The physical logistics involved in collecting and processing more than 1,5 million tons of scrap metals, glass, plastics, paper, cardboard, oil and rubber is enormous. Add to this the need for accurate data capturing and reporting across more than 70 locations in Southern Africa, and you start to get an inkling of The New Reclamation Group’s (Reclam) daily challenges.
The company is the region’s leading producer of recycled ferrous and non ferrous metal products, and makes recycled paper, cardboard, plastic and specialised products that are consumed as raw material in the manufacturing process.
Reclam grew through acquisition and with every new business they purchased came disparate, non-standardised IT systems with manual integration between their yard operational and financial management systems. This led to inefficient processing, lack of control, no visibility and a large number of human processing errors. This is a problem not unfamiliar to many businesses and was one of the major drivers behind the large number of ERP implementations in the 90’s.
Recognising the benefits to be gained from a standardized, real-time and fully integrated IT solution, Reclam undertook the process of completely replacing all of its systems.
After a thorough investigation it was determined that a bespoke yard management system tightly integrated into an SAP financial system was the most appropriate solution from both a functionality and cost point of view. The key objective was to enable business decision making based on accurate and timeous information through the provision of a group wide system which was reliable, accurate and efficient.
The design included using SAP Business One as the financial management system, Qlikview as the reporting and BI tool, iBolt as the integration layer and a bespoke yard management system called YMS. The YMS system had to be robust, reliable and scalable to capture a wide variety of data from its many collection points, some of which are outside the country. YMS would control the heart of the business and had to cater for the very specific way in which Reclam runs its operations. YMS had to correctly capture critical information from various inputs ranging from human operators, digital cameras, biometric readers, scanners and scale readings to produce a single ticket for each transaction. It had to manage all purchases, sales, stock, logistics, yard reporting and cash office transactions. It had to have the tightest level of control and sophisticated exception flagging in to combat fraud. All software updates had to be released from head office and automatically upgrade every YMS server and client to ensure that all users were using the same version at the same time.
After considering its options, Reclam chose a solution proposed by Oakwell Solutions, which was led by Roy Hobson, prior to its acquisition by Intervate in 2009. The project was launched with the ambitious goal of producing a solution that could accurately and reliably capture data from multiple inputs and locations, incorporate these into a single ticket per transaction and feed this into the ERP system.
The Yard Management System (YMS) was built entirely within the Microsoft Development Framework to ensure interoperability and integration between the data capturing, tracking and reporting modules. The system was created in the .Net environment and drew on additional tools to auto generate certain business objects and some standard stored procedures that enabled faster development.
Unlike many of Intervate’s solutions, the Reclam case was unique in that it is far more about producing documents as a result of a process than being purely about electronic document management. For this reason, the developers used a Microsoft Windows Forms Application as the basis for the system that captures and collates the various inputs.
The Yard Management System, coded using C#, then draws on a Microsoft SQL Server database platform that includes SQL Server Integration Services to synchronise data from the various sites to the master ERP databases. Lastly, Microsoft Visual Studio was used to develop the user interface. Another unique component of the system was the use of a ‘black box’ controller to interpret the signals from sensors and external inputs so that they could be captured by the YMS. This critical component was supplied by a third party that specialises in such systems. An important consideration in the operator interface was ensuring the business rules and processes are embedded in the system to ensure the veracity of information that is stored in the database and called upon for all transactions. This database is used to generate a number of crucial documents and reports that are now standardised across all Reclam operations. The typical documents associated with each transaction include goods received and dispatch notes, weigh bridge tickets, weight check and gate release notes. Critical records such as invoices and receipts are also generated by the system, which required some tweaking to accommodate foreign currency transactions from operations outside South Africa. This is especially important to ensure that the data sent from each site to the central ERP system reflect the correct values. Reporting has been simplified by enabling the generation of various standard reports, providing the user with a data extract tool to write their own reports, as well as the ability to export to Excel for further manipulation and analysis if needed. The overall system design pushed the envelope with many believing the organization was too big to run on a bespoke operational system and SAP Business One. The rollout of the YMS was approached with a mixture of caution and pragmatism to ensure that all teething problems were identified and addressed as early as possible. A lengthy test phase to iron out these problems was followed by the staggered deployment of the system to each site.
The project was a great success. It is very rare that an IT project of this nature and size delivers on functionality with a shoe-string budget and comes in on-time and under-budget.
Today Reclam has IT systems and processes which meet all of their business needs shifting their concerns from frantically managing data to using information in order to generate new insights. The entire IT organization consists of 12 permanent staff providing all IT support to over 70 geographically dispersed locations. Their systems are continuously upgraded to improve on control, efficiency and cater for new requirements. On average a new version of YMS is released every two weeks without any issues. The total annual IT cost is less than 0.1% of turnover which is well below the average of any industry. Reclam thus has a far superior Yard Management System that provides it with a level of control and management that was previously impossible.