Why Service Matters: Enterprise Solutions, Market Differentiation, and IQMS

Market Impact

IQMS (http://www.iqms.com), a privately-held company located in Paso Robles, California (US), has experienced a period of growth over the past few years when other companies have experienced decline. Its flagship product, EnterpriseIQ is one of the industry's leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions for repetitive manufacturing environments, particularly suited for injection plastics molding/extruding and rubber industries. With its products, the company experienced a 12 percent growth globally in 2003 when 700 new licensed users reportedly joined its client base. Closing the year with a 15 percent increase in revenue, IQMS responded to this increase by expanded its US Midwest office, offering additional training and sales support to clients.

Part Two of IQMS Prospers by Helping Enterprises Work Smarter series

At first glance, IQMS resembles many of its peers from the lower-end of the enterprise applications market, not only in terms of its budding global presence, annual revenues, and install size figures, but also in terms of its industry-specific software that reduces implementation and training costs. For example, an average EnterpriseIQ implementation typically only takes between three and six months. However, despite the like corporate profile and product similarity, IQMS has a comprehensive, one-source delivery and service where all of its product development, training, implementation, and support are provided by its own employees, rather than third party providers. These employees are American Production & Inventory Control Society (APICS) certified and have extensive implementation and proven project management experience. They also have strong manufacturing and accounting backgrounds. This, in addition to its implementation methodology that balances on-site consulting, classroom training, and Internet-based training, are notable differentiating traits.

IQMS also has an upfront nature that makes it stand-out from its peers. Its maintenance contracts include all product upgrades and technical support, without any hidden costs. This, combined with IQMS' great reputation for customer support, highlights the company's open lines of communication. Customers are almost never put on hold or have to go through an annoyingly long automated process. Rather, calls are answered by a knowledgeable person, not a recording. The vendor happily lets anyone talk to any of its satisfied customers within selected industries of focus and that have had similar issues as the prospective customer. IQMS also proclaims its confidence by offering a one-year, money-back guarantee.

Still, although indisputably impressive, one could dig up similar value propositions from other players in the market. Also, on the surface, the product has many pedestrian functional and technological capabilities. For example, it has a Microsoft Windows-based platform for the client side and networks features familiar user-friendly interface with familiar navigation that involves easy jumps between tightly integrated modules and drill-down capabilities. The database resides on the server that performs operations on that data at the request of clients. Data is then transmitted over the network and users access the information from clients/workstations; ultimately, its a process that uses very little code. Furthermore, the front-end Delphi graphical interface allows users to manipulate or search for data, while Microsoft Terminal Server (MTS) and Citrix Metaframe clients are used for wide-area network (WAN) links.

Part Two of the six part IQMS Prospers by Helping Enterprises Work Smarter series

Part One presented the company background.

Part Three will continue a discussion of product differentiation.

Part Four will review IQMS' Single Database Solution and quality management.

Part Five will cover integrated EDI and miscellaneous utilities.

Part Six will present challenges and make user recommendations.

EnerpriseIQ Modularity

The EnterpriseIQ system is also modular, with a broad core package, and many optional modules that extend the product's functional scope. Consequently, the IQ Accounting & Financial Management modules include the "usual suspects" like general ledger (GL); accounts payable (AP); accounts receivable (AR); cash management (including disbursements, receipts, and cash analysis); budgeting; multiple currency capability; bank maintenance; customer and supplier status; standard costing; auto-invoicing; cost variance analysis; bank reconciliation; employee maintenance; tax code tracking; and so on. Another common feature is FRx Reporter, a powerful financial reporting system from FRx, a Microsoft company. The product, which has recently been re-branded as Microsoft Business Solutions Analytics (MBSA)—FRx, reads directly from EnterpriseIQ GL. With this feature, it is fairly easy to create and use customized financial reports, since the product was designed by accounting professionals for their peers. It has customizable formatting similar to Microsoft Excel, linking data from multiple sources with a drill-down viewer capability—from the summary level to underlying account and transactional detail. For more extensive information on the product, see FRx Poised To Permeate Many More General Ledgers.

Moving onto the IQ Sales & Distribution suite, one will also find many typical modules and capabilities, such as inventory availability, capable-to-promise (CTP), order entry, order tracking, shipping schedules, pick tickets, advanced shipping notices (ASN), bills of lading (BOL), packing slips, return material authorizations (RMAS), consignment inventory, freight maintenance, rework tracking, commissions, sales analysis, distribution centers, release management, customer specific sales pricing, tiered pricing, forecasting, and so on.

Linked with this suite is a native IQ CRM system, which also tackles some basic supplier relationship management (SRM) functions, and that features the Internet and a personal digital assistant-enabled contact management system. The product was devised to improve customer and supplier relations by tracking sales and marketing/procurement efforts and customer and supplier issues through, for example, notes, activities, follow up, alerts, etc. As a result, the product is workflow-enabled and provides customized alerts and scheduling, while its true integration with other EnterpriseIQ modules ensures centralized data management.

Likewise, the IQ Purchasing suite also seem to offer common capabilities like purchase orders, requisitions, material exceptions list, purchasing approvals, receiving, supplier management, supplier RMAS, 1099 contractors management, purchasing history, receiving inspection tracking, alternate purchase pricing, supplier performance analysis, supplier consignment inventory, and so on.

Differentiating IQMS' product from its peers' offerings, however, is the native IQWorkforce HR module. It enables employee benefit management and tracking, training and skill set management, application process management, and review and termination tracking. As with native CRM capabilities, the benefit of this module comes from consolidating information in a single database. The result is more reliable tracking of training in accordance with quality management standards; improved employee communications; centralized employee activity; and reduced management tracking activities. Moreover, the system also features a native payroll system that also centralizes employee activity. Automatic tax code updates, direct deposit, and electronic bank transactions are also supported.

All the reports and forms throughout EnterpriseIQ use Business Objects' Crystal Reports, which are relatively affordable, easy to use, and fully customizable. Further, in addition to financial reports by FRx, IQMS' partnership with CorVu provides the following analysis and executive information systems (EIS):

  • CorManage—automates the user's balanced scorecard, Six Sigma, total quality management (TQM) systems, and economic value added (EVA), which is the financial performance measure that comes closer than most other to capturing the true economic profit of an enterprise. It is most directly linked to the creation of shareholder wealth over time.

  • CorBusiness—provides business intelligence (BI) management with end user online analytical processing (OLAP) analysis, interactive reporting, database queries, executive dashboards, and key performance indicator (KPI) alerts.

  • RapidScorecard—provides administration and data entry facilities for the CorManage product by automating proverbial Kaplan and Norton's balanced scorecard systems.

  • CorPortfolio—enables executives to fairly quickly review reports, analyses, and business commentary from virtually any data source, collating them into an electronic portfolio.

What Then Is Unique About IQMS?

Nevertheless, going beyond these common capabilities that are frequently met by many other competitive offerings, one will notice that IQMS is truly an interesting enterprise applications provider, almost bordering on an anomaly. For one, IQMS' use of an Oracle database, which, despite the vendor's sensible rationale to leverage it, remains atypical for the market segment it targets. Namely, we can only think of ICICI-Infotech (see ICICI-Infotech's North American Strategy for Success) as another vendor comparable to IQMS that is also Oracle-centric, albeit ICICI-Infotech is focused on different industries. IFS, which, like IQMS, supports the Windows client/Oracle database combination, targets much larger companies than IQMS.

Another feature which demarcates IQMS from its peers is its focus on the unique needs of plastic processors and extruders. This is not a highly contested market by ERP providers; there are only a few vendors that have well-attuned offerings that cater to the market. One only needs to look at ones desk to see how ubiquitous the product is: telephones, staplers, monitors, computer housing, etc. all contain plastic. Plastics usually comes from converting raw resins to the molded form, which is then assembled as a final product, or shipped as is. Examples of "processed plastics" include extruded railings, frames, cables, etc. Because they cannot be disassembled and reused or stocked, they fall under the process manufacturing category, which is a manufacturing process focused on formulas, not BOM; ingredients, not discrete parts; bulk manufacturing, not pieces; and pack recipes, not packages. For more peculiarities of process manufacturing, see previously published TEC articles, such as Processing Manufacturing Software: A Primer, Process Manufacturing: Industry Specific Requirements and What Makes Process Process?.

EnterpriseIQ tackles both situations, although it uses a BOM to describe a "process". Namely, by changing units of measures (UOM) and the way the rate of production is displayed and calculated, the product supports a sort of a process formula. It also uses a different (though highly related) BOM for more standard, discrete manufacturing assemblies. Users can link a "process" BOM to an "assembly" BOM to create the final part. To illustrate, one could make the process portion first, temporarily store it in the warehouse, then later build and fill a custom container to the customer specifications. Thus, two BOMs, each with different core functionality, are tied together to deliver the final, end user component.

Moreover, as opposed to only being a planning or scheduling tool in terms of a machine or work center EnterpriseIQ is molding or extrusion die-based tool. Quotes and BOMs support family tools, and there can be multiple alternative BOMs that make the same end item. Part costing and pricing can be done for individual items of family molds. It also supports standard and actual cavitation, which happens when some cavities within the mold are blocked. EnterpriseIQ overcomes this by creating complex tools, and the plant maintenance module tracks cycles on tools, dies, and even mold inserts.

From the scheduling perspective, the product highlights tools and dies grouping, creates visibility for out-of-service tools/dies, and evaluates any auxiliary equipment conflicts. From the raw materials vantage point, it can track regrind, (a waste material from molding and extrusion operations, which has been reclaimed by shredding or granulating), scrap, sprue (the main feed channel that connects the mold-filling orifice with the runners leading to each cavity gate; it is also the piece of plastic material formed in this channel) and runner (the secondary feed channel in an injection or transfer mold that runs from the inner end of the sprue or pot to the cavity gate) materials. It also has multiple ways to make or track material blends, an can perform the so-called "Runs-the-Best" tracking.

These plastic-specific capabilities all come in addition to the usual IQ Manufacturing & Shop Floor Planning modules, such as quoting/estimating; BOM; routings; inventory management; production/work orders; finite/infinite scheduling; master production scheduling (MPS); material/capacity requirements planning (MRP/CRP); labor capacity planning; machine capacity planning; production reporting; process/job costing; lot traceability; non-conform and non-allocated inventory management; quoting inventory; work centers; shop calendar; outsourcing/subcontracting; physical inventory/cycle counting; and inventory transaction log.

This concludes Part Two of a six-part note.

Part One presented the company background.

Part Three will continue a discussion of product differentiation.

Part Four will review IQMS' Single Database solution and quality management.

Part Five will cover Integrated EDI and miscellaneous utilities.

Part Six will present challenges and make user recommendations.

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