Liberty Steel forges future growth with Infor

Steelmaker is using cloud-delivered software from Infor to stoke its growth, replacing SAP systems provided by its former parent, Tata Steel Europe

Liberty Speciality Steel, which has business units in some of the UK’s industrial heartlands, with sites in Stocksbridge, Rotherham, Fort William, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Sheffield and Bolton, is using cloud-provided software from Infor to fire its growth.

The speciality steelmaker was formerly owned by Tata Steel, and when it was sold to Liberty House in 2017, it had to replace SAP systems covering finance, HR and engineering under a stark 12-month deadline.

Chris Smith, CIO at Liberty Specialty Steel, was brought in to direct the IT transition. His previous experience included stints at HMV, Waterstones and Pret a Manger. “If you think about it, it’s not vastly different having a recipe for a tuna sandwich or for an ingot of steel,” he said. “It’s still a process.”

Each of the company’s sites produces a different range of products, and they also have a complex ecosystem of different enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, he said.

Some of that legacy lay in SAP. “When it came to the technology choice, we were, in a sense, tired of SAP,” said Smith. “We looked at Oracle, but it did not present so well, and was more expensive than Infor.”

As for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure behind Infor, Smith said: “If it’s good enough for the US military, it’s good enough for me.”

Smith spoke at Infor’s Inspire customer conference in Amsterdam earlier this year, and went on to explain to Computer Weekly some of the thinking behind his strategy.

Based on a deployment of Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise, Liberty Speciality Steels plans to use an “Infor-first” technology policy, said Smith. One of Infor’s advantages over competing Oracle and Microsoft technology sets was that Infor would not require investment in infrastructure, he pointed out.

The company has also invested in Infor CloudSuite HCM, Infor Expense Management and Infor Configure Price Quote (CPQ).

“There is a clear desire throughout the business to not only establish new processes, but to optimise how we do business,” said Smith. “To do this, we recognise the need to standardise on a single platform that is built for our industry and delivers relevant functionality via the cloud. That led us to Infor and this extended investment.”

Smith said he favours the software-as-a-service model typical of much modern IT. “I want a situation where I’m paying for a service and I expect that to be delivered,” he said.

Liberty’s customers include Rolls-Royce in the aerospace field. “We make steel for brake pads, parts for flaps on wings, undercarriage struts, and sub-sea pipes – steel products for harsh environments,” he said.

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Although Liberty has committed to an “Infor-first” strategy, the next phase in the company’s evolution will look at other potential suppliers, such as Microsoft, with its Power BI business intelligence technology. This is because the emphasis is on data analytics and data governance. “This is key for the next phase,” said Smith. “You can do all this digital transformation, but if people can’t read the data out of it, there is no point.

“And it is more than about buying a tool. It’s about supporting the business to make informed decisions. We have got so many different processes, and we are, potentially, missing things. We don’t yet have a data scientist capability to spot patterns. That is where [Infor’s artificial intelligence software] Coleman might come in. It’s about creating a window for the business into its operation, making it more clear.”

Smith added: “But it is very important to make sure the data is of a quality that will enable the system to run without errors and issues. You need to address who owns the data. What is the process for entering data for the first time and updating it? And how do you do the data retention, the archiving?”

Getting its data analytics strategy right will enable Liberty to “price goods effectively and properly, and tell customers precisely when they will be delivered”, said Smith. “It’s about improving relations between us and the customer.”

But this new phase needs to be business-led, he said. “I’m a senior sponsor of that, but I can’t lead as a CIO, I can’t tell the business what to do.”

Liberty is expecting to rationalise five of its ERP systems by late 2019, followed by a project to optimise business processes. This second phase is expected to include the development of BI capabilities and a possible industrial internet of things project that is envisaged to involve integration of management, mechanical and engineering systems.

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