17 OCTOBER 2001

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An integrated software solution

Bernhof Consulting Limited (Malta), a member of the Bernhof Group, set up shop in Malta in August. David Lindsay speaks to Oliver Schultz about Bernhof’s activities and its flagship ERP product

Bernhof Malta specialises in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software of the world market leading SAP. ERP is an industry term for the broad set of activities supported by multi-module application software that helps a manufacturer or other business manage the important parts of its business, including product planning, parts purchasing, maintaining inventories, interacting with suppliers, providing customer service, and tracking orders.

ERP can also include application modules for the finance and human resources aspects of a business. Typically, an ERP system uses or is integrated with a relational database system. The deployment of an ERP system can involve considerable business process analysis, employee retraining, and new work procedures.

As Mr Schultz explains, "It is a long chain of processes linked to each other and whatever type of data needs to be extracted from the system, especially at top management level, it can be easily done.

"Everything is fully automatic. For example, invoices comes out early, not once the product is ready and it is sold in the way that many of the older systems work. These older system involve a good deal of manual labour – such as hefty paperwork – and all this can be eliminated with the implementation of such a system."

Mr Schultz explains that many times one finds companies purchasing several individual software products instead of one integrated product that would suit all their software needs.

"This is one of the main problems, but it can be handled. Even these days if you look at a typical company both either in Malta and abroad, these companies don’t have just one software system, they would have dozens. While it is possible to connect them all together, this interfacing process is difficult, lengthy and costly.

"While each and every particular need of a business cannot be handled by any single product, SAP has covered these possibilities over and above the norm. There are also many add-on solutions or particular industry solutions that can be applied.

"Companies catering particularly for the medical industries are a case in point. If the new hospital, for example, were to implement the entire SAP industry solution, it would be able to run its whole operation from this single application, which is tailor-made for its purpose. If certain adaptations are then required, they can be carried out. This isn’t a case of once the system is bought or implemented, that’s it. The system can be changed at any time and to any extreme. If a client wants a particular module to be created dealing with an unforeseen circumstance, it can be made. The software is very flexible, but it is always a question of time and expense at the end of the day.”

The SAP system is also fully web-enabled, meaning if a company wants to sell or buy their products over the Internet, can access the SAP system through the Internet and one can see if the goods are available.

One of the latest developments, Mr Schultz explains, is in the realm of supply chain management. He elaborates, "If a client has a production process that is dependent on a supplier, and the client has all the companies within this production chain using SAP, all the producers along the supply line would be informed if there is some delay in the supply chain.

"As soon as you have a delay at one stage of the process, the whole production process would automatically know about it and the parties concerned would know weeks or months in advance and they can make provisions."

Meanwhile, Bernhof has adopted a special approach toward small to medium size enterprises. According to Mr Schultz, "For our approach to SMEs, which is our core business at the end of the day, we have created templates of the most common modules in SAP. This obviously includes the financial package – which includes sales, distribution, and material management. As such, we have come up with three different packages for pre-customised templates targeting the SMEs.

"We have carried out research on what typical SMEs around the world have in common. If you look at certain processes, they are the same - whether it be a hotel, an airline, or a dry dock - they are all doing the same thing to a certain extent. We found that every single implementation starts from point zero and the implementers find themselves doing the same thing every time for every company over and over again.

"What we have done is look at various SMEs in order to determine what they have in common. We have also spoken to the consultants who have worked on various implementations world-wide and we have come up with templates that incorporate these similarities between SMEs. We found that these similarities, as far as SAP is concerned, make up some 60 to 70 per cent of the system. Following the conclusions of the research, we have bundled the core needs of all SMEs and therefore we don’t start off from zero, we start from 60 or 70 per cent.

"Certain things obviously need to be adapted. For example, in terms of accounts, there are obviously certain legal requirements that obviously need to be taken into consideration in each case. Accordingly, these make up the remaining 30 or 40 per cent of the total implementation.

"So what we are offering is an SAP implementation at a fixed time. Our approach is different, we go to the clients with our templates and we show them the fully documented and tested pre-configured processes. The client then knows exactly what they are going to get and they are then able to determine whether they can identify their operations with the process.

"We also offer a fixed price and fixed time guarantee to implement the system in as short as three months."

This approach differs with other solutions providers, which give clients an entire package ready to use straight from the shelf so that clients are 100 per cent constrained by what they are given.

Mr Schultz explains that there are some three dozen local companies that Bernhof is targeting, while it is also targeting overseas companies.

Another software option that is becoming increasingly popular over the last few years in the leasing of software and Bernhof has been quick to get involved in the sphere. According to Mr Schultz, "A lot of people are talking about it, some are doing it already and we consider ourselves as one of these. We have a data centre in Bangkok, where the software and hardware can be hosted. The client, now thanks to the Internet, can access their system from anywhere in the world and by using this method clients can cut down considerably on the price. This price differential becomes very interesting for some companies that had previously never considered purchasing a system such as that of SAP.

"However, a lot of companies become worried if their data is not immediately at hand and about what happens to it between their premises and Bangkok. But the security techniques and mechanisms that there are in place today provide for relatively the same safety than they would have if the data were hosted at their own premises. If people do not want to go as far as purchasing an SAP system, we offer them a leasing contract at a fixed price. However, you do need a guaranteed bandwidth, which you can have now in Malta thanks to ADSL lines or VOL cable Internet."

Mr Schultz explains that the Malta office, in theory, serves all Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He adds, "However, we are still just starting off here, so the focus at the moment is Malta and I would like to emphasise that we are not here to act as a competitor with other Maltese IT companies, as we offer a unique product."

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt