Every night for several years, the five Latin America offices of Mich.-based medical technology products manufacturer Stryker Corp. were forced to burn the midnight oil to turn their daily financials into a single consolidated report. Each office has its own independent ERP system, so the process required three hours to compile the data for each territory plus another 90 minutes for a financial analyst at division headquarters to merge the five spreadsheets into one document. The upshot: nearly 18 hours of late-night labor that sometimes lasted past 11 p.m.
In 2004, IT managers at Stryker Latin America automated the entire process without the expense of writing code. Instead they used a drag-and-drop business process automation software program to set up the automation routines necessary to eliminate the drudgery.
Five Offices, Five Systems
Stryker is the 12th largest medical technology company in the world, with the majority of its business coming from orthopaedic products ranging from powered surgical tools to joint replacements. Stryker Latin America has offices in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Florida. Like the company's 11 other divisions, it must submit consolidated daily financials for review and analysis by country managers, regional vice presidents and financial executives.
The fact that each of Stryker Latin America's five offices maintains its own independent ERP system complicates the task considerably. None of the five systems are connected, and no direct link is possible because each office runs a different version of QAD's MFG PRO software. Instituting a new data collection program would be time-consuming and expensive. So would developing an automated solution in-house.
Initially, therefore, accounting personnel in each office physically logged into their local ERP system at the end of each business day, collected the necessary data, assembled it into an Excel spreadsheet, and emailed it to a sixth person for aggregation into a single report reflecting the division's overall performance for the day. This manual process was repeated night after night until George Sarabia, Regional IT Director for Stryker Latin America, decided to investigate other ways of getting the work done.
Automation was clearly the cure for the division's late-night woes, but Sarabia rejected the option of assigning the work to in-house developers or outside contractors for two reasons. First, he estimates it would have been a 16-week job, including three weeks of writing and testing custom scripts for each country plus another week for writing a program to combine the spreadsheets. Second, he didn't want to add script maintenance to his staff's workload. "Supporting custom scripts can become a burden," he noted, "especially if there are changes in the IT team."
A no-scripting-required software tool that allows business processes to be automated by dragging and dropping pre-defined tasks into a visual list eliminated all of those issues in two weeks' time -- including just a few hours to create all of the necessary automation sequences (the rest of the time was spent testing).
Choosing from the software's plain-English menu of nearly 200 actions, Sarabia strung together a series of tasks to be triggered by either time or event. At 7 pm local time for each country, it launches a task to collect needed data from each of the division's local five ERP systems. Once that's done, a socket connection to a remote reporting server is opened, the local data is FTP'ed to that server, and all of the FTP'ed data is combined and posted in the proper directory location in the company's publishing server -- all with no manual intervention.
Sarabia also set up the sequence for each country to automatically monitor all processes. In the event of a connection failure or another glitch, alerts can be sent by email, SMS and SNMP, enabling immediate troubleshooting to ensure that the data gets to the right place at the right time.
18 Hours Saved Per Day
By implementing an automation solution, Sarabia was able to free each country's accountants of after-hours report compilation duties in roughly the time it would take to set up a new workstation. There was no custom code to write or maintain. All tasks were pre-programmed and simply dragged and dropped into place, saving tens of thousands of dollars in custom development.
In addition to eliminating nearly 90 hours of late-night work every week, the automation software has enabled Stryker Latin America to achieve worry-free compliance with corporate reporting requirements by automating the task of monitoring activities such as file transfers.
"We have been able to centralize the data collection and report generation process across incompatible ERP systems and five different time zones. We're more efficient, we don't have as many moving parts, and we don't have to worry if a connection has hiccups," Sarabia said. "Most significantly, we achieved all of this without a major time and budget commitment. We found a shortcut that worked to our benefit."
Marty Gadzinowski is VP of Network Automation (www.networkautomation.com), a developer of automation software that streamlines and integrates business processes.
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