Intuitive Manufacturing Systems Shows Maturity in Adolescent Age Part One: Company Overview

Event Summary

Quite opposite from playing an April Fool's trick, on April 1, Intuitive Manufacturing Systems (, a privately held company offering enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions for small and mid-size manufacturers, announced its ten-year anniversary. Namely, in 1994, the founders of the other ERP vendor PRO:MAN sold all interest in the company and started a new one: Intuitive. Since then, Intuitive has been offering enterprise software for small and midsize discrete manufacturers around the world with the flagship product, Intuitive ERP, which was designed from the ground up with 100 percent pure Microsoft technology and with well-established manufacturing practices in mind. The relative young age of the company has provided an organization and a development environment free from the burdens of supporting unwieldy sets of legacy systems and technologies; nonetheless, the company is founded on a solid foundation with many of its staff having thirty years or so of experience in manufacturing systems.

Intuitive's first product, MRP9000 (renamed into Intuitive ERP in June 2000), was built around the concept that the software should support standard business practices and that the underlying technology should be flexible and affordable. Hence, standard manufacturing and accounting practices such as those prescribed by American Production & Inventory Control Society (APICS) and Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (GAAP) were the building blocks of the product. The product has since matured into a broad ERP software system designed to manage most aspects of a small and mid-size manufacturing organization. Today, Intuitive has over 900 customers worldwide, in industries ranging from aerospace to bicycle parts, from circuit boards to boat docks. The Intuitive ERP product is also installed in over twenty countries, is available in sixteen languages, is fully multicurrency-enabled, and is supported by a network of direct offices and business partners worldwide.

Yet, Intuitive continues to pragmatically expand its operations and to unveil significant enhancements to its latest product release. Intutive's founder and co-chairman, J. Patrick Carey, had worked in the industry in various sales, service and consulting capacities for over fifteen years before he founded PRO:MAN in 1981, which was a provider of a PICK/UNIX-based manufacturing software system for small and mid-sized manufacturers. In 1994, Carey sold off his interest in the company, but, with his retained knowledge of manufacturing, he established Intuitive Manufacturing Systems.

According to the vendor's CEO Sara Gillam, back in 1994 the management had to decide between the status quo of a maturing UNIX system and putting a Microsoft Windows wrapper/faade around that aging technology, or making the bold step of completely reengineering the product in the Windows environment. The apparent choice was aimed at being on the leading edge of technology in 1994, but also now, ten years later, Intuitive is continuing this vision by deploying the new generation of software technology—Microsoft .NET. The vendor was indeed a member of the official Microsoft .NET Early Adopter Program which began stealthily in the early 2000s. While lately, many competitors are claiming to use so-called "fast start" programs to aid in leveraging .NET technology, Intuitive claims to have been there at the very beginning, at which time it did not see any of these ".NET evangelists" that are present nowadays.

This is Part One of a four-part note.

Parts Two and Three will discuss the market impact.

Part Four will cover challenges and make user recommendations.

Relationship with Microsoft

With headquarters in Kirkland, Washington (US), Intuitive is located only a ten minute drive from Microsoft's main campus, and it continues to enjoy a close relationship that has allowed it to not only discern Microsoft's future moves, but to gain invaluable aid from Microsoft in leveraging its latest technology. For that reason, Intuitive feels very confident that it will be significantly ahead of any other ERP vendor in releasing a pure .NET-based solution.

To that end, after eighteen months of research and development, mid-2001 Intuitive completed a prototype of its Microsoft .NET architectural framework that takes full advantage of .NET, extensible markup language (XML), and the new features of Microsoft SQL Server, and released a plan to convert the entire Intuitive ERP product—meaning every business logic feature, every line of code—to pure .NET technology. With the release of Intuitive ERP 6.0 in December 2002, the second phase of this plan was complete, as it was likely the first ERP product to release several areas of functionality built on a 100 percent Microsoft .NET managed code architecture. Then, in early 2004, Intuitive announced the beta release of Intuitive ERP 7.0, the only enterprise software solution with a pure Microsoft .NET "managed code" (i.e., a new type of software that leverages a new .NET set of tools and prefabricated components) framework and over 50 percent of standard product functionality released in .NET, which has been generally available since March 2004.

This substantial product redesign should allow Intuitive ERP to take advantage of the many new features of the .NET platform, satisfy the industry's e-business requirements, and better position the product to adapt to even more advanced technology in the future. Intuitive is glad to be saying goodbye to the old problems of Component Object Model-based (COM) software that the development world has often referred to as "Dynamic Link Library (DLL) Hell" in the past, owing to objects' sharing, and unfortunate consequent inexplicable conflicts amongst these objects.

Conversely, IT departments will be able to appreciate .NET software by the .NET feature known as "side-by-side", which allows multiple versions of the same application to reside and run on the same computer at the same time. Namely, with .NET, one does not have to uninstall or upgrade an old version of a software product, since the new version can be installed right beside the old one, and the user can run them both until she or he decides to remove the old version. Also, much .NET software can be installed simply by copying files to hard drives, while .NET avoids the Windows Registry and its many inherent problems.

Key Enhancements in Intuitive ERP 7.0

Furthermore, the .NET framework should provide the vendor the ability to develop software with less code in less time (Intuitive claims 40 percent smaller software footprint and 65 percent fewer code lines, based on its own analysis of the released version 6.0.2 versus released version 7.0), which means the system becomes faster, more robust, has fewer bugs, easier to modify, while the vendor can provide innovative new features at a faster pace (multifold, according to Intuitive's product managers) than the competition. To that end, key enhancements found in Intuitive ERP 7.0 include, among others:

  • An entire .NET managed code-based sales cycle, from customer relationship management (CRM) to quoting through order entry, picking, shipping, invoicing, accounts receivable, return materials authorization (RMA), and service and repair, which entails a new slick user interface (UI), faster processing speed, and other above-mentioned benefits of .NET managed code. One of the related enhancements is the ability for every user to set the order entry screen according to the preferences, by simply clicking and dragging fields on and off the order entry panel. In addition, users may set up templates for different types of orders, and select a different template with one click, whereby the same click and drag customization facility is being adopted across the entire Intuitive ERP system (of course, in the functional areas that are .NET-enabled).

  • A .NET managed code-based "Planner's Workbench", material requirements planning (MRP) engine, available to promise (ATP)/capable to promise (CTP) engine, and sales forecasting modules. A Planner's Workbench provides a planner many of tools to optimize the shop floor in one place and at once, such as

    1) graphical display of an item's inventory, including safety stock and surplus, and all activity for that item with drill-down capabilities into those activities;

    2) search for inventory problems based on preset parameters (such as., inventory surpluses over certain number of days, critical shortages, etc.), again with drill-down capabilities into actions to resolve those problems; and

  • 3) search for order problems in a similar manner like above (i.e., preset parameters like late raw material deliveries, pending late orders, etc.). Further, the .NET MRP engine obviates the traditional difference between "regenerative" (full-blown) MRP and "net change" MRP, given MRP runs now often take seconds and occasionally minutes, rather than customary several hours.

  • Support of rich media files across the .NET-based system, as the user can link an unlimited number of types of media, such as computer-aided design (CAD) files, drawings, video clips, images, quality control (QC) documents and so on to any field in the system (i.e., a specific field in the form for detailed instructions, a specific ID like part number, customer number, or vendor number, an order number, and a combination of these).

  • A .NET-based request for quote (RFQ) system, with benefits and features similar to the above-described sales cycle.

  • "Cradle to grave" serial number traceability, as users now can create a multilevel bill of serial numbers, in order to maintain complete tracking of which serial number is within which assembly, and where the end assembly was shipped. Afterwards, one can track the warranty and ownership of those parts through the Intuitive Service & Repair module. Users can also designate the level of tracking they would like for each item, while items may be specified as "fully tracked" (i.e., entry required each time this item is transacted), "referenced" (i.e., not tracked though inventory, but included on a bill of serial numbers and/or when shipped as a service part), or "shipment tracked" (i.e., only traced when shipped out).

  • .NET-based payroll and human resource (HR) modules, which are the result of the January 21 announcement of a strategic original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partnership with Perfect Software, a provider of human resource management systems (HRMS). Intuitive HR is an employee tracking and benefits management system designed to help HR departments manage employee information, simplify employee benefits management, organize and streamline the hiring process, improve employee satisfaction, and analyze HR information for strategic input. Intuitive HR allows users to comply with government requirements by providing reports such as Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), 1-9 Citizenship Verification, and Veterans reports (VETS-100).

    Intuitive Payroll is a payroll system that helps users enter, maintain, process and report on crucial payroll information. Access via a web server allows users to maintain data and process payroll using the Internet anywhere and anytime. The OEM relationship, which Intuitive prefers to pursue in its alliances, should again allow it to provide these features directly to its customers as integrated modules without involving outside vendors.

System-wide enhancements in Version 7.0 include a rich new UI designed to enhance usability and streamline workflow, and a search tool to conveniently find any function. User-customizable entry screens allow users to view and enter information exactly as they would like to see it, and new menu functionality allows each user to create a personalized "My Menu" (which stores the most frequently used menu items) without ever leaving the screen. The pure .NET architecture of Intuitive ERP 7.0 also supposedly enables increased processing speeds, easier system administration and enhanced compatibility and connectivity with other software programs.

To educate manufacturing professionals about competitive advantages achieved through the use of advanced technology, from January 22 to April 15, Intuitive conducted a forty-city seminar series across North America, which also featured a demonstration of the Intuitive ERP 7.0 system.

This concludes Part One of a four-part note.

Parts Two and Three will discuss the market impact.

Part Four will cover challenges and make user recommendations.

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