Intuitive Manufacturing Systems Shows Maturity in Adolescent Age Part Three: Market Impact Continued

RMA, Shipping, and Other Vital Systems

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, forming 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; however, the company is founded on a solid foundation of many of its staff's thirty years or so of experience in manufacturing systems. This continues a discussion of the market impact.

Further, the return material authorization (RMA) module applies the same level of quality management to returned items as is applied to production inventory, since inspection is required for all returned materials. The process allows users to dispose of the returned materials as scrap if they cannot be used, return them to inventory if they are still good, or open a rework order if they can be reworked. There is also the tracking functionality within the module, from assigning an RMA number for the customer, disposing with the samples (optional), receiving the returned materials, and disposing with all returns, while credit memos and replacement orders can be automatically generated if desired.

Delivering finished goods, packing slips, internal bills of lading (BOL), pro-forma and commercial invoices, and serial number tracking (among other features) are included as part of the shipping process. Tools to cancel, add, or reverse shipping transactions give users even more control over their shipping processes, which generate finished goods pick-lists based on user-supplied selection criteria. This operation can also automatically check the customer's credit status and the item availability before generating shipping pick lists. Logically, a report is generated that lists the inventory items that need to be pulled from stores, while shipments against sales order deliveries, inventory levels, and costing information are updated in real time.

As gleaned from its depiction so far, the Intuitive ERP system is aimed at the smaller discrete make-to-stock (MTS)/make-to-order (MTO)/assemble-to-order (ATO), and mixed-mode manufacturers with deal sizes averaging thirty users but moving toward the forty- to fifty-seat range lately. This brings us to the product's customer resource management (CRM) capabilities, which have been natively strong in terms of service and repair and of sales configuration. The capabilities for relationship management and opportunity management have traditionally been provided by original equipment manufactured (OEM) Best Software's SalesLogix suite, but the current .NET rewrite has also been leveraged towards writing these native CRM capabilities. Intuitive has consequently been selling its own CRM modules for about eighteen months now, and the 7.0 release includes a completely re-written CRM in a .NET managed code.

Introduced at the end of 2001 as an optional module, a web-based Advanced Configurator is aimed at streamlining the quotation and ordering of configure-to-order (CTO) products to deliver, on-the-fly, accurate pricing, product configuration and specifications, as well as BOM and process routings. It is a "bottom-up," rules-based configurator, providing point-and-click product definition under a rule and constraint-based guidance engine. It can be executed from any Web browser and allows the user to execute product configuration concurrently or independently in either client/server or "thin web client" environments—all utilizing one universal set of product configuration rules and objects.

The Advanced Configurator is fully integrated with the sales, inventory, costing and quoting modules of the Intuitive ERP system, thereby enabling both the user's sales force and customers to configure customized products, view design and pricing changes automatically as configuration modifications are made, thereby simplifying the collection and management of critical product data for sales and order entry functions.

This is Part Three of a four-part note.

Part One presented the company.

Part Two began the discussion of the market impact.

Part Four will cover challenges and make user recommendations.

Integrated Collaborative E-business Components

During the late 1990s, however, Intuitive, somewhat painfully like many others, realized that its target market needed more connectivity with business partners than merely an inexpensive and easy-to-use back-office system. To that end, during the last few years, the company has gradually introduced a line of integrated collaborative e-business components within its core ERP solution, such as iCustomer (formerly iTrack), a self-service ASP.NET-based web application that includes an e-commerce web catalog and online order and account, order, and shipment tracking functionality, and WebRemote, a tool for remote sales order entry and retrieval of sales data (such as, the status of their shipments and orders, view a current accounts receivable aging, etc.).

End users of smaller enterprises have also been impressed with the product's intuitive rich-client Windows user interface (UI), which provides ease of system navigation and of information retrieval and analysis, and with underlying workflow and e-mail messaging or on-screen notifying system capabilities. The Ad Hoc Report Wizard module would be the epitome of Intuitive's approach to its users, since no database, pesky query building, field name or programming knowledge is necessary to leverage the module. Instead, all that the users need to know is which fields they want on the report and in what order they want them in. Adding simple or complex calculations is relatively simple, as is formatting the reports with data filters and sorting and grouping options. Also, the reports created by the Ad Hoc Report Wizard feature familiar Microsoft Excel type data display and a one-click "Export to Excel" for easy graphing and distribution.

On the other hand, the AlertMessenger feature provides notification through e-mail, pop-up message boxes, electronic paging systems, or a combination of methods. The idea is to supplant trading phone calls and spending endless time and effort to track down information by proactively and automatically informing employees, vendors, and customers of pre-determined events with customized alert messages. However, this is not as advanced as Exact's e-Synergy and Exact Event Manager products that feature closed-loop business activity monitoring (BAM) capabilities that provide escalation mechanism and prevent typical alerts falling though cracks (see Exact Software—Working Diligently Towards the "One Exact" Synergy).

Furthermore along similar lines, Import Wizards have proven to quickly upload a pile of legacy data (such as , customer records) into the Intuitive ERP database, often with an underlying logic of detecting inconsistencies within the legacy data. Another attractive feature that the product offers is its native Microsoft on-line analytical processing (OLAP) and business intelligence system (BIS) capability, as the company has additionally pre-filled a number of data cubes for out-of-the-box data analysis to gain critical insights into financial activity, sales analysis, and production and inventory management.

Also, the Decision Management Tool (DMT) module, which monitors business performance and identifies trends by tracking and analyzing over fifty key performance indicators using data from Intuitive ERP. These indicators (which include return on assets, return on net worth, inventory turns, days aales in AR, current ratios, quick ratios, and many more), are calculated automatically and displayed instantly, while users can compare periods, quarters, or years, and then track the changes in the company's health throughout time. The DMT indicators may be displayed in spreadsheet format or graphically, depending on the preferences, and may be e-mailed, faxed, etc. from within the spreadsheet.

Last but not least, KPIs can be graphically analyzed by management for sales, purchasing, production, financial, and inventory activity by Intuitive Executive Information System (EIS) module, which is a visual reporting system that provides management with real time updates on critical elements of company-wide data in a graphical format. A one-page EIS summary provides a high-level view with drill-down capability for each selected indicator and real time information allows management to examine and graphically report on current bookings levels, vendor performance, inventory valuation, past due work orders, accounts receivable, and accounts payable, and so on.

Extensive Multinational Product Capabilities

Also positively impacting the sales of Intuitive ERP into some dispersed markets worldwide, has been its strong multinational product capabilities, which are atypically strong for a vendor of its stature and stronger than many more visible competitive products (e.g., Made2Manage, Lilly Software Associates, SoftBrands/Fourth Shift, Best Software, etc.). Fully multicurrency enabled, Intuitive ERP allows an unlimited number of currencies including the Euro, currency gains and losses (realized and unrealized), currency transfers, reports written in the vendor or customer's language, default currency by customer and vendor, GL transactions, check writing and support of a goods and services tax (GST) and value added tax (VAT), including a VAT percentage matrix by item or product family.

Intuitive ERP ships with five language options: US and UK English, Spanish, French, and Chinese (simplified Mandarin). Other languages are also available, including Arabic, traditional Chinese, Czech, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese. In addition, the Intuitive ERP system architecture provides a flexible personalization environment to easily modify language tables, reports and forms, whereby any language can be supported, including double byte languages. System upgrades do not affect translation, as all translations remain intact and fully operational with no maintenance from release to release. Multilingual capability extends to the user level, not just the client. The same client workstation and log-on can be used by more than one employee with more than one language. For example, one employee can be working in Spanish while another employee on the same or a different workstation is using English.

The Financial Analyst module, which has been OEM-ed by the financial reporting expert provider, Timeline, provides report templates, multiple consolidation company structures, subsidiary data imports, inter-company reconciliation report and eliminations, adjustment entry, and consolidation rule maintenance. Comprehensive budgeting capabilities such as multilevel budgeting, consolidations, allocations, and performance reporting are also available.

Intuitive has long made a conscious decision not to target a direct presence in many foreign markets, and to go for product distribution mainly through partners and value added resellers (VARs). This has often proven to be advantageous to the SME's for keeping costs down, and, as selling through partners requires a higher quality of product support, and accompanying documentation. By deliberately steering clear of too ambitious expansionist policies that have hindered so many smaller software companies in the past, and by focusing on a handful of core markets, Intuitive has managed to keep itself on healthy track. Also, direct and indirect channel that have already been built in targeted countries has helped the company with product translation and localization issues, which has resulted with the above-mentioned solid multinational and localization capabilities of the product. As a good example, the company has already developed a strong market presence in the emerging China markets. Historically, the Intuitive international channel has represented just over 20 percent of sales revenue, which should likely increase in the future.

This concludes Part Three of a four-part note.

Part One presented the company.

Part Two began the discussion of the market impact.

Part Four will cover challenges and make user recommendations.

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