Faster and more effective

CHI Polska, owner of the coffeeheaven café chain, a leader on the Polish market, is developing dynamically. This can be seen by the growing number of cafés – at present there are 62 across Poland, employing almost 800 people. The management of such a large and dispersed company is supported by Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Previously, from 2004, it was the 2.5 version, and from November 2009 – Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0. There were two reasons for the decision to migrate to the new version. Maintenance costs of the old system grew, as it was increasingly more difficult to find a company that was willing to deal with it. Moreover, the new version offered a greater range of functions and, in turn, better opportunities. We knew that we wanted Microsoft Dynamics AX, and not a different ERP system, as we’d had good experiences and were satisfied with working in this system. Maintenance of the obsolete 2.5 version that Microsoft has ceased to support and hardly anyone wanted to service was no longer reasonable, as it became very costly. This was the main reason for the deployment.

-At this occasion, it turned out that the new version has the most changes in the Payroll module, which is very important to a company such as CHI, employing almost 800 people - says Tomasz Lachowski, Accounting Manager of CHI Polska S.A.

Implementation facts

WHAT:
Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0, modules: [Finance] (including [Fixed Assets]), [Sales], [Logistics], [Inventories], [Payroll] and [Forms], 15 licences; modifications and new functions of the system; training.

WHERE:
CHI Polska, owner of coffeeheaven.

WHEN:
April - June 2009 - preparation, analysis and modelling of business processes
July – August 2009 – building of the solution, data migration November 2009 – training system users, production launch, assistance after the launch.

Preparation for deployment

Bonair was selected as the contractor, as CHI Polska had previously cooperated with Bonair on changes to the 2.5. version. -We were very pleased with the cooperation. We could see the quality of services offered by Bonair, so when we searched for a solid partner to deploy Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0, the choice was natural and, as one can see, right - says Tomasz Lachowski. -Of course, we checked out the competition.

The modules implemented at CHI Polska were as follows: Finanse [Finance] (including Środki trwałe [Fixed Assets]), Sprzedaż [Sales], Logistyka [Logistics], Zapasy [Inventories], and two modules written by Bonair: Honoraria [Payroll] – HR & Payroll module, and Formularze [Forms] module for printing out tax returns and other reports. The work comprised tailoring the modules to the client's needs, appropriate modification and parameter setting for Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0, and data transfer from the older version to the newer one.

The deployment lasted from April 2009 to November 2009, with a two-month break. The process was divided into phases. Until June, inclusive, analysis and company business process modelling took place, as well as the first employee training sessions. In July, the solution was built and in August, we prepared for the launch, which took place in November 2009. Bonair delegated 3 consultants to be in charge of the entire process. On the part of the client, the deployment was coordinated by Tomasz Lachowski. -Everyone in the company was involved in the deployment. I was in charge of the new solutions and modifications of the 4.0 version, yet having decided on migration, we had a vision of what the system should look like, and what we wanted it to do - says Tomasz Lachowski.

Process analysis and change documentation

During the deployment, Bonair consultants began with interviewing the client, analysing its needs, and explaining the capabilities of the new system. This allowed for determining the optimal solution. -We carried out an analysis of the business processes and, while looking at the new system, we had to decide what could be simply transferred from the 2.5 version, what needed to be modified, and what should be entirely resigned from in the 4.0 version - says Wanda Piotrowska, a consultant from Bonair S.A., Deployment Manager.

All the arrangements were included in the documentation provided to the client. In the case of deployments performed by Bonair, it is a principle that the documentation of changes occurs before modification. At the phase of initial arrangements, technical details are discussed and described. Also, during the very deployment, changes and deviations from standard AX settings are performed on the test version of the system, documented, and only transferred later. -What we liked a lot in cooperation with Bonair was the fact that the modification process of a standard solution is carefully described in the documentation - says Tomasz Lachowski. -Owing to this, any employee can track what was done where and bring the system to operable condition without any additional cost.

The documentation prepared for the client by Bonair comprises not only modifications, but the entire system, from the processes described for all levels of users, through all system parameter-setting layers, all technical information, e.g. contents of charts, queries, data structure, etc. It also includes descriptions of business processes (job instructions), pointing to the functions and activities launched. The client knows when to carry out a particular activity, click a relevant button, input data, or approve it. Having such a document, the client can individually perform a test to verify whether the business process is actually performed in such a way as described and whether the system operates in line with what was said in the deployment concept. The documentation can also serve as a system operating manual, as it describes, step by step, the operation of all system functions and the method for launching them.

Programming and implementation

After the phase of business process analysis, it was time for programming the transfer from version 2.5 to 4.0 of non-standard AX functions, namely those tailored specially to the purposes of CHI. New functions were also added, which were not present in the 2.5 version. After that phase, Bonair perpared the model of the company, namely set parameters for the AX system, according to the processes at CHI Polska.

The next phase involved acceptance tests, namely verifying the correctness of the deployment. This is an important time for the project team, as the procedure verifies operation of the business processes modelled in the new system with the client’s actual processes and real data. During this phase, any irregularities are corrected in ongoing mode, and system operation is tuned.

Following acceptance tests, which constitute the final phase of the deployment, there was the production launch, namely carrying out tasks at the company already in the new system. -The system underwent its ‘baptism on fire’ with the disbursement of salaries in the Honoraria module - says Wanda Piotrowska. -We are always there, at the client’s, upon the production launch, to provide assistance and promptly respond to the needs.

-Everything went well, there was no failure that would cause a delay in operation - adds Tomasz Lachowski. -The launch in the finance department was also non-problematic. From day to day, users switched from AX 2.5 to 4.0 and continued working without any delays caused by a problem with the system. Generally available statistics of ERP deployments look much worse in this aspect.

Benefits

  • Increase in work efficiency
  • Elimination of manual data input
  • Much faster system operation
  • Opportunity of quick and individual report generation
  • System scalability – opportunity of its extension with company growth

Tomasz Lachowski
Accounting Manager
CHI Polska SA

-The efficiency of our work has clearly improved. The data input process is much quicker, the 4.0 version works much faster. Since the deployment, we have not employed anyone, although the number of cafés has grown. Also, we do not observe such a workload as to consider additional employees. With the 2.5 version, we could clearly see that, unless we change the system, we would have to increase employment.

Data migration – the most difficult phase

The greatest and the longest-lasting work involves data migration. It was commenced immediately after the production launch of the new system. -For some time, we still worked both in the old and new systems. In the 4.0 version, we started bookkeeping for the new month and, at the same time, we closed the old month in the 2.5 version, and introduced adjustments. It is a natural thing in accountancy that there is a certain delay in posting transactions. It was only after the closure of the old month that we could migrate the data to the new version - says Tomasz Lachowski.

Bonair imported data from the 2.5 version, yet it was the client who had to prepare it earlier, namely analyse and order the data. Special work involved directories (they contain the set of terms, jobs, and scope of actions applying at the company), which were significantly extended as compared to the 2.5 version.

Before the data transfer, training was performed. -We trained all users, and the training programme was adjusted to individual needs, namely Payroll Department employees were principally trained in employee files and forms. In Accountancy, the training focused on the functioning of the financial sheet and the fixed assets module, or how to make a specific report - says Tomasz Lachowski. Within the scope of the training, Bonair instructed on other processes, envisaging a possible need for their future use, or within the general information on how the system operates.

Payroll module – this involved major changes

It is not difficult to guess that at a company with such high employment as CHI Polska, the Honoraria Payroll module supporting HR and payroll is one of the system’s key modules. Following the upgrade, this is where the major changes took place. First, in the 2.5 version of Microsoft Dynamics AX, HR and Payroll support was rather limited, and did not contain many functions that facilitate management. Second, even the functions that existed in the programme were not very well implemented or were simply obsolete. -The Deployment of the Payroll module involved deployment from the start, as many new functions had to have parameters set, and the parameters of what had already been installed needed to be modified - says Wanda Piotrowska.

Moreover, the deployment of the 4.0 version at CHI Polska coincided with the modification of the system for recording employees’ working hours. The previous system involved the café manager sending information about the number of hours worked by employees at the end of a month, which data was then manually input at the headquarters to AX 2.5. -One can only imagine how laborious this was with over 60 cafés and almost 800 employees - says Tomasz Lachowski. -The 4.0 version can import the data from Excel files sent from cafés. So this data need not be input manually anymore. This is a great facilitation, in particular as, due to the change of the method for clearing the hours worked, the volume of data grew several times. If, previously, cafés sent information on the total number of hours worked per month by each of the 800 employees, now the information involves data on which particular hours each employee worked on each day. On this basis, the system calculates the number of hours worked by itself, automatically considering their type (regular, overtime, night), namely different rates. This is accompanied by the fact that, each month, two schedules are entered into the system: at the beginning of the month – the planned schedule, and at the end of the month - the actual schedule. -Such method of clearing is related to the appropriate cost allocation - Tomasz Lachowski explains.

Changes to the Finance module

Also the Finance module required many modifications as compared to the “box” version of the system; in particular its Fixed Assets section. Some types of operations on fixed assets were completely differently defined in the 2.5 version than in the 4.0 version, and, therefore, their migration required a lot of work. All the more so as the client wished to transfer all the transaction data from the beginning of the financial year (over six calendar months).
-At first, we seriously considered the migration of the entire history of transactions, yet Bonair advised us not to do it - says Tomasz Lachowski -The process would become much more complex and time consuming. Version 2.5 had also undergone both modifications and changes in the presentation of various processes in time, so migration of the entire history would be a rather serious enterprise. Another argument against this was the fact that, according to the law, we are obliged to maintain the old system for a few more years, just for the purpose of having access to it.

The client also wanted to preserve the appearance of reports and some functions, e.g. that the method for performing transactions on financial accounts would remain the same as in the 2.5. version. Furthermore, we had to adjust to the already defined financial system, executive accountancy, e.g. the place of cost centres. All this required significant modifications to the 4.0 version.

Additional investments – low

To the question of whether AX migration to the 4.0 version required investments in hardware and additional software, Tomasz Lachowski replies: -We used the existing hardware, servers and computers, with slight extensions. In turn, all AX users had the Office version changed to 2007. Why? Microsoft Dynamics AX cooperates very well with Excel 2007 while, with the earlier versions of Excel, there are problems with data import. We rather frequently use Excel for data input or preliminary data preparation, and then, using the import tool, we enter such data into AX. It is similar with sales data.

It was also necessary to purchase an SQL Sever in 2005, which significantly improved reporting capabilities. -On an everyday basis, we use the Crystal Report overlay and, owing to this, we can individually generate various reports much more quickly and easily, which are also more attractive visually - says Tomasz Lachowski.

A great improvement

Was the migration of Microsoft Dynamics AX to the 4.0 version justified? -Very much so. The efficiency of our work has clearly improved - says Tomasz Lachowski -The data input process is much quicker, the 4.0 version works much faster. Since the deployment, we have not employed anyone, although the number of cafés has grown. Also, we do not observe such a workload as to consider additional employees. With the 2.5 version, we could clearly see that, unless we change the system, we would have to increase employment.

There is one more benefit of deployment. At present, two versions of the AX system operate at CHI Polska – the production version and the test version, completely independently of one another. -This is a very convenient and safe solution advised by Bonair. We can test new solutions and processes, without exposing the production version to risk - explains Tomasz Lachowicz. -A new solution is only implemented in the production version when everything works well in the test version just as we expect it. The changes needn’t be introduced on a live organism.

 

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