If your small to medium size business (SMB) grew out of advances in technology, you would think you would naturally turn to technology to help you manage and grow that business. Unfortunately when it comes to investing in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to support growth and provide control, many SMBs are like the proverbially shoemaker: The shoemaker’s children have no shoes.
JAR Systems could have easily found itself in this type of situation. Founded in 2004, JAR Systems provides “mobile solutions for education and training” in the form of carts to store, secure and most importantly, charge mobile devices. But instead of struggling along with something less than a true enterprise-class solution, as so many SMBs do, JAR Systems viewed the cost of ERP not in terms of the cost of the software, but instead in the potential for missed opportunities. JAR Systems chose to take control of its business in 2011 with SAP Business One and hasn’t looked back since.
Seizing An Opportunity
No modern classroom today would be complete without its share of electronic devices. These devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes and capabilities and include full-size laptops, notebooks and tablets. All have steadily been making their way into classrooms for more than a decade now. With the emergence of these new technologies, schools face new challenges in managing devices and maximizing their availability. How will schools keep the software on devices fresh and refreshed? How will they make sure the batteries are fully charged? How will they store and secure them when they are not in use? These are all quite basic issues, but if not adequately addressed can seriously reduce the effectiveness of these devices as learning tools. And let’s face it: These learning tools don’t come cheap.
In 2004 JAR Systems seized the opportunity these challenges created and began offering carts that offer more than storage; they can be used for device management and “intelligent charging.” Device management can be scheduled and performed automatically at night while the devices are being charged. With intelligent charging:
- Power sensors evaluate demand from mobile device adapters
- Charging logic determines when and where power should be distributed automatically
- Devices recharge in the quickest, most energy-efficient way possible
As a result of intelligent charging, schools save money (in energy bills) and maximize the time the devices are available for use. JAR Systems sells almost exclusively through partners and in 2011 it was at a crossroad of growth.
Taking a Step Back
Like many SMBs JAR Systems had invested first in a tool that would help them manage its pipeline, choosing Salesforce.com. This was hardly unusual in two ways. First, startups often worry more about where that next big order is coming from than about having a back office system to put it in once it is closed. Second the “software as a service” cloud delivery mechanism is appealing for those that have yet to invest in hardware and Information Technology (IT) infrastructure.
Salesforce.com is often referred to as a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, and indeed Axel Zimmermann, President of JAR Systems referred to it as such. JAR Systems was in fact using it as a window into forecast of demand. But while Salesforce does indeed manage contacts, sales activity and opportunities, it doesn’t extend very far into the relationship with the customer after the sale is made. As a result, it is very easy to throw a lot of data into the system, but it doesn’t require the same level of organization and discipline ERP requires.
Also, in JAR’s case, the forecasted orders were coming from partners, with several of them potentially competing for the same account. The result was a distorted view and an inflated forecast. And the company still didn’t have a good handle on the business.
So when JAR Systems decided to move forward with SAP Business One as its ERP, it also decided to step back from Salesforce.com and use the CRM solution that is embedded within SAP Business One. Not only did that give them a deeper reach into the relationship with the customer, it also tied everything neatly together.
While a stand-alone application like Salesforce.com provides a great deal of flexibility in how data is structured and processes are defined, it doesn’t force structure and organization. It doesn’t need to. Some might refer to it as a system of record of prospect and customer engagement, but it does not maintain a system of record of transactions and therefore doesn’t require transactional integrity be maintained.
Because it is so flexible and the next order is of course the lifeblood of the company, many are tempted to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the system and that is exactly where JAR Systems found itself: With lots of data, but little data that was actually useful in terms of decision-making… and no transactional integrity.
A single solution combining ERP and CRM was the answer. Yes, it was a bit of a step backward to start over with CRM. But it also gave the company the opportunity to reorganize the data and add a level of control. This was especially important since all products are serialized, which adds another level of integrity that needed to be preserved, something you simply can’t accomplish with a stand-alone CRM solution.
It Takes a Village
This move to an integrated SAP Business One solution was not one to be taken lightly. And it was not something JAR Systems felt comfortable in tackling all by itself. All told there were four important parties involved:
MCS Business Technology is an independent, employee-owned consulting firm that partners with SAP in delivering SAP Business One and complementary services. JAR Systems turned to MCS for help with their implementation. MCS Business Technology in turn partners with Boyum IT, also an SAP partner that is authorized to develop add-ons to Business One. One of the add-on modules is used by JAR Systems to tailor and customize the screens of Business One. One of the compelling factors for the particular add on is that it is certified by SAP and comes already integrated with Business One.
The third constituent was SAP itself. Two aspects were key, according to Mr. Zimmermann, “The technology world is changing so rapidly, we wanted to be assured that we could keep up. So far, upgrades have been painless. Business One is easier to update than my Windows machine.“ JAR recently upgraded to the latest release of Business One (9.0).
Mr. Zimmermann added, “Secondly, we looked long and hard at the roadmap while we were evaluating our options. We are looking for fast response time. We want to be able to ask questions that we can’t answer right now. We see the most immediate potential value in Business One, analytics powered by HANA. It is inspiring to hear the message and see the examples of what it can do. Of course we will buy Business One, powered by HANA later, as long as we can afford it. We want to use IT to revolutionize this business in ways previously not possible.”
For more information on these two different versions of Business One and HANA combined, see Making Sense Of SAP Business One With SAP HANA.
And last, but certainly not least, was JAR Systems itself.
JAR Systems had the insight and the vision to see that a small step backwards would yield a giant step forward over time. It’s ability to recognize the cost of lost opportunity as far more expensive than the cost of new software was both visionary and practical. There is no doubt that new technology will continue to bring about change in mobile solutions for education and training. While others might be apprehensive about the future, JAR Systems is poised to capitalize on that change to better serve its customers, while also comfortably positioned to leverage technology for its own business.