Not long ago, the IT function of a company was to take care of the mechanics of running the business. But that has now changed dramatically, propelling it from the backroom to the shop window of working – and the biggest step in that evolution is often the decision to bring the entire function in-house, as Distinction Doors IT Manager Matthew Spence explained.
What lesson should we take from an IT expert who began his career working in fireworks? Behind all the obvious colourful metaphors is the simple fact that when you have such a seasonal product, you have a lot of time to focus on improving, upgrading and, more importantly, learning from what went wrong last time.
“There isn’t a quiet season in the door industry but those lessons still apply and the need for evolution and improvement is constant,” said Matthew, whose IT roles moved from the firework factory to the fast-paced fashion industry and eventually to joining Distinction Doors four years ago.
“The biggest step in the evolution for Distinction Doors was to bring its IT in-house, which was the point where I joined the company. Prior to this, IT had been outsourced, however this was never going to be a sustainable plan. With a business strategy focused on growing and diversifying the company, there was a key need to align IT functions and therefore IT was brought in-house. This new model had to be developed at the same time as continuing to provide support with ongoing functions such as procurement, projects and services that we were already looking after.”
First however came the basic but essential task of evaluating the systems previously in use, most of which were struggling to keep up with their existing workload, so the entire infrastructure had to be upgraded.
The upgrade also allowed Distinction to grow out of simple function and to then start evolving its shop window so it was in line with its customer-facing functions as well. He added “we looked at making it easier for all our customers to find what products and services are on offer and then to go through the selection and ordering process as quickly and simply as possible.”
“One project we have recently completed is the automation of our order input processes. This now allows our customers to order directly via their own systems, so they don’t need to use our web portal to place orders with us, saving the customer time and reducing the risk of errors. Although customers have been able to order though our web portal for some time, the automation is a big step forward and something that puts us ahead of many in the industry.”
“Similarly, we have now completed the automation of our production department. Using barcode scanners, we have been able to automate the CNC programmes for the machine operators, increasing productivity, reducing errors, and all together allowing us to keep costs down.”
Matthew now heads a team with three specialists: CNC programmer Luke Fraser, IT Developer Nigel Smith and IT Support Analyst Milan Tomic, with between them 40 years of experience. The infrastructure of the department is an ERP system called Epicor, now in its sixth year of operation but with very many expansions and upgrades in that time.
Now, with the two major automation projects up and running, what is the eventual goal for the team?
“The advancement of automation has been a huge step forward, both for our internal processes and for the way we work with our customers. Much has been achieved since we brought the function in-house but that is not the end-point. Now, we want to carry on down the same road and become the ‘Amazon’ model of the door industry and make dealing with Distinction Doors as easy a process as possible. From order capture through internal processes and to delivery we want to make life easier for our customers by getting things right first time, and cement that with our reputation of providing the best service in the industry.”