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Skillbond selects Vection Technology to interface with Sage 1000 to improve order fulfilment processes. Skillbond, suppliers of around 35,000...
The drivers for a move from on premise to a fully hosted service vary from company to company. For Dental Services supplier Skillbond, the decision to go hosted with CPiO Cloud was primarily driven by the need to improve business continuity and to deliver security of service in an increasingly technology driven market. The incidental benefits, however, have been compelling – from a reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) to access to the latest software versions and technology innovation. With a stable, up to date core infrastructure in place, Skillbond is now working with CPiO in its delivery of Cloud Services to further develop its latest customer offer – a digital manufacturing service.
Buckinghamshire based Skillbond stocks and supplies around 35,000 products for dental laboratory technicians, ranging from porcelains and diestones to laboratory equipment. The company’s next day service has provided significant competitive advantage, supporting a doubling of turnover over the past decade. In a declining dental market, Skillbond’s continued growth demands innovation – and the company has responded to the transformative technology now available, including digital printing and desktop milling, to deliver a new digital business.
As Paul Humphrey, Financial Director, Skillbond, explains, “Traditionally we have offered dental technicians the equipment and sundry items required to make crowns themselves; now we are offering a full service crown manufacturing centre.” Now rather than investing in a £70,000 desktop milling system, dental technicians can invest in a scanner at a fraction of that price, and send scanned images to Skillbond which will then produce the substructures onto which the porcelain crown is fitted. “For dental technicians this full service manufacture removes a huge up front capital cost; leveraging technologies from scanning to milling and CAD/CAM we can transform this element of the business and we are seeing rapid escalation in volumes,” Paul explains.
Technology clearly plays a vital role in the business – both in managing the sub 24 hour turnaround of traditional dental products and in the new digital business. However, the company has no dedicated on site IT personnel and has until recently relied on an external consultant to support its infrastructure, which includes Sage ERP 1000 and Infor CRM. As Paul explains, this approach had both benefits and challenges, “The benefit was cost – we were not paying for a full time member of staff. The challenge was that we did not have much control and, more importantly, we did not have security of service.”
The company’s primary concern was a lack of robust Disaster Recovery (DR) procedures. Skillbond had an option of a couple of seats at a local Data Centre facility in the event of a major failure, but this was deemed inadequate in an increasingly real time business model. When Skillbond lost the services of its IT consultant, the decision was taken to look for a hosted service – and the company turned to incumbent Sage and Infor provider CPiO.
“The primary reason for moving to a hosted service with CPiO was to achieve security of service,” says Paul. “There are also significant day to day benefits from getting everything off site and taking away the headache of running servers, managing updates and so on – all the aspects that CPiO Cloud specialises in.”
The total cost of ownership of servers was also a factor in the decision making. With a server upgrade due within a couple of years, Paul estimates the TCO of the CPiO hosted system will be a lot cheaper over ten years than having the on premises facility. The hosted costs are on a par with the cost of the IT consultant, while the company no longer needs to find the £25,000 required for server upgrades and, of course, has been able to cancel its local DR arrangements. Paul adds, “Cost was clearly a consideration but the primary reason was security of service and the ability to keep the business running.”
Ease of Transition
Once the required fibre line was installed, CPiO embarked upon the process of migrating Skillbond’s entire infrastructure to its dedicated service centre. This includes seven virtual servers running the Sage ERP 1000, Infor CRM and Business Intelligence (BI) applications as well as Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Office, file and print services and load balanced remote desktop services to give users full virtual desktop sessions. Security is provided by Websense Triton email security plus Kaspersky Anti-Virus.
“CPiO’s migration process was incredibly robust. From testing to liaising with our third party software providers, CPiO made sure we understood exactly what was happening at every stage. In addition, one of the support team also came on site during the transfer so we have a really good relationship with him,” Paul confirms.
As part of the process, CPiO made a number of changes to improve the overall resilience and reliability of the infrastructure, including the replacement of cabinet switches to accessible, managed switches and the introduction of two Watchguard firewalls, with full failover to build in redundancy. “We also now have two connections, one fibre and one Ethernet first mile, to further safeguard that critical connection to the Internet,” Paul explains.
Having successfully migrated across in April 2015, Skillbond quickly took advantage of CPiO’s expertise to embark upon an upgrade of both Sage ERP 1000 and the BI software. “With a stable, supported environment it makes sense to upgrade and gain the benefits of the latest products,” Paul explains.
For the company’s 30 users, the experience has been positive – the only change has been a slightly new login process each morning. In fact, those employees relying on mobile access – including the sales team – have a far easier experience. In the past Skillbond had to provide remote staff with dedicated Internet access, including firewalls and routers – a process that added cost and upheaval whenever staff moved house. Now all staff can securely use standard home Internet services – or WiFi when on the road – to access to the corporate system, which, says Paul, “Is a massive step forward.”
Digital Business Support
Having achieved its vision of completely outsourcing the corporate infrastructure – with just a phone system and domain controller to manage user logins now remaining on site – Skillbond is now considering the future of its new digital business. The fast growing factory network is currently a stand-alone infrastructure that has evolved over the past few months. In addition to the speed of expansion due to market demand, this is a complex IT infrastructure including both digital design and CAD/CAM systems.
Paul confirms. “CPiO’s expertise is brilliant and they are all more than happy to give us an unbiased opinion on any new technologies or things we want to do. We will be using that knowledge considerably going forward with creating the infrastructure for the new digital business.” For example, digital customers send Skillbond scanned images of products for manufacture. This is sent via a hosted FTP site. CPiO created a routine to convert emails into sales orders which are then subsequently processed by the Defacto Universal Import Tool, ensuring that emails drop directly into Sage ERP 1000 as sales orders.
Paul concludes, “From single source of support to TCO and technical innovation, CPiO is our first port of call. We wanted someone to take the IT headache away so we could focus on other things – including the new digital business – while delivering security of service. And that is what we have achieved with CPiO, 100%.”
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