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Jelly maker gets out of a jam with SAP

Poor data quality and inefficient business processes led to an overhaul of business software systems at Texas-based Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods.

Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods has been successful at creating popular gourmet jams and jellies, but when Dan Sechrist took over as chief financial officer two years ago, it was clearly time for an overhaul.

Most of the firm's operations were paper based, and while the business software being used was effectively managing the company's accounting practices, the company had little control over the manufacturing operations, according to Sechrist.

The company's rapid growth in the past few years took its toll. While cooks created the tasty jellies, jams and sauces, the managers couldn't easily determine exactly what was being stored in the company warehouse and where specific products were being shipped, Sechrist said.

"It was like we were on a different planet when we looked at what was inside the system versus what was in inventory," he said. "It [caused] huge problems for us at audit time and what was really clear was we didn't know whether we were losing or winning."

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The Fredericksburg, Texas-based company took action. The staff meticulously researched over 100 software vendors before deciding to choose SAP's Business One software to correct its muddled processes.

The company evaluated Microsoft's Great Plains software, a version of Microsoft's newly acquired Dynamics suite, but found it missing specific manufacturing functionality, Sechrist said. An integrated suite that could tie together accounting and manufacturing processes could improve the company, he said.

"I think the software can go head to head with Business One," he said. "It's a solid accounting package. The problem is, I don't need just an accounting package."

The firm selected Minneapolis-based SoftBrands Inc. to implement the software vendor's Fourth Shift Edition version of SAP Business One to run its manufacturing operations. Fourth Shift Edition is SoftBrands' management suite for small and midsized manufacturers.

With the holidays being the busiest time of the season, Fisher & Wieser worked with SoftBrands Inc. to implement the software and migrate company data to the new system. The software was installed on the company's servers in April. By August, it went into full production.

"We designed our processes to some extent around the system because the system is best practices and we weren't," he said.

The implementation ran into some issues that Sechrist attributes to poor data quality. At times, the system was also sluggish due to an indexing issue, but the problems have been resolved, he said.

The deployment team worked more than two days a week for six weeks transferring data and testing the system offline. The first two weeks the company made sure transactions were processed through the system properly, and the second and third parts of the project included data integration, process engineering and training, Sechrist said.

The project has resulted in more efficient business processes, he said. For example, when the company conducts a mock recall, it took days with the old system since much of the work was done by hand. With Business One, Sechrist can track a specific batch of jelly and know where it has been shipped in seconds.

The Business One implementation is also leading to other projects, Sechrist said.

The company plans to implement CRM functionality within the suite and then add bar coding technology for the manufacturing and warehouse facilities, he said. A plan is also being considered to improve the company's Web integration, allowing wholesale customers to place orders through a Web portal.

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