As in 1996 Film, “Schindler’s List”, Oskar Schindler put very elegantly the quote:

“My father was fond of saying you need three things in life. A good doctor, a forgiving priest, and a clever accountant. The first two, I’ve never had much use for them. But the third …”

In Pakistan 80% of job market is owned by small, medium and large capitalists commonly termed as “Entrepreneurs”. They are the core of business and industrial structure in Pakistan, not only doing so much for the society, they also create a vast pool of jobs and opportunities for under graduates and even for illiterates. I know this because during my short period of experience, I have worked in vicinity of a few and have learnt to become what I am today.

The focus of Entrepreneurs’ business is always for generating good profits, but on the cultural side the circumstances are so rich in portrayal that one could write a book on this premise. They (Entrepreneurs) have been here since last two generations and as one say, the “Third generation is the gentlemen”, is actually well on its way. Whether bringing in business from abroad, or investing in local resources, these industrialists, manufacturers and even services providers are the base of Pakistan’s Business community and are the most important unit for making its mark to the rest of the world.

Coming to the topic, about ten years ago, I was developing an inventory application for a local textile manufacturer, who dealt in Towels and Home Textile. Their major clientele was established in US. The business was successively fine and consequently they resolute to automate day to day operations for the inventory and manufacturing areas.

This – is their story, which became an important part of my life and professional career.

Part 1 – The Structure

I was assigned to gather requirements, and perform gap analysis for their operations and in coordination with the development, start building the basic setups for their inventory and production data entries.

They had two setups; one was the entire production floor containing, storage for Yarn, Gray, Wastage, Finished and semi finished the other was the production areas for Stitching and Weaving. All of their processing such as Bleaching and Dyeing was outsourced to other vendors. Sometimes Gray manufacturing and stitching was also outsourced but that depended on the serving of the client’s order. The other section not related to manufacturing was the main office which was located within the same building. Here officers and executive alongside the owners were seated. The sections included Exports, Finance, Administration and QMS.

Previously their system was a DOS (Disk Operating System) based application, and was operated by one resource in the main office. It covered their vendor billings, production details, and Inventory. At the end of the day it produced a report for product balances, this report was used for planning the shipments and production activities. Consequently we were also presented with the same scenario, but obviously we were supposed to deliver something with a niche otherwise it would not worth it!

Part 2 – The Pain Area

Always remember one thing; if you are selling a solution to an Entrepreneur, never ever try to show off yourself about who you are and what you can and cannot do. They will know; they will know it even before you had entered their office. For that reason, always put your focus on yourself and be true to what you are saying, and the best way to go about it is to present what you are – originally. They will weight you on that, and shall show the appreciation by gestures and not words. You would know, eventually J

You need to dig out the Pain Area, the area for which they have decided to put their investments in. They are not buying your software, they are evaluating if this software can eliminate that pain area, which is at their desk each morning, day, and night. So be geared up for this. If you can find this prior your meetings put maximum fire on that area but please do it convincingly.

The place where we were going to implement our solutions was “Control and knowledge of Rejected inventory” and “Production Information Delays”. These problems were causing short shipments, incorrect location for the inventory, and wrong information projections for “B” category inventory. So we started out right from there…

Part 3 – The Parallel Run

On completion of GUI related to Production, Stitching Receive, Bleaching Dyeing Issuance, Gray Receiving and Yarn Receiving, we decided upon a cut off date and started to enter the same documents within the system as entered in the existing DOS based system, and at the end of the day we compared the results. At the mark of 12 days, the stitching and weaving bills were all synchronized, and the mark of 30 days Gray issuance and receiving was customized and done.
We set another cutoff date to enter and update all opening balances of the finished product balance report. For 130 items it took us a day effort to update all stock statuses.

Part 4 – The Challenge

We were operating on a small 10 PC network. We infrastructure it in a manner that would cover admin office, director rooms, and also production floors. But, to be true, the latter were not used for the purposes they were intended to.

The daily activities included “Grey Receiving”, “Bleaching and Dyeing Issuance”, “Production Reports”, “Yarn Receiving”, “Cloth Receiving” and “Stitching Receiving”. We developed a customized ledger for viewing the discreet inventory of any product. Still though we know that this was not enough, because of these factors:

At the stitching floor they were still using “Registers” to maintain a parallel inventory of the products.
The documents which we were entering in the system were at least 1 day old, the reason being that we were getting them after they were entered in the manual register. So for the director, the “Register” was still the main information point.
Stocks of products were scaled on the basis of “Pounds / Dozens”, in case if some product is not as per the designated weightage (Heavier or Lighter) it is transferred to the consequent quality. This was put in the picture to us, but the information we were receiving was not as per the mark.

These factors were making our work just go in vein. Because, our information delay window was too large (24 Hours), and Director needed to take decision on the basis of the latter in real time mode.

Part 5 – The 1st Click

We decided to go for this the very conventional way of tallying the stocks in the register with that of our own. What we were really looking for was the calculation and balancing errors in inventory, not on our side but in the register. Yes, this seems a bit odd, but we needed to convince the management that the human errors are as much as fatal as machine errors, but machine errors can be traced, identified and removed with a very few efforts. I am not going in details of the results after this activity, but to be true, we found about 6 major inventory calculation mistakes in 5 main products. We communicated this to the production supervisor, who was now really interested in getting the training on our MIS.

On the second stride we asked the production supervisor to send the entry documents as soon as he enters them in the register, so we could enter the data at the instant time of stock issuance and receiving.

Another cut off date was decided upon (+ 5 days) and we removed the register from the production floor. The supervisor started using the system and was screening the updates in the inventory. We also asked the production floor (Looms) supervisor to send us the current day production details as soon as the gray is checked. This way at the start of the day, a complete up to date representation was ready for the director reference – now we were ready to make advance improvements.

Part 6 – The 2nd Click

This phase was actually a re-analysis of our contemporary standings. We needed to perceive everything with user’s perspective that where they stand in viewing the information and more appropriately “the right information”.

We knew at that time that the day to day operations were going fine. Data was entered with proper verifications and validations, bills were generated accurately and gray was received as per the “A” and “B” percent calculations. So for the standard users we were at the right track and line. It was then time to provide upper management a niche to do their business with more control and regimented manner.

We introduced very specific number of reports. The reports, which could generate more impact with their projected information, rather used for tallying numbers. The following worked for us – very convincingly:

The Gray Weightage Summaries for the stock received either from in-house production floor or from external Suppliers. What lacked at the Director Desktop was the immediate reference to the current material and its quality being received on daily basis. At that time, whenever that information was required, the production supervisors were called in the office and asked, but that was once in a blue moon, otherwise, the qualities being produced heavy or light were dealt with labor-intensive transfers at the time of semi finishing processes. With the reports, the immediate information was handy, and director knew where to put controls and who is to be in command of where.
The Yarn Stock and movement, prior any system, this was totally a sightless area. Only information available was a register on which inventory was maintained manually. We developed a complete online ledger for Yarn supplies and also, maintained a complete inventory as per the supplier references. This was to control the issuance at the local and outsourced looms, as one cannot mix two qualities – it’s considered a sin actually. We also developed a simple excel sheet calculator to determine the actual poundage received from the supplier and saved cost.
We trained Production supervisor so he could use Excel work sheets. Here he maintained an online ledger for his end of inventory (mostly semi finished items), and a sheet for running customer orders. We shared the same sheet on Director’s computer. All he has to do now, was to update the order status by referring MIS ledger and construct shipments.
At the final stage, after about 6 month time period, when all information was being put in on a regular basis and the system was flourished with good amount of data, we moved the main entry point of the system to the main production floor. This exercise abridged the information update window more or less to real time.

Part 7 – Why we did it?

There is a simple reason that why we construct such system. A system, which was not catering for Finance Management, Costing, Taxation or any other such purpose which we look for while acquiring applications. We just constructed a system which was addressing the processes, and we linked up management eyes on the outputs of those processes. In return, the finances automatically was in a proper flow, and the costing was never a problem.

Entrepreneurs, are a very interesting set of people. They need to have results and does what they feel the confidence and belief in. Once the system started to provide the right information at the right time, they shall invest more – otherwise you should look somewhere else.

This was my end of the story. Although the system which we implemented was a small system, but it created much greater changes and improvements in a setup where people used to say, that there should be one file, one typewriter and a clerk to run a company – nothing more, but now we know that is not the case.

 

Arslan Ali is a Software Testing and Training professional; he serves his passion at OuttaBox (www.outtabox.co) as a Training Consultant for various software testing workshops, and also works as a Senior Consultant Information Solutions at Sidat Hyder Morshed Associates – a renowned software solution provided in Pakistan.

Arslan has been around ICT industry past 15 years and have diverse experience in Software Development, Quality Assurance and Business Process implementation.

You can reach him out on twitter @arslan0644.

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