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How to improve your business productivity with iMetal during lockdown

Implement a new ERP system whilst the country is in full lockdown during a worldwide pandemic you say? 

Whilst your Project Manager and Supplier Project Lead are both working from home? 

Where social distancing means there are fewer people in the office and you can’t get close to people to help them use the system? 

You’d be crazy to! 

Unless of course that new system gave you the ability for flexible working including working from home.

Established in 2006, by 2019 Benbow Steels had grown to a £12million turnover business but had developed so quickly that the business processes had evolved with tweaks and bolt ons to accommodate growth.  There wasn’t one IT “system”, instead there was a process based on emails, word documents, excel spreadsheets and an Access database.  It worked well because it was used by a well-oiled, experienced team; everyone knew what information was needed, by whom, and when. But the system was a heartbeat away from failure: one new team member; one less team member; a few more major customers, and there was no room for expansion which is exactly what we had planned for 2020.

We looked at a number of different systems and suppliers but we knew that we needed an IT partner that could understand, and work with, our idiosyncrasies. We needed a system that was adaptable to our needs now and in the future: an “off the shelf” system would just not do the job. As our previous systems did exactly what we wanted, often with one document meeting 4 or 5 needs at once, it was essential that the new system could replicate our business exactly as we wanted it to.  Of course, we also wanted to benefit from an experienced company who knew alternative ways of doing things so we could improve our processes.  Metalogic and iMetal fitted the brief.

During the end of 2019 we designed our theoretical processes for iMetal along with Metalogic’s Project Lead Nigel Johnson.  Our planned Go Live was initially mid February but we hadn’t yet proven the system capable of meeting our needs so we postponed it to mid June, just before the summer holidays kicked in and staff took annual leave.

In April we made the decision to go ahead with Go Live, based on the presumption that some of the limiting measures of social distancing would be sufficiently relaxed.  Given the short notice of most of these measures it would have been impossible to make a decision based on Government announcements.

Training would begin in May so we set up a socially distanced training room, laying out stations so that trainees were 2 metres away from each other at all times; all facing away from each other. Stations were named and the trainees would use the same station at every session.  The training plan was amended so that only 2 people shared a station, effectively creating a “bubble” for each station. 

The trainer, and some other trainees, stayed in their own home, or office, and dialled into a video conference using Google Meets. The training plan was extended to take account of fewer people being trained at any one time and to account for a slower pace due to technology restrictions. 

Would I recommend training virtually? As a whole strategy no, but it did have advantages which would have made it excellent as a “top up” solution. We managed to ensure everyone received the training they needed but the pressures increased as the training progressed. The biggest downside was that it was difficult to know how people were responding to the training as “silence” on the end of the line could be misinterpreted.  Some training sessions also took significantly longer than they should have done as questions and problems had to be responded to one at a time whilst people shared their screens and talked through issues.  

The training was flexible however and it worked well to be able to train people who couldn’t be in the office, for example, those who were at home due to child care or shielding. It also meant our Trainer didn’t need to be at our site for small top up sessions so these were more flexible to organise.

In the build up to Go Live the lack of visibility of the Internal Project Lead and Metalogic’s Project Manager proved an issue with the team. Usually a lot of activity is seen during the build up and the business team are reassured that activity is happening and the project is therefore in hand. In this case, the business was ticking along exactly as normal with no visibility of the enormous amount of work that was going on behind the scenes. Phone calls and communication emails can only partially fill this void. Sometimes, issues that came up with the business team during a typically busy day could be forgotten about by the time the project team were in touch. This meant that some project issues got missed or delayed in being responded to.

During Go Live week Metalogic’s Project Manager was on site for the first few days as he normally would have been, but he had to be based in an office away from the main office as this was too small to accommodate social distancing.  Whilst he was in the main office, PPE was used where appropriate and pointers were used to demonstrate items on the system.  All of this made the situation much more difficult as, not only did it limit how much people could be helped, it also meant the reassurance any team needs during Go Live just couldn’t be given due to a lack of physical presence. It did however mean that the team quite often needed to find a way of getting on with things on their own which advanced their knowledge, and independence from support, much more quickly.

Overall the system implementation went well: we achieved our goal, with our customers only noticing the positives in most cases: all of our staff ended the first week relatively unscathed and positive about the system and the future: the system does exactly what we intended it to with only a couple hiccups that we’re still ironing out.  Overall it was a huge success, regardless of the limitations of social distancing. Would we do it again under the same circumstances? The Managing Director says yes, it was a huge achievement and well worth doing:

“We would like to thank Samantha Benbow, for sharing her recent journey into the iMetal family during the first lockdown.  Samantha successfully took on the role of project managing the implementation whilst juggling the day to day of the business, lockdown and family life. Well done Sam.”  Metalogic Ltd

Featured image courtesy of @thisisengineering


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