INFIMACS Becoming Ever More RELEVANT For Project-Based Industries. Part 2: Market Impact and User Recommendations

INFIMACS INFIMACS Becoming Ever More RELEVANT For Project-Based Industries

Part 2: Market Impact and User Recommendations
P.J. Jakovljevic - November 1, 2001

Event Summary 

On September 26, as a result of partnering with its build-to-order, discrete manufacturing and maintenance organization customers, Relevant Business Systems, ( a privately held ERP vendor for small to medium discrete complex manufacturing companies, enhanced its INFIMACS II ERP Business Planning module by providing all of the functions required to prepare forecasts for products, create master production schedules (MPS) and evaluate the impact of the MPS on company resources, using rough-cut capacity planning (RCCP). Several MPS runs may be executed and saved without impacting the rest of the database, allowing users to consider alternatives, review what-if impacts and select the most appropriate production plan.

Part One of this two-part event note contains the details of these enhancements.

Market Impact 

Despite current difficult economic times, the growth of contract manufacturing has continued largely unabated. This expansion has been fueled by a number of factors, among them the advent of the Internet and consequent rise of e-commerce, as well as the trend in manufacturing toward mass customization. While the commercial aircraft industry may suffer owing to the recent terrorist attacks, it is quite the opposite case in the defense and government industries. Many vendors have spotted the opportunity and have been addressing the exacting requirements of the project-based complex industries (see ERP Vendors Moving to Aerospace and Defense Markets).

As an illustration, aerospace & defense (A&D) producers are typically high-tech or electronic manufacturers, and must handle complex production processes and large, complex supplier networks. Sophisticated customer order management applications are typically not required. Instead, customer service needs are more oriented toward contract management and cost reporting. Frequent changes force contract supplier engineers and OEM engineers to be in constant collaborative communication throughout the design and production cycle of the unit. One of the most manual functions in a supplier organization is the sell-side Request for Quote (RFQ) management, which usually revolves around a few key individuals that have direct knowledge of the product or who can manually pull together the diverse information sources into a unified document.

The combination of outsourced manufacturing with increasingly common configure-to-order (CTO) or build-to-order (BTO) production environments is making unit-level data management an increasingly high priority for contract manufacturers and the companies that retain them. Additional tracking and reporting requirements are another big issue. The ability to track every product, each of its parts, and its stage in the production cycle has become a prerequisite to production efficiency and profitability, especially for MRO organizations. Additionally, the ability to store and access quality tests history data on an ongoing basis and the ability to thoroughly analyze that data is crucial in keeping costs low and quality high.

Relevant Business Systems Responds 

Relevant Business Systems seems to have responded to many nitty-gritty's of the above industries. After a period of somewhat stealth operation, Relevant has started to make some noise in the midrange ERP market, with the product related initiatives outlines in Part One and with an aggressive direct marketing effort and the establishment of new direct sales and support offices. The opportunity has been extended by INFIMACS' support for UNIX and Windows NT operational systems, as well as for Oracle, IBM DB2, MS SQL Server, and Informix databases.

The company also continues to expand the functionality of its flagship INFIMACS II ERP product, whose capabilities go beyond traditional ERP functionality, as evidenced by this latest enhancements bonanza. INFIMACS has long featured a complex manufacturing-oriented CRM that includes a complete contact history on which people the company has been working with, what calls have been made, what correspondence has been exchanged. Also, the CRM module has service-call tracking to help manage the field service function, with the ability to give anyone in the organization a view into what is happening with customers and prospects.

Relevant remains focused on satisfying the needs of its target market, especially in the A&D and MRO industries. In order to meet the needs of airplane service companies, Relevant beefed up its lot and serial tracking capabilities. Key to this enhancement is the above-mentioned tail effectivity, which permits users to tie every part on a plane back to that one entity. The MRO companies, on the other hand, have very stringent requirements they must meet regarding tracking parts and condition codes.

While many of the these functionalities sound ordinary and appear to be offered by many vendors as 'supported' when responding to RFIs, subsequent product demonstration often reveals the need for some tweaking or even for a major modification in order to satisfy stringent customer requirements. The devil is always in details.

As an example, the native ability to run MRP by condition code is not a feature typically found amongst a majority of mainstream ERP systems. To enable an ERP system to track the condition of a component (e.g., new, overhauled, once used, refurbished, or a combination of these) and to restrict mixing inventories of materials with different condition codes, would require a colossal modification.

Another example would be that INFIMACS II ERP can advise users if any given part revision can be mixed in inventory with other revisions or shipped for a particular order. Each Revision Level indicates, on a scale from 1-99, a specific item's fitness for inventory mixing or shipment. During an issue or shipment, the ERP reviews whether or not the fitness number associated with the location allows specific items to be placed into inventory or shipped. As products are revised over their lifecycles, certain combinations of features will not coexist properly. Using the Revision Level feature users are assured that the system is determining if the lot or serial number can be mixed or shipped with existing quantities. They can also stop a given item or revision from being used, preventing its receipt in store locations and issues from all locations throughout the company.

Also possibly unique in the market is the company's incremental introduction of enhancements as opposed to doing it through one big product release to roll out everything that is new and exciting. The general industry practice of bugs and/or lack of functionality becoming patches, and then this collection of patches being presented as new features in the latest product release, has often made product upgrades appear to the customer as almost a new installation. Instead, as new functionality is added to the product, Relevant's customers have immediate cost-free and painless access to the upgrades.


Although Relevant is still a weakling compared to SAP and Oracle, the company's focus allows it to keep pace with trends in technology and customer requirements. Still, limited financial resources, undeveloped global channel and brand recognition, which are almost non-existent outside the US, and limited product's global capabilities are the challenges the company has yet to overcome. Having to deliver a number of functionalities through 3rd-party solutions, which are natively offered by many larger competitors as a matter of course, may deter some interface-wary customers.

Relevant also has to beef up and/or to better advertise its product's interconnectivity and e-collaboration/product lifecycle management (PLM) offering. One should never forget about the large players like SAP, Oracle, J.D. Edwards, Baan and Cincom Systems that are entrenched within the higher-end of the market, and have recently started addressing the required PLM and engineering change management (ECM) functionality. Meeting the project-based industries' dynamic needs will require vendors to improve ease of installation, interoperability, and service support networks. Moreover, escalating competition in the A&D markets will definitely make price a critical competitive factor.

Relevant has answered many of these requirements and has thereby encroached upon the stronghold of vendors like Western Data Systems (WDS), Epicor Software, Glovia, SAP, Oracle, Psipenta, Friedman Corporation, Cincom Systems, MRO Software, and IFS. For a more complete list of vendors that have the aspirations for this field, see ERP Vendors Moving to Aerospace and Defense Markets.

User Recommendations 

The current market trend industry-wide is towards vendors that can provide comprehensive solutions for medium-sized companies. Relevant seems to have a fair shot at delivering that to project-based discrete manufacturers such as aerospace contractors, contract manufacturers of electronic components, window, door & frame manufacturers, and MRO organizations with revenues up to $300 million.

Potential Relevant customers, primarily North America based, should certainly consider the offered product line, bearing in mind what the competitors have to offer. At least, INFIMACS II should be evaluated to raise the bar for other vendors offerings in the contest in terms of demonstrating their EDI, work breakdown structure (WBS), project management, Earned Value reporting, repair and overhaul, engineering, purchasing, MRP, and costing. Small and mid-sized contract, ETO and CTO discrete manufacturers that are looking to upgrade to a more comprehensive system may want to consider Relevant's hosted solution as a cost-effective and faster time-to-market option.

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