Tait eyes world over VPN

Implementing Baan 5 over a worldwide virtual private network means Christchurch-based Tait Electronics can not only now achieve the kind of supply chain transparency that will let it see a transaction in Hong Kong as it happens.

The VPN will link Tait’s New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, UK, US, Canadian and Australian operations. It has been 18 months in the making, a time frame group information and supply chain manager George Elder acknowledges is “longer than we’d have liked, but there was a lot of change — Baan 5 is very different to version 4”.

Version 5 of Baan, which is now merged with fellow ERP software vendor SSA after a takeover of the company by venture capitalists last year, went live at Tait in New Zealand in December 2002. It was progressively rolled out to the overseas branches, where “we’re just tidying up the loose ends”, says Elder.

Under the new system all branches operate off a single server, “so a transaction put in Hong Kong — that is, a sale — is available immediately in New Zealand, without any data transfer”. Branches no longer have their own ERP system servers and the associated Informix databases have been centralised to one, whereas under Baan 4 all branches had their own.

Introducing a shared global ERP system necessitated upgrading from Baan 4 to 5, “because 4 couldn’t handle the dynamic time zone differences”.

The new system had to handle orders coming in at the same time that were dated as being at different times. “They had to seamlessly flow into the database. The system has to deal with multiple time zones, date formats and currencies.”

Shifting to a shared ERP model, delivered over a VPN, has changed the company’s culture, Elder says.

“There’s a requirement to share data more than ever before, a reduction in the number of internal transactions and a massive speed-up in lead time on the supply chain.”

With the shared ERP system completed, “the door is open to us” running common systems worldwide. “We do it already with our intranet and could do a lot more.”

Developing worldwide web-based tools and dealing with web sales are other possibilities. “We can run a worldwide warranty return system, with all the data centralised far more easily than before.”

Elder says Tait’s biggest concern about the project was the ability of the VPN to handle the requirements of the UK branch.

“In terms of distance and latency, it’s not as fast as having a server in the UK, but we’re getting results that are acceptable.”

A VPN was the only option for a shared ERP system, Elder says. “Otherwise, the comms costs would have been too high.”

An ISDN link operates as back-up to the VPN. It’s run on an on-demand basis, meaning branches pay if they use it.

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