April 2017
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Software Outlook: Mostly Cloudy

More service centers are opting for cloud-based ERP systems.

By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief

Eflecting widespread optimism about the economy, many service centers are looking to upgrade their computer systems. Vendors of industry software are busy.

“We are seeing more activity now than in the past seven years. Nearly every customer is looking to take advantage of the new technology and is willing to spend money to do it,” says Shawne O’Connor, a director at Paragon Consulting Services in Baltimore, Md., which offers the Metalware suite of software programs.

Software suppliers continually work to enhance their systems to take advantage of advances in operating systems and hardware. Much of the new development in the past two years has involved making the systems more user friendly by enabling mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. Moving systems onto “the cloud” has also kept programmers hard at work.

Most software providers to the metals industry now offer cloud-based technology, also known as Software as a Service. Some offer their product exclusively in a SaaS mode, others give customers the option of maintaining their own hardware and software on-site. Advocates say the advantages of cloud computing make sense for service centers large and small.

Peter Doucet, vice president of consulting at Houston-based Invera, believes SaaS ultimately will be the predominant method of deploying ERP systems. Invera offers the STRATIX ERP system designed for metals service centers and processors. “People are becoming more accepting of the technology. They are more used to putting their documents on the cloud or their email on the cloud. It’s not as much a foreign concept anymore.”

With SaaS, company data is stored on secure remote servers and accessed via the internet. There is less need for the user to retain an in-house IT department and the personnel to run it. Maintaining hardware and software becomes the responsibility of the SaaS provider. Users pay a subscription fee, which gives them access to the latest version of the software. The fee varies widely by vendor and depends on how many software applications, and how many users, each company needs.

“The cloud is ideal for service centers. Small to midsize companies don’t need IT staffs. It takes the worry out of their hands. All they have to do is worry about their business,” says O’Connor.

“SaaS removes a major hurdle. To move to a new ERP system, you don’t have to go out and invest major dollars in new hardware. This takes that cost off the table,” says Tony Barnes, senior manager on Crowe Horwath’s Microsoft Dynamics Industry Team in Indianapolis. Crowe Horwath, the public accounting firm, offers the Crowe Metals Accelerator system designed for the metals industry. The enterprise software, which is built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform integrated with Microsoft Azure, is now offered exclusively on the cloud. “Service centers are in the business of processing steel, not maintaining data centers,” Barnes notes.

SaaS is certainly gaining in popularity, but that does not necessarily mean it’s the best approach for all service centers. Every situation is different, says Brian David, director of sales at Compusource, La Palma, Calif. Compusource’s MetalCentric ERP system is typically hosted onsite rather than on the cloud. “If you are not opposed to having your own server, local hosting over time can be a less expensive way to go,” David says. Savings on in-house hardware and support personnel is offset by the fees that must be paid to cloud hosts such as Amazon, Microsoft and Rackspace. “You can get a new server for $250 a month over five years. It’s pretty hard to get a cloud solution for that,” he adds.

As the market for service center software matures, it is experiencing some consolidation. Some small providers have closed their doors, while others have merged to gain critical mass. Combining companies with different specialties can give both access to new market segments or new geographies. One example is Compusource, which has agreed to merge with UK-based software company Metalogic, Ltd., making them worldwide providers of metals industry software. In the U.S., Compusource will now offer and support three products: its legacy MCMS system, its latest MetalCentric ERP system, and iMetal, Metalogic’s portfolio of metals industry information management products. “We now have a larger suite of offerings and larger area of coverage both in North America and around the globe,” David says.


Mobilizing the troops

Most software vendors have upgraded their software to allow any employee to access the system with a common handheld device such as a tablet or smartphone. Barnes calls it “the democratization of the data. It gives everyone the ability to enter information, to perform transactions, to get intelligence out of the system. Everyone should be able to act on an opportunity they see in the data.”

Like other software providers, Invera has expanded the mobility functions of its STRATIX software. “We want to enable a person to do their work without being tethered to a terminal on a desk,” says Doucet. For example, users of STRATIX can now use a smartphone or a tablet equipped with a barcode scanner to perform various functions in the warehouse. Conventional handheld scanners are still widely used, but they have their limitations. “You can’t take pictures of damaged material to file a claim like you can with a smartphone,” he notes.

Storing data is only half the job of an ERP system. Making it accessible and useful is the other. Some ERP systems are equipped with executive dashboards, which give management a bird’s eye view of their operation. “It gives them information they can act upon without having to run lots of reports,” Doucet says. STRATIX, for one, offers several dashboards that can be customized to show various aspects of the business, including sales, operations, shipping, finance, inventory, production and quotes. Each dashboard has multiple screens within it that allow the user to drill down into an area to get more detail.

Compusource is another vendor that has been working on similar enhancements. “People want to get more out of their data. Business intelligence is on people’s radar,” says David.

E-commerce has been much talked about but little used in the service center space, until recently. Software vendors point to new innovations in their ERP systems. Paragon, for one, has improved its MetalWeb solution, which not only gives service center personnel remote access to the data, but customers as well. With an internet connection and a password, steel buyers can get in and check the status of an order, reprint documents, even go as far as placing orders, cutting down on the time and expense of customer interactions, O’Connor says.

Paragon also has rolled out its new Reveal CRM solution. The customer relationship management system is highly customizable. “We have really opened up the ability for the user to customize the system for themselves,” she says.

Most ERP programs can be tailored to the needs of individual companies, but software experts recommend that users take advantage of the best practices already embedded into the ERP system. “You need a good business reason for customization,” says Barnes at Crowe Horwath. “Sometimes a service center has that secret sauce, a certain way they handle a certain situation, and they must have it. But our software gets them 90 percent of the way there.”


Recent software enhancements

* 4GL Solutions, Stouffville, Ontario—4GL Solutions offers the Steel Manager III (SM3) ERP system. SM3 is a completely integrated ERP solution designed exclusively for the metals industry. SM3 provides complete functionality in the areas of inventory management, purchasing, sales, inside and outside processing, linear nesting, plate nesting, barcoding, MTR retrieval, shipping, integrated accounting and reporting. 4GL has been working on a number of enhancements. Version 3, to be released later this year, has been re-designed to make it easier to navigate.

It will be converted to utilize the more powerful Oracle database. A new open client version of SM3 will allow users to access the software on any mobile device. A web portal will allow customers to view MTRs, print invoices, check stock and request quotes. For more information, visit www.4glsol.com.

* Compusource & Metalogic, Ltd., La Palma, Calif.—MetalCentric and iMetal are fully integrated ERP software systems designed to meet the specific demands of metals service centers, distributors and value-added processors around the world. With the merger of Compusource and Metalogic in 2017, the combined company now offers systems streamlined to manage every area of service center activity including contact management, customer service, order processing, production, inventory management and purchasing. The company’s products scale from two to more than 1,000 users across multiple locations, countries and currencies, with around-the-clock support. For more information, visit www.metalservicecentersoftware.com.

* Crowe Horwath, LLP, Indianapolis, Ind.—Crowe Horwath, a top 10 public accounting and consulting firm, provides enterprise solutions to metals companies through the proven Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform and its Crowe Metals Accelerator. The software includes applications for financial management, customer relationship management, supply chain management, human resource management, project management and business analytics. It also supports multicompany, multisite, multilanguage and multicurrency needs. Most recently, Crowe Horwath has worked with SigmaNest to integrate nesting solutions into the program. For more information, visit www.crowehorwath.com/metals.

* Enmark Systems, Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.—Eniteo from Enmark Systems is designed exclusively for metal service centers. It is a fully integrated enterprise software system for distribution, processing, toll processing and warehousing of all types of metal. Enmark provides a cloud environment for Eniteo, giving customers the option to have their database hosted remotely. Combining an aggressive release schedule and simplified subscription pricing, Eniteo remains continuously current for all users. Eniteo’s Command Center provides quick access to inventory and customer-specific sales information on one screen. For more information, visit www.enmark.com.

* Invera, Houston, Texas—Invera offers STRATIX ERP software, which operates in single- and multi-site companies. In addition to sales and distribution functionality, STRATIX addresses multi-step, multi-location production operations with integrated planning and production scheduling. STRATIX is designed to operate with its own accounting software or can integrate with third-party financial software. Recent releases include new mobile functions that operate on smartphones and tablets. Invera now offers STRATIX-ONE, a comprehensive management and decision support dashboard that gives users easy access to critical sales, operations, shipping and financial information. Invera’s STRATIX ON-DEMAND is a single-source hosting and support solution that provides a secure, fast and easy way to operate STRATIX over the internet. ON-DEMAND offers 24/7 operations, technology support, software and hardware upgrades and full disaster backup. In addition, customers can choose to implement a fully integrated CRM, as well as a customer self-service and e-commerce web portal. For more information, visit www.invera.com.

* Kimzey Software Solutions, St. George, Utah—Kimsey Software Solutions offers Metaltrax, a fully integrated Windows application designed to handle all the needs of metals service centers, including accounting, inventory control, sales order quoting, purchasing, production and prospect management. KSS also offers Trax-it, a graphical document imaging system designed to scan, store, index and retrieve documents such as mill test reports and invoices. For more information, visit www.kssco.com.

* Northrop Grumman Corp., Canonsburg, Pa.—Northrop Grumman’s OpenTrac suite of software solutions is tailored for the metals service center, toll processor and metal producing markets. OpenTrac ERP systems are designed to handle supply chain management requirements and communication links with trading partners. For more information, visit www.opentrac.com.

* Paragon Consulting Services, Baltimore, Md.—Paragon offers the Metalware, MetalNet, MetalWeb and Reveal programs designed for metals professionals.
Users include flat-roll, full-line, pipe and tube, specialty metals, toll processors and fabricators of all sizes. Metalware automates tasks for making quotes, entering orders, controlling inventory, processing material, purchasing, trafficking, invoicing and accounting. MetalNet extends Metalware’s robust capabilities to the cloud, providing a cost-effective way to automate service center operations. MetalWeb allows authorized customers to request quotes, enter orders, retrieve documents and make payments online. Reveal is a comprehensive CRM program that handles every aspect of marketing and sales. For more information, visit www.paragon-csi.com.

* SecturaSoft, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio—SecturaSoft’s SecturaFAB quoting solution is designed for steel fabricators, job shops and service centers looking to boost efficiencies while slashing time and costs of ineffective quoting systems. It streamlines sales, production and invoicing processes by supplying an integrated solution with existing CRM, CAD/CAM software and financial systems. Replacing guesswork with actual material costs, machine run time, labor costs, secondary operations and other known variables allows the most accurate quotes to be generated at speeds not previously attainable. For more information, visit www.secturasoft.com.

* Wolcott Group, Medina, Ohio—Wolcott’s RealSTEEL ERP software helps service centers and fabricators optimize their businesses through enhanced management of their manufacturing production and related systems and processes. RealSTEEL leverages the vast ERP capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics NAV and delivers enhanced functionality for inventory management, finance, planning and scheduling, sales, purchasing and production. For more information, visit www.realsteelsoftware.com.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017