Extratec utilises Mobile Order Capture

Below is the article published in Fasteners & Fixings magazine, March 2014. A review of the Android applications by a current customer, and how much they have befitted from the development.

Fastening supply specialists, Extratec, upgraded its company-wide business system to Merlin Business Software at the end of 2012. We spoke to Vincent Irvine, general manager, to find out why the company decided to use Merlin software and how Merlin’s latest update – Android application: Mobile Order Capture – has saved the company time and resources.

Located in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Extratec offers customers high quality industrial fasteners with a complete fastening service package. The company caters for small, medium and large companies in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic supplying them with a variety of products including self-clinching fasteners, fasteners for plastics, thread-forming screws, self-tapping screws, security screws, stainless steel fasteners and high tensile bolts and sets.

“Since 2002 we had been using Merlin’s Dataflex system which was specifically designed for stockists, distributors, wholesalers and merchants,” says Vincent. “Two years ago, we decided to upgrade our system to Merlin’s fully integrated software solution for stock management, sales and purchase order processing, contact management and financials, and we’ve never looked back.”
Unlike the old system, Merlin’s new upgrade is Windows based – a key consideration in Extratec’s decision to upgrade. “Being Windows based meant everything was easier to navigate and operate, allowing the staff to warm to the updated system as it felt familiar.”

Once Extratec had upgraded to Merlin’s latest system, it was encouraged to collaborate with Merlin to help develop updates to fit around the company’s day-to-day operations. “One of the things that was apparent to us was that Merlin builds the system around you, rather than you working around its system,” comments Vincent. “For us, saving time was our main focus and we were looking to keep costs as economical as possible.” Updates to Merlin’s software are driven by feedback and ‘wish-lists’ from customers and its latest Android application – Mobile Order Capture – is an example of developing relevant functionality for customers with their input.

“We’d had this idea on how we could save time and resources for three years, before we put any suggestions to Merlin,” explains Vincent. “Extratec supplies customers through line feed systems and replenishing stock on production lines. In the past we would travel to a customer, which would take a couple of hours, and manually check bins and racks. We would then phone in the order once we’d left the customer and the whole process could take up to nine hours. This was due to a weak or non-existent mobile signal which would cause sales reps to wait until back in the office to input an order manually.”

Extratec required a straightforward process that incorporated the many stages of its previous order process. Merlin’s Mobile Order Capture works both on-line and off-line allowing an order to be transmitted directly in to the Merlin system at Head Office when a mobile signal becomes available. Bins and racks on the production lines of Extratec’s customers are now fitted with barcodes and are scanned by the Extratec sales rep using a Bluetooth barcode scanner device paired to their Android phone or Tablet device; Merlin’s Android app can even scan barcodes using the phone’s camera device if preferred.

If the quantity of the item is not indicated by the bar code, this can be entered via the mobile phone or tablet’s touch screen. The completed order data is then transmitted directly in the Merlin system’s SQL database at Extratec’s Belfast offices without any further human input and the picking lists are produced automatically to then replenish the customer’s consignment stock. Merlin also produces the customer’s invoice for the items that have been used.

“Using Merlin’s Android Order Capture app, we can now process an order in under three hours of the rep’s visit” says Vincent.

“The biggest cost any company has is man time, and using the Android App has saved us over forty hours a week.”

“We’ve seen so many benefits to using the Android system, we couldn’t fault it at all. As well as saving time, we’re also saving resources,” explains Vincent. “The time scale is fantastic, and the sales team are no longer caught up with processing orders with their colleagues on the phone, but are completely focussed on selling.”

“Another advantage to the Merlin system was the smooth implementation process,” adds Vincent. “It almost happened over night. Obviously it takes Merlin some time to handle all the background work, but once we were given a go-live date it was a very smooth process. Merlin came over to Northern Ireland to provide our staff a training programme that proved to be invaluable to all our staff.”

Implementation of a Merlin system takes approximately six months, which Merlin says is sufficient to cover all the key aspects of a total system whilst the customer still has a business to run. Using their own proven methodology, called “PRiME” Merlin plan and deliver a project based on a full business process analysis which forms the basis of the training and implementation services; these include installation of hardware, data transfer, stationery design and on-site support of customer’s staff at the go-live. Merlin also offer a UK software support team, as well as a dedicated engineering team for technical support – something that Vincent said was extremely useful: “The technical help we receive from Merlin is efficient and reliable, and includes a 24 hour call back policy. However, we’ve found that within two to three hours our problem is normally resolved. If for any reason the issue cannot be resolved immediately, we know that there’s always a programmer on hand who will work with us to tweak the system to make sure it runs how we require it to.”
With Merlin’s help Extratec now has a system that has helped it save time and resources and has also helped Extratec cut costs.

“Other systems we looked at had a basis to how they run that could not be manipulated,” concludes Vincent. “However, Merlin looked after us as an individual customer and has enabled us to run the system in a way that is unique to our business, through working closely with us and understanding what we need to excel as a business.”

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Windows Server 2003 – End of Life

serversDo you currently use a Windows 2003 Server for your business operations? If so, are you aware that as of July 14th 2015 Windows 2003 Servers will no longer be supported by Microsoft?

What does this mean for you?

The end of support from Microsoft means that your server will no longer receive security updates or patch fixes. This could result in your business being at risk from new and existing threats.

What to do now

This is not something you need to address alone, why don’t you speak to our Engineering department for more information about how your business could be affected and for help in the migration process towards a new supported server.

If you don’t want to pay for a new server but don’t want to risk running your Windows 2003 server, you could move to Merlin’s hosted service / Cloud Computing.

Merlin develops new Offline Service

Merlin Offline Service

Don’t want to leave your business fate in the hands
of your ISP?

Merlin Business Software have developed a new solution to reduce this risk.  Merlin Offline enables you to trade even if your internet connection is down.

Ask The Expert

The Merlin Offline solution was produced by our own Engineering team of specialists who had recognised this could be a potential issue for our customers.  Martin Williams, Merlin’s Head of Engineering explains how this development came about.  “A particular customer’s branch had no access to Merlin at the head office as their Internet Service Provider (ISP) had decided to do maintenance work on the local exchange on a Saturday morning…

Martin continues… “…the users asked if there was any way they could have a separate copy of recent trading data available so they could at least avoid turning customers away while their data service was being restored.”

Discussing this with Merlin’s Senior Technical Consultant, John Barber, John reacted quickly by putting together a specification and prototype application, which ultimately resulted in the Merlin Offline solution.

Martin explains “The beauty of the Offline solution is that a full back up is automatically copied to a master station on a daily basis, with the ability to have as many Offline slave clients as you require.  This could be a single client for customers with a single site and server, or in the case of companies with multiple branches, each branch can have its own “master” client which can feed other “slave” clients within the branch.  This is solution is ideal where a large branch has more than one trade counter or office.  The Offline solution also offers an additional safeguard for customers using our hosted “cloud” services who may lose connection to their hosting centre for whatever reason.”

Used simply as a reference, the Offline solution will give you visibility of your customers, their special pricing, stock information and availability up to the last update of data and you will then be able to perform standard Merlin operations to give business continuity whilst the offending issue is resolved.

We have made the solution as cost effective as possible to ensure customers of any size can afford it, with a single master station at just £30 per month and additional slave station’s at £15 per month.

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Growth extends to all sectors to boost construction industry

Construction activity grew in Q3, making it the sixth consecutive rise in activity, according to the latest Construction Trade Survey.

Although private housing output slowed, this was offset by growth in all other sectors. Firms across construction, from SMEs to the largest contractors, reported increased output in the third quarter.

The survey’s key findings include:

  • Sixty percent of building contractors, on balance, reported that construction output rose in the third quarter of 2014 compared with a year ago
  • Private housing output in Q3 rose according to 35% of building contractors, on balance
  • Forty-three percent of building contractors, on balance, reported that private commercial output rose in the third quarter of 2014 compared with a year ago
  • Private industrial output in Q3 rose according to 41% of building contractors, on balance
  • Sixty-eight percent of firms reported labour costs rose and 74% of firms reported that materials costs rose in Q3 compared with the previous quarter
  • Eleven percent of building contractors, on balance, reported a fall in margins in Q3 compared with Q2
  • Forty-one percent of building contractors reported difficulties recruiting bricklayers in Q3 compared with 47% in Q2, and 39% of building contractors reported difficulties recruiting carpenters in Q3 compared with 47% in Q2
  • Construction firms also reported rises in forward-looking indicators, such as orders and enquiries. A rise in Q3 order books in private housing was reported by 15% of contractors, on balance. A further 13% and 12% of firms reported rises, on balance, in order books across private industrial and public non-housing, respectively.