Electroimpact Inc. (EI) is a world leader in design and manufacturing of aerospace tooling and automation. EI was founded in 1986 to be the ultimate engineer’s company, one who hires the best people and removes all barriers that would prevent them from doing the best job they can.
With their mission to be the premier supplier of automated equipment to the worldwide aircraft industry, Electroimpact’s customer base includes Airbus, Boeing, Dassault Aviation, Spirit Aerostructures, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Bombardier, and many others. Fundamentally an early adopter of appropriate technology, EI empowers its engineers to acquire the tools they feel are necessary to perform their work most effectively.
In 2003, EI launched an ERP system from Epicor. There were not many platforms to choose from at the time and EI couldn’t find an out-of-the-box solution that fit their business model. The business used the Epicor ERP system from 2003 to 2021 and it ran the financials in EI’s heyday of $300m in revenue and 800+ employees doing business on five continents.
EI’s implementation of the Epicor ERP system did not include tools for analyzing revenue or cost by customer, industry, or product group. It also did not have any budgeting or forecasting tools useful for estimating costs. EI could only project costs based on experience from previous similar jobs that would inform their leadership’s gut instincts.
These issues became more apparent as the business exited a 15-year period of explosive growth and unlimited cash driven by successive, ever-larger major projects for new aircraft programs for the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).
The ERP system issued several version updates during this period. Each update required ever-more effort to update the custom queries accessing the Progress data. EI leaned entirely on a single system administrator expert to recode the reporting and implement the update. The last update took several years to fully implement, which was a frustrating experience for everyone.
Epicor was deprecating the Progress database and moving to SQL. This meant a larger investment in time and resources was required. EI presented this cost and schedule to the company owner, Peter Zieve. Peter sagely looked at the number and asked if they should be making that investment in the current ERP solution provider or use this opportunity to move to a more modern platform.
EI’s mechanical engineering lead then pivoted to market research for a new ERP to see what that would involve. Michael Zieve, VP, suggested they focus on the top-5 in market share as those would likely have the best longevity.
The EI team went around the business and compiled a list of the features that would be needed from a new ERP system. For example, they needed to continue to be able to issue a PO in under 3 minutes. They also wanted to explore newer technology like working in the cloud.
The EI team evaluated the various ERP systems against their feature list. They also read industry white papers, explored Gartner research, and talked to peer companies about their experiences with different ERP solutions.
Through a vetting and demo process, EI collected information to score each platform and the integrator’s capabilities and experience against their feature list. The result was Microsoft Dynamics and SAP emerging as the final two options.
Ultimately, EI and SAP mutually agreed that the SAP platform was not the right fit for EI. Primarily because EI’s unorthodox business processes did not map to the well-established SAP workflows, and SAP’s platform at the time had limited connectivity of data flow between them.
Microsoft then referred EI to Encore Business Solutions, a Microsoft Partner. The company began the evaluation process and focused on how Encore would help implement Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management solution. Encore helped EI understand that Microsoft intends their platform to meet 80% of any company’s needs for basic functions like issuing POs, paying vendors, and producing financial documents like P&L and balance sheet. For the remaining 20%, Microsoft has a network of partners that deliver solutions that are industry or process-specific or adapt to a firm’s “secret sauce”.
“We chose to work with Encore because they approached the ERP implementation as if they were a member of our team, and not an outsider. They worked closely with us to align our business workflows to the software’s best practices.”
– Michael Zieve, Vice President, EI
Encore realized that the functionality EI needed for their project-based work was not available out-of-the-box in Dynamics 365 but was available with add-on tools from To-Increase, a tech-savvy and innovative company founded in 2005 that delivers purpose-built applications to help their clients solve problems easily.
To-Increase’s Dynamics 365 Advanced Project Management (APM) solution provided the EI manufacturing team with additional visibility into each customer’s project ― right from initial quotation, capacity planning, and work breakdown structure through to costing and materials supply chain. This vital project information enabled EI to provide better overall project management, control costs, and improve profitability.
“Encore, To-Increase, and the EI teams worked well together from the very start of the selection and evaluation processes. EI provided all the necessary information to make proper product recommendations and measured them against their requirements and overall solution goals before embarking on this digital transformation journey. Except for two onsite visits in 2019 before the Covid travel restrictions, most of the implementation was conducted remotely by the To-Increase team. The EI and Encore teams quickly learned how to use To-Increase solutions and are now self-sufficient in handling most support and expansion issues.” – Kevin Davis, Sales Specialist, Americas, To-Increase
Encore set up demos and customer testimonials for project-based work specifically around dynamic BOMs (bill of materials) driven by PLM (product lifecycle management) where procurement needs to begin before the BOM is fully defined. Via introductions made by Encore, EI met several very interesting companies who were able to show how they used To-Increase’s features seamlessly with Dynamics 365 in their business.
The concept was that Encore would “move the big rocks” i.e., do a one-time setup and configuration that would not likely be revisited in the future and therefore had no value in EI learning how to do them. EI would move most of the “small rocks”, like configuring workflows and building reports, things that EI would need to revisit often and thus should have the in-house capability for.
To set Electroimpact up for success, the team organized their feature list by SME (subject matter expert) and created a project email distribution list to include them as team members. Encore’s Project Manager was assigned to this engagement and orchestrated a project kickoff between the Encore and EI teams. EI defined a “base camp” area in their business office where SMEs, Encore, and EI project managers could co-locate, facilitating collaboration and face-to-face interaction for daily work on the project. The kickoff meeting between teams included introduction of the project schedule provided by Encore as well as a chance for the teams to meet each other.
The Analysis phase of the project began with one of the first activities being creation of a feature list for a BRD (business requirements document). Encore’s plan included time for their team to divide up the BRD and interview EI’s SMEs and gather artifacts to document the requirements at a detailed level. Encore set EI up using Microsoft Teams for collaboration and meetings. This allowed Encore team members at EI’s offices to collaborate with other Encore team members who were far from the EI location and unable to be onsite. Encore’s project manager set up an Azure DevOps project for tracking actions so they could maintain the project schedule. The Analysis material was presented by Encore with support from the SMEs at a Preliminary Design Review to EI’s leadership and ownership.
“This milestone established EI’s confidence in Encore’s understanding of the project, helped EI understand some risk areas, and cemented our confidence in the Encore team as competent experts.” – Benjamen D Hempstead, PE, Mechanical Engineering Lead, EI
Soon after the start of this phase, North America was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was quite a stroke of luck that EI had already gained some competence on working with Microsoft Teams. The EI group was able to quickly produce some tips, tricks, and best practices and publish that internally via their SharePoint intranet to the rest of EI. This enabled the whole organization to get up to speed on Teams with a built-in group of people familiar with the technology, at a time when many businesses were struggling to engage remote workers.
“Encore set EI up for success with the Teams and Azure DevOps tools to enable collaboration and maintain the schedule, ensuring we met our three project goals of 100% completion of critical business requirements at Go Live, completed with 90% Best Practices or better, and GO Live done in a timely manner that does not delay or disrupt any new business.” – Benjamen D Hempstead, PE, Mechanical Engineering Lead, EI
Connectivity Studio provided by To-Increase enabled a nearly seamless Dynamics 365 launch process. The original intent of the Connectivity Studio purchase was to enable a seamless PLM to Dynamics 365 product integration, which was achieved. EI also found the tool very useful for passing data between CoreHR and Dynamics 365, surpassing the built-in functionality in either platform.
“Electroimpact believes it is the first business in the aerospace industry worldwide to integrate Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform and Keytech PLM directly with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management.”
– Benjamen D Hempstead, PE, Mechanical Engineering Lead, EI
Electroimpact then proceeded to use this tool for much more than just the integration between platforms. Connectivity Studio provided a framework to pass data into and out of Dynamics 365 in a reliable and repeatable manner which would have been more difficult to do otherwise. For the cutover process EI used a combination of direct ODBC (open database connectivity) connections into the legacy ERP system and formatted file imports to migrate POs, vendors, customers, production orders, and approved vendors seamlessly into Dynamics 365. EI also built additional tools for the production environment without any additional back-end code. They leveraged SQL triggers to automatically run Master Planning on newly synced PLM Items and used Web Services to upload inspection reports and invoice attachments directly to the related objects in the system.
“The PLM and Connectivity Studio tools from To-Increase have enabled us to configure integrations between various systems, saving us time, expensive customizations, and additional implementation costs. Besides, the maintenance of these integrations will be part of the overall Microsoft release schedule, which will save us extra maintenance costs as well.” – Mike Dores, Project Manager, EI
The Dev team created a DevOps project for ticketing and linked it directly into Dynamics 365. Adoption and use of this ticketing system was fantastic during UAT (user acceptance testing) and post-Go Live, giving EI real-time progress and metrics on all ongoing issues.
A unique and clever feature of the Microsoft engagement was their policy of withholding access to the production environment until Microsoft was satisfied that the deployment would be successful. This reduces the risk of a bad Go Live. Bad Go Lives not only damage the client, they also reflect poorly on Microsoft and the Partners. For a company that makes custom machinery, like EI, the idea that their customers would not be allowed to use their products until EI was satisfied they were ready was fascinating.
“The evidence of a true partnership between EI, Encore, and Microsoft was evident throughout the project during the FastTrack engagement. I truly believe this partnership is a key contributor to the success of this Go Live and EI’s ability. It is evident to me that the EI team’s desire to own their new system and business process will help shape even more digital transformation in the future as they settle into the new system and start to explore even more of what the solution has to offer.”
– Rachel Profitt, Senior Program Manager and designated FastTrack Solution Architect, Microsoft
As with the ERP system, as EI grew so did the need for a robust Human Resources system. Having the right system helps keep an HR team compact and efficient. CoreHR has helped get EI’s HR team up to date with new tools and features like Employee Self Service. ESS helps take the burden of employee information updates off both the employee and HR. EI’s employees are now able to go to one place in order to update all of their personal information as well as access any important links. CoreHR is set up to feed information to Dynamics 365 using Connectivity Studio. This allows the HR team and employees to enter information in one system and have minimal to no setup required in the rest. This system helps EI minimize the possibility for user error while increasing the efficiency of the team. EI is continuing to implement other modules and features in CoreHR with the automation mindset their company is known for.
The SME team from EI of about 15 doubled with the addition of volunteer early adopter testers. EI worked to make sure they had test representation from across all business units in the organization. Along with the SMEs, these people would get advanced exposure to the system, and after UAT would fan out back across the organization. They would thus be embedded experts to help answer user questions on the spot after Go Live.
EI planned a few weeks of float to follow UAT so they would have time to address any bugs or missed features discovered during UAT. A few tests straggled into this window, but all were wrapped up in time for the Go Live date.
Within an hour of Go Live, the EI shop staff had clocked into production orders and were at work making parts. By day 3 post-Go Live, all open POs were cut over and 75 new POs had been placed with a total of 161 lines. 15 new production orders had been created, 120 products had been received, 13 new spares orders had been entered and 3 new fixed-price projects had been initiated.
By the end of the first week, 75% of the EI salaried staff had created and entered time on timesheets in the new system, assigning labor costs to projects appropriately. By the end of the second week post-Go Live, EI had successfully paid vendors, invoiced customers, and the support tickets had begun tapering off. EI did not push a single patch or update to Production in the first month post-Go Live.
“The biggest challenge we faced during the first month of operation was the backlog of invoices from vendors waiting to be paid. The difficulty in matching many of those invoices with the POs cut over really highlighted the missing or bad data in our old system. In our mission to reduce overhead and busywork, we fell short of adequate rigor in the past. New POs and payments post-Go Live now flow through smoothly.” – Benjamen D Hempstead, PE, Mechanical Engineering Lead, EI
The final metric of Go Live success was the depositing of paychecks into employees’ accounts for the first payroll conducted fully within the new ERP system. That date was 23 days after Go Live. As the operation phase stabilized, EI was able to revisit the DevOps items for features that were not able to be implemented during the project, plus look at new feature requests and begin a new DevOps project for implementing these features and deployment to their other business entities including operations in England and France. The key European team members who helped with the US implementation are now ready to deploy the system in their home offices with the help of the US EI organization.
The ultimate goal of this project was for Electroimpact to implement a modern and scalable solution to prepare the organization for the future. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management improves engineer’s productivity and also removes many customizations from the former ERP system.
“EI’s goals for this implementation were to enable EI to continue to do what we do, do some things better, and get this done in a timely manner. Establishing this mission statement at the launch of the project helped crystallize the top goals in a way EI and Encore could frequently refer to during the project. When a question arose about scope or process or desired result, Encore could support EI in achieving our goals by asking or answering the question – is this feature needed to enable us to do what we do, do something better, and can we get it done in time? This close collaboration exceeded our expectations and excites EI about Encore as a partner for future work with Microsoft technologies.” – Benjamen D Hempstead, PE, Mechanical Engineering Lead, EI