Simon Bacon, SAP operations manager at QD Stores, will present the company’s engagement with the supplier’s ERP at this week’s SAP UK and Ireland User Group conference in Birmingham.
Bacon started out at the family-owned company 18 years ago as a store manager and now teaches store managers how to get the most out of SAP.
The discount store chain was established in Norwich in 1984 – QD stands for quality discounts. The business now has 47 stores in East Anglia, and shops in Wrexham and Doncaster. As well as QD, the company has three other brands – Cherry Lane Garden Centres, Norfolk Broads discount store Lathams, and Suffolk-based discount chain Thingmebobs.
In 2011, the firm’s growth had reached a point where it needed a full-blown ERP system, says Bacon. “We needed to improve efficiency, stock availability, and to have detailed and stable supply-chain information from procurement to distribution and sales,” he says. “And we needed something to keep ahead of our competitors in a very tough industry.
“But we are a simple business at heart, and though we have all that great data with SAP, we have complex screens, GUI [graphical user interface] transactions that are meaningless to most users, and that led to poor user adoption. I recently did a presentation to 50 store managers and only two said they liked SAP.”
QD chose SAP ECC 6.0 in 2011 and, like many other SAP customers, now face the prospect of moving to S/4 Hana, the supplier’s most recent ERP, based on its in-memory columnar database, Hana.
In 2016, Bacon and his colleagues were thinking about the next stage in the company’s development with SAP. “But we were unclear about the value of S/4 to us at that time,” he says.
“We needed something to keep ahead of our competitors in a very tough industry’
Simon Bacon, QD Stores
Instead, they looked at automating more of their existing ERP, and sprucing up the interface so that users – such as millennial users, including store managers, who have grown up with apps on their smartphones – would get more out of it.
“We spent a year getting into [SAP] Fiori and design thinking [an approach to development that SAP makes use of],” says Bacon.
Bacon’s core team comprises himself and a colleague. They discovered how SAP Screen Personas could simplify the user interfaces for their users and automate tasks, such as those within the management of the stores’ supply chains.
Screen Personas is the name SAP gives to software that enables users with little or no technical knowledge to customise screens to display only the icons, fields and information that specific populations of users need to perform their data entry or reporting.
The team presented its proposals for using Screen Personas and SAP Fiori Launchpad to the QD Stores board eight months ago, and then contacted SAP specialist consultancy Edenhouse for help with the implementation.
“But it is with the design thinking workshops that the fun starts,” says Bacon, “getting users from the stores involved. The design principles in Fiori are very user-centric. We ran a two-day design thinking workshop, with the SAP User Group, that came up with a prototype [to improve the receipt of goods to be sold in the stores].
“We have digitised that into an app, and we will iterate on that until we get it right. And then will take that to Edenhouse. It’s early days with the design thinking methodology for us – it’s the first workshop we’ve even run.”
The team now has a set of “high-fidelity prototypes”, says Bacon, that they have designed with SAP Build, a set of low-code tools that enables the creation of such prototypes on the Fiori platform, and whose aim is to increase user adoption. And with low development costs, he says, because they can iterate, with user input, until they are happy to go to their implementation partner.
QD has one application running in a live environment, connecting the Fiori Launchpad to the ERP back-end system, says Bacon.
“It is a tile-based interface,” he says. “The concept is, you should not need a training manual to do a job. We have shown how you can get more from ECC6 using Fiori and Personas, and it’s a potential bridge to S/4 Hana, too.
“The fact that S/4 runs on the super-fast Hana [database], connecting to Leonardo [the name SAP gives to its ‘toolbox’ of internet of things, machine learning and blockchain technologies] and machine learning is attractive to us because of the predictive capability.
“At a more micro level, there are limitations with Fiori when you are on ECC6, you can have more [capability] with Hana.”