Implementing new software has proven over the years to be a very challenging task for many companies. This is a story about two companies that recently went through this process and got it right. The software to be implemented was the DEACOM system, an integrated ERP software system that handles accounting, lab, reporting, POS, sales, purchasing, inventory and production for paint companies and other manufacturers.

Both companies started their projects with direction from their owners that the process was important and that they wanted it given high priority. In each case, senior management, as well as the people that would use the system on a day-to-day basis, embraced the project and did what was necessary to solve problems as they arose. As they say in sailing, if you fall out of the boat, you must assist in your own rescue. Likewise, when you buy a large-scale software system, you must assist in your own implementation. The following two case studies examine the very different processes these two paint companies went through and the steps they took to ensure a happy ending.

Finnaren & Haley

Finnaren & Haley (F&H) is a 91-year-old company located in Conshohocken, PA, with 24 retail paint stores around the Greater Delaware Valley region. In addition to architectural paint, F&H also produces a broad line of industrial and marine paint. Their high-performance coatings are sold throughout the continental United States and abroad.

The ERP system F&H used for 10+ years was a UNIX-based system that provided them with stable data storage and transaction processing, but was extremely limited in allowing users to access data in a meaningful way. Because the old software was inflexible, it was very difficult for users to streamline their daily processes. Many functions were accomplished by printing a greenbar report and then manually keying data into Excel spreadsheets. The UNIX system handled basic requirements of AR/AP, general ledger, formulating, production and inventory control, but did not handle environmental reporting, shop floor data collection and POS. In addition, the old software was somewhat dated and did not interact with email, MS Word and other modern productivity tools.

F&H set out to replace their outdated software with a Windows-based system that would provide ease of use, low maintenance and significantly enhanced reporting capabilities.

During the software selection process, F&H investigated many possible solutions. They selected the DEACOM system primarily because it was the only system that could handle all functional areas with a single, modern system. Fred Moellers, vice president of Marketing for F&H, commented, "We really felt that Deacom was the only company that could work with us over the long term to improve our business. We wanted a software system, but we also wanted a partnership that would help us to constantly improve our operations."

After reviewing many systems, F&H licensed the DEACOM system and began the task of implementing the software. The implementation project was broken down into three primary task groups: process engineering, data conversion and general training. Because of the extensive process engineering requirements for F&H, implementation was scheduled to take place over eight months, with all functional areas going live on the same date.

Process engineering was the cornerstone of the entire implementation process. F&H and Deacom analyzed each business function, reviewing why it was done and how it could be improved or combined with other processes. The flexibility of the DEACOM system was critical to improving workflow, as it enabled F&H to mold the software to their redesigned processes as opposed to having to conform to rigid software constraints. User buy-in was particularly critical during this stage, as process engineering can be threatening to people when their world is rearranged. It was imperative that senior management fully supported this process to ensure open-minded participation from all staff members.

Data conversion took place during and after process engineering. As processes were redesigned, data structures for customers, vendors, formulations, pricing, chart of accounts, item master files and transactional history files were converted and restructured accordingly. Data was converted during the implementation process for training purposes, and then wiped out and completely re-imported in the days before the go-live date. Because of this re-importing of data at the transition date, there was no need to run parallel systems after the cutover.

Training was a by-product of the process engineering sessions. Deacom implementation specialists worked hand-in-hand with F&H users to review how their tasks would be done in the DEACOM system; this methodology allowed the DEACOM system to be configured to match the specific needs of F&H and helped identify where existing processes needed to be streamlined. As each process deficiency was identified, solutions were developed either through software configurations or by re-engineering the process. During the implementation sessions, optimal business processes were developed and users became comfortable and proficient with the DEACOM system without the requirement for traditional training classes.

Because the new system is simpler and more accessible, individuals throughout the company are better able to manage their day-to-day jobs and track their performance.

According to John Mangano, technical director of F&H, "The DEACOM system has allowed all of our chemists to access data significantly faster and more easily. Formulation histories and batch histories are kept forever in an easy-to-view way. The fact that we can configure MSDS reports and batch tickets ourselves makes us much more responsive to the company's requirements."

Reporting that mostly consisted of the monthly generation of giant greenbar reports has given way to immediate access to live data, providing much more rapid analysis and identification of problems and opportunities. F&H's President, Bob Haley, remarked, "From my perspective, I am much less dependent on other people for accessing information. The system is so easy to use, I can get information myself the way I want it, when I want it, without having to burden our staff with too many reporting requests."

F&H's implementation of the DEACOM system and re-engineering of their business processes has greatly streamlined their operations. By continuing to analyze and reconfigure processes where necessary, F&H expects to continue to grow upon their 91-year history in the paint and coatings industry.

Vista Paint

Vista Paint in Fullerton, CA, is a 45-year-old company with 46 retail paint stores in California and Nevada. Vista produces a broad line of architectural coatings sold primarily to retail and commercial accounts. They are one of the largest independently owned paint companies in Southern California.

Vista's operations were run using many different software systems, which were integrated with varying degrees of success. Vista had one system for formulation and production control, a separate system for accounting and general ledger functions, another system for POS functions and many smaller systems to handle functions such as document management and customer relationship management. Many of these systems worked well by themselves, but they did not provide tight integration. This led to redundant data entry requirements and complicated data access for users. From an IT perspective, it had become difficult to run all these applications efficiently over a wide-area network.

Vista's goals for their software project were to replace these different software packages with one integrated system, provide improved performance and data access for users and simplify their business processes by creating one, primary data-storage location. Vista selected the DEACOM system primarily because of its tight integration of many functional areas into one easy-to-use package. Don Notman, IT director for Vista, noted, "DEACOM rang all the bells when it came to the functionality we needed. Vista's needs are pretty demanding, and Deacom has really responded to our requirements."

Since Vista's existing systems operated independently, Vista's implementation plan was a little different than normal. Priority was given to areas that could realize the biggest gains in productivity and performance from new software. The plan for Vista was to replace the lab, production and purchasing modules as Phase 1. Phase 2 would implement the financials and distribution center. Phase 3 would implement the POS system.

The needs and requirements of these three implementation phases were very different. From a technical standpoint, Phase 1 called for a fairly straightforward data conversion and training process, without much emphasis on process engineering. Certain enhancements to current processes were provided, such as grouped quality control tests and QC tracking. The implementation emphasis was primarily on ease of data entry and system stability and performance. Due to failures in previous systems, users were very wary of any new software. It was very important to work with all users to make them comfortable that the new software would work consistently and make their day-to-day jobs easier.

Vista's Technical Director, Hamid Pourshirazi, said, "The DEACOM system has provided us with the stability and integration we needed to keep up with our formulating requirements. Deacom has quickly responded to our requests for functionality enhancements, allowing us to work more efficiently."

Phase 2 of the Vista implementation called for considerable process engineering review, as well as integration of functional areas that were not previously integrated. Since approximately 80 users were involved with this phase, extensive use was made of interactive training and process engineering sessions in small groups using web-based meeting tools. This training methodology allowed many users to participate in the process evaluations in a flexible setting so that the process did not interfere too much with their normal daily activities.

Phase 3, which will be implemented in the winter, calls for the DEACOM POS system to be rolled out to all 46 retail stores. In order to minimize disruptions, this rollout will take place with groups of three or four stores converting to the new software at the same time.

Eddie Fischer, the owner of Vista, has expressed great satisfaction with the whole Deacom process. "I think when we're all done, Vista will have the most advanced software system in the paint business."

Although F&H and Vista faced different challenges and followed different paths as they implemented the DEACOM system, both achieved their desired goals. Key factors in their success included starting with an open-minded approach to process change, support from senior management, continual work to get buy-in and ideas from users at all levels, developing a clear idea of what they needed to achieve and creating a workable plan to realize success.

For more information, contact Jay Deakins, president of Deacom, Inc., at