre
Astute combination of enhanced SharePoint functionality and custom development cuts training time, boosts customer satisfaction, and creates visibility and control across the value chain
A multinational company that had built the largest industrial equipment repair centre of its kind in Africa needed to optimises its physical assets through technologies that drive automation and eliminate variables.
The tooling and equipment within the centre, built in Gauteng, was designed to support expected growth in both the size and quantity of reparable components and new product technologies for at least a decade.
However, sophisticated as the new centre was, the technology used to manage it was rather less so. The new giant was proving difficult to manage. Customer expectations were not being met and the multinational company's reputation was under pressure. Automation of the centre became a burning issue.
To ensure the repair centre's efficiency and effectiveness, a custom developed Microsoft Access application had been implemented to streamline the process of receiving and repairing equipment components.
The system was too elementary, however, to track component disassembly in order to provide accurate quotes to customers while simultaneously accelerating the quoting process. The system could also not follow through with automation of the rebuild process, including the ordering of spare parts, once a quote was approved. Customers could not be given definitive time frames.
There was no central repository by means of which collaboration via email, discussions, and supporting documents could be enabled across the various stations on the factory floor or with the centre's stakeholders and the company's customer representatives. As a consequence, there was also no reference material for completed rebuilds.
Specifically, permissions were not governed and were difficult to control. Modifications to the Microsoft Access system were not governed and, so, the frequent changes made to it were not evaluated to assess their long term impact. The interface between the system and company's enterprise resource planning solution was not intuitive. And, the architecture of the Microsoft Access system did not cater for extensibility and maintainability.
"When client raised all these issues in a discussion we were having about another project, I tabled some ideas of how SharePoint could solve their problems without the need for an extended development process," says Britehouse Digital SharePoint team lead, Nevena Sloan. "Creating the same functionality within the company's SAP platform would take much longer and cost considerably more.
"Client gave us three months to apply our depth of SharePoint expertise and insight to fully automate the centre by optimising standard SharePoint functionality and, thereby, reducing the need for custom development."
Following four days of workshops with client stakeholders and users of the new system, a Britehouse Digital (then 3fifteen) business analyst mapped out the business processes and documented the functional requirements for the solution. A Britehouse team of four, including a project manager, then created and deployed the system on to the company's testing platform within six weeks. A senior developer implemented the components not available within SharePoint. These included a custom database and all the components required to interact with it.
Go live was delayed to allow for migration of data so that the company could produce both historical reports as well as those dealing with current activities. For the data migration, Britehouse Digital brought on a data analyst to do source to target mapping.
Client now has a solution that tracks a rebuild job from receiving, through customer quoting and the entire rebuild process, to completion.
SharePoint sites track individual jobs and are supported by a database containing underlying structured data. The database is designed to provide a summaries view on both job data and rebuild process data. End users apply the views directly from Excel spreadsheets to create reports on the go and segment data further.
SharePoint tasks track individual items assigned across the various teams within the client's organisation.
To facilitate collaboration between the various company stakeholders, within and outside the centre, the solution uses SharePoint discussion boards and email enabled document libraries. Relevant emails stored within SharePoint are surfaced using the Search Query web part.
Access to the various components of the solution is controlled through security groups, thereby limiting access to sensitive data and simplifying navigation and use for users.
"Because of limited time and budget, we had to be creative about pushing SharePoint as far as it could go and also finding a balance between what SharePoint could reasonably give us and developing some functionality from scratch," Sloan says.
The business wins
After only six weeks in the production environment, the solution was providing all the benefits for which it had been conceived.
Streamlined process management ensures that each process can be clearly understood by all end users and management, reducing training time.
Visibility of each stage of a rebuild job and measurable response and completion times ensure that realistic dates can be committed to the customer, significantly improving customer satisfaction.
Centrally accessible job data, including emails and documents, have reduced search time and enabled visibility of information across the entire team, including customer representatives who are geographically dispersed.
Ease of maintaining the system allows for easy future extension into, for instance, scanning integration and automated proposal generation.