Wendre: Every IT Project is Actually a Business Project
1 June 2021 was a very significant day for Wendre – the entire company: sales, production, as well as warehouse started from scratch with a completely new business management software program. A new Payroll and HRM module was also introduced for human resources management and payroll. It was not easy, but the company’s employees handled it and now Estonia’s experience can be utilised in other countries. Board member and head of technology Erkki Juckum, HR manager Liisa Alekask, and senior IT specialist Oskar Must from Wendre Group talk about this major step.
Wendre is one of the few companies that was already affected by Covid-19 several months before the rest of Estonia, by the end of 2019. In Asia, a number of large raw material factories were closed and this meant failures in deliveries. The second setback came from the customers – hotels were left empty and large retail chains, where Wendre’s goods were sold, had to close their doors.
However, Wendre never completely shut down production. All in all, the demand for blankets and pillows has actually increased, because hospitals now need them in much larger quantities. Development also continued, as specialists from Wendre develop innovative products for international customers, including, for example, pillows and blankets made from recycled plastic bottles. However, the last year and a half has required quite a bit of flexibility and adaptability from the company’s people.
Yet, Covid-19 and all that came with it was not the biggest challenge by far. Namely, from June 1 this year, the Estonian branch of Wendre introduced a new enterprise resource planning software (ERP) program simultaneously in all the core areas: warehouse, planning, production, purchase, and sales. In human resources management and payroll, the Payroll and HRM module was introduced, which meant that everything needed to be learned from scratch.
And as if this all had been too easy, the former Wendre AS was divided into two at the same time – Wendre, which manufactures pillows and blankets, and Wendre Bedding, which manufactures mattresses and beds.
SINGLE BUSINESS MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE FOR THE ENTIRE GROUP
The new single business management software program will be rolled out across the entire Wendre Group, which encompasses seven countries. Architecturally, this meant that the ERP system had to be designed to work in all of these countries. The best choice was MS Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations and its implementation was started in Estonia.
“Wendre Group had been using three ERP systems but the goal was to cover all bases with just one to create uniform information, statistics, and analytics in the group,” board member and head of IT at Wendre Group, Erkki Juckum says. “The reason Estonia was chosen to be the pilot country was not that Wendre’s head of technology lives here and the entire group’s IT management is done from Pärnu, but because Estonia is the largest owner and user of the ERP system.” Since the group is international, an ERP implementation partner was sought internationally. “We chose Tieotoevry and got a very reputable partner in one of Europe’s largest IT companies,” Juckum adds.
Considering that sales, production, and logistics, as well as all business with suppliers around the world, went live in the new ERP on June 1, the risk that the factory could shut down in the event of a failure was quite high. That did not happen. Wendre continued working, although the pace of sending out shipments dropped in the first weeks. So, if anyone happened to visit the spacious production building of Wendre in Pärnu in the weeks before Midsummer, they could see logistics and IT specialists working late into the night to fine-tune the warehouse settings as quickly as possible.
As requirements related to human resources vary greatly in each country, it was decided not to introduce adaptations for seven countries into the software, but to use the additional Payroll and HRM module offered by BCS Itera that is compatible with the ERP. This proved to be a good idea, as the new module was already used for all payroll calculations by June. “Right now, our opinion of BCS Itera is so high that we will probably also introduce this solution in Poland.”
PAYROLL AND HRM
“We started working with BCS Itera in the second half of last year. Since then, we have had two consultants from the company help us and we have calculated several months’ payroll together with them,” HR manager Liisa Alekask says. In February of this year, the workload for the HR specialists of Wendre doubled: first, payroll was calculated in one software application, then another, and then the data were compared. Check-ups were run continuously… Had all information been entered into both software programs? Are the final calculations correct?
This project required persistence from both BCS Itera consultants and Wendre’s HR manager. Since it is a manufacturing company, it means that some systems, such as payroll software or calculation of working time, are very company-specific. Understanding this requires focus from the IT partner. “People’s information is sensitive, so you chase after every 30 cents or 0.3 work days to make sure that the base data are correct. Vacation and payroll information must be correct. Working through all this down to the very last detail was very important,” believes Alekask.
The company employs many people with an extensive length of service who started when the majority of work was not done with computers. “But we have no choice, technology is developing at an increasingly rapid pace. You have to get used to the idea that you don’t get a ready-made tool, but have to constantly improve the IT solution so that filling a task would take less time,” the HR manager explains. “You have to keep an open mind with every innovation – we are moving towards flexibility and everyone must be the ones testing out new software programs. We can no longer hope that everything is ready-made and we can just start using the end result.”
AN IT PROJECT IS A BUSINESS PROJECT
Looking back at the implementation of the new ERP, Erkki Juckum, head of technology at the Wendre Group, believes that although there were problems, several projects were implemented in one year and ten months – credit must be given to the employees who led them and ensured that everything functions.
One of the principles related to technology at Wendre is smooth cooperation between employees on the IT and business sides. “It is crucial that people from the business side feel that an IT project constitutes 60% business and 40% IT. Because the question is not about switching the software – the head of each field must analyse their processes and develop new ones, if necessary. IT has become a lot more than just a support service!” Juckum says, adding: “I strongly impose the system of main users on all departments – we want every manager to know their processes. This should not fall only in the area of competence of the IT department – leaving IT to decide everything is very risky. We cannot have the attitude of “I will only do my job and someone else (from the IT department) should deal with the IT project”. An employee from the IT department should not be the one to decide the logic according to which we calculate additional fees. He or she should be the one to implement these decisions!”
He adds that changing the system alone will not guarantee success for the company if it does not have people who understand how these systems work and know how to use them correctly. If there is no understanding how the work of a person in a unit in another country is related to the work of a person working at the back of the Pärnu warehouse.
WENDRE – ALWAYS INNOVATIVE
Wendre, which is essentially the only large textile industry in Estonia, has always been innovative. The owner of the company, Peter Hunt, is constantly looking to introduce new solutions. This also means that the implementation of a single ERP in the group was not only necessary for real-time monitoring and analysis of important metrics, but also to make a leap in development in production.
The automated forklifts that will soon be driving in Wendre’s warehouse are part of the company’s natural evolution. But the management is also working on a production expansion project, where robots will perform the work in the new factory and humans will control them. It is highly likely that if this factory is built, it will be in Estonia.
But right now, the first and most important task is to switch to a single ERP in the entire group as quickly and seamlessly as possible. The experience that people in Estonia gained during the implementation of the ERP is badly needed here. BCS Itera consultants also contribute to the smooth launch of the Payroll and HRM module in other countries.