Mon, 05 May 2003

Creating homegrown ERP software

Vishnu K. Mahmud, Contributor, Jakarta,

Aryana Haribawa was given a challenge: create a piece of software so everyone can go home by 5 p.m. It wasn't going to be easy. But as IT director for Lowe Indonesia, one of the premier advertising agencies in the country, he had to develop a centralized system to consolidate and manage data from the company's various multimillion dollar accounts.

"The old system was a combination of a multitude of small applications. Things had to be faxed, signed off, entered into a spreadsheet, double-checked and finally processed," said Aryana.

Many businesses in Jakarta use similar systems. Instead of an all-encompassing computer application to enter data and information per project, they usually open individual spreadsheets or word processing files and manually copy the numbers -- linking them to the separate project folders in their own unique ways. To find out the total costs or profits for a particular assignment, it would usually take hours while the accounting staff crunched the numbers and merged the data.

What Lowe Indonesia ( wanted was a highly customized Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that streamlined much of their business processes to provide efficient and accurate information sharing, from creative services to account management, from finance to human resources. In addition, the solution had to be user-friendly to allow the highly resourceful employees to utilize the system effectively for the company's benefit.

After trying off-the-shelf ERP products that covered limited aspects of the business, which were also difficult to customize, Lowe Indonesia decided to make their own system. Armed with Microsoft Visual Studio, Aryana and his team planned, developed and eventually deployed LIONS (Lowe Initiative Media Online System).

From budgeting project costs to maintaining client relationships, the system speeds up day-to-day operations. Accessible by the account management, traffic, production, media and finance departments, LIONS helps ensure the overall data is accurate and updated in real time.

Speeding up project reporting cuts down on both time and paperwork, allowing account managers to have real-time, on-line budget control. In addition, it permits management to see the effectiveness of their sales team by closely monitoring the profit and loss (P&L) statements of each account manager, as well as the progression of their account development and costs.

What Lowe did, says Adrian Wicaksono, account manager at Microsoft Indonesia, is something that other companies should consider in automating their business processes.

"The LIONS solution fits them perfectly. What Lowe Indonesia developed is a true industrial-strength ERP system that is scalable and fully integrated end-to-end with their other systems," he says. "And it's easier to find people who know how to program in Visual Basic or C. In the future, with the Microsoft .NET framework, they can migrate them to web services easily."

"With our custom-made LIONS solution," says Aryana, "the lengthy waiting period for an account budget status is chopped to five seconds. Everything is online, real-time, on budget and on- time, allowing us to actually go home at 5 p.m."

What's more, developing LIONS came at a significant cost savings compared to purchasing off-the-shelf software. By creating the solution in-house with proven technology, Lowe Indonesia has the power in the future to add additional modules and make immediate software tweaks to allow their corporate teams to plan advertising campaigns more effectively.

In addition, this homemade customizable solution allows suppliers and clients to preview selected information securely via the internet, allowing them to keep up to date, anywhere, anytime.

Aryana is looking forward to integrating his LIONS solution with clients and media vendors such as television stations. "With this system, we hope to integrate it with our partners' systems to enhance productivity. With technological developments such as Microsoft's .NET technology, it will enable our different systems to talk to each other and share data. This way, everyone can work more efficiently."

Even with different computer systems and database applications, with the .NET framework the data in the finance departments of both companies would be able talk to each other, cutting down the time to process and approve purchase orders and payments.

Very few companies have the courage to create and champion ideas that add magic to their list of services. By recognizing that information technology has a strategic value for their business, Lowe Indonesia's homegrown ERP system is proof that properly planned investments in IT will reap future dividends by speeding up projects and lowering overall costs.

In addition, the IT department has the potential of being a profit center as LIONS can be licensed to other Lowe offices worldwide. With its object-oriented programming, each module can be individually customized to meet each office's requirements such as tax rates, agency commission and media vendor expenses.

"We are perhaps the only advertising company in the world that has a solution like this," Aryana said. "Hopefully with this system, we can maintain our LIONS share of the market."