Filling a void: Best-of-breed supply chain vendor thrives by tackling specific customer needs

Manufacturers rarely have trouble finding supply chain planning and scheduling applications. Most companies have them embedded in their ERP suites. What's tricky is finding a supply chain package that meets all of a manufacturer’s specific planning and scheduling needs.  Preactor International, a U.K.-based planning and scheduling software vendor, says its ability to fill gaps that ERP-based solutions miss is helping its global expansion plans—even in a generally slow market.<br/>


Manufacturers rarely have trouble finding supply chain planning and scheduling applications. Most companies have them embedded in their ERP suites. What can be tricky is finding a supply chain package that meets all of a manufacturer’s specific planning and scheduling needs.

Preactor International , a U.K.-based planning and scheduling software vendor, says its ability to fill gaps that ERP-based solutions miss is helping its global expansion plans—even in a generally slow market.

According to Mike Novels, Preactor’s managing director, “The North American market started to slow down 10 months ago, but is now picking up. Sales to the food and pharmaceutical sectors are holding up especially well, as is aerospace and defense.”

Although important to Preactor, the North American market—at 300 customers—is less than a third the size of the company’s home European market. France alone, for instance, has more than 200 implementations, says Novels. Nevertheless, the company is globalizing fast, thanks to a growing international network of implementation partners offering local expertise and support. Customers in Latin America number 200, with another 150 in the Asia Pacific region.

In total, some 10,000 licenses are in use at more than 2,300 plants worldwide, and the Preactor application itself is now available in 30 languages.

Boston-based AMR Research says steady growth will bring the $6.5-billion supply chain management applications market close to $9.2B in 2012. Based on its analysis, AMR says economic challenges of the coming years likely will offer much greater opportunity for supply chain technology adoption.

According to AMR, five major forces will be at work in the economy and society in the next five years—all which can be supported by supply chain technology adoption:

• High inflation;

• Rising commodity prices;

• Threats to brand security;

• Sustainability as a component in corporate decision making; and

• Demand for technologies that quicken cash collection.

“We’re in a good position to sell to global companies wanting to roll out a standard implementation worldwide—we have the local support on the ground to do it,” says Novels. “Compared to a new ERP system, Preactor is much cheaper, and faster to implement.”

The desire for a fast implementation was critical to the adoption of Preactor’s advanced planning and scheduling (APS) at the Savigny Le Temple cosmetics plant near Paris. The facility, owned by Paris-based industrial holding company Fareva , had been purchased from Nivea in late 1997, and was operating on the SAP ERP suite its accompanying APO planning and scheduling application.

Maxime Larese, an IT project leader, says Fareva wanted less complex systems for both its core ERP and supply chain functions. Thus it chose to migrate the newly acquired facility to the Web-native Sage Adonix enterprise suite, and switch its planning and scheduling over to the enterprise version of Preactor’s advanced planning & scheduling (APS) application.

The plant’s staff had only made limited use of the APO application, notes Larese. What was needed was an application that was just as powerful, but more intuitive to use. “The Preactor tool seemed to us to be a much more‘open’ and easy-to-use application,” he explains. “It could adapt very readily to our needs.”

Going live on Preactor in June 2008, the Savigny Le Temple plant was joined three weeks later by another Fareva plant—one of the company’s pharmaceutical facilities at Annonay, south of Lyons. For the moment, the Annonay plant remains on its legacy-era PRMS enterprise suite, now part of the Infor product portfolio. The eventual replacement for it may or may not be Sage, says Larese.

But the commitment to Preactor is absolute, he insists—and he is now actively engaged in demonstrating Preactor’s capabilities to other plants within the company.

“Potentially, over the next two years, a further five or six plants could make the switch,” he notes. “We’re already seeing strong interest.” Of particular interest, it turns out, are Preactor’s automatic scheduling capabilities. “The algorithms are very powerful,” stresses Larese.

Novels says such testimonials are becoming increasingly common. And the global downturn, he adds, is bolstering demand.

“It is precisely when margins are squeezed and manufacturers have to extract ever greater levels of efficiency from their production processes that production planning and scheduling can reveal itself as the weakest link,” concludes Novels.

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