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ATA thriving with new digital processes
ATA availed of an Enterprise Ireland Agile Innovation grant to accelerate its digital transformation resulting in efficiencies and improved customer experience.
There were three core components to the company’s project: improving and in-housing its web shop; creating a shared finance back office; and, real time monitoring of equipment in its facilities.
ATA is a Cavan-headquartered manufacturer of precision engineered cutting tools used in industrial applications globally. It is a privately owned Irish company with a turnover in excess of €100m. Outside of Ireland, the company has facilities in the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the USA. It was founded in the 1960s and has grown significantly by acquisition in recent years.
Web shop driving sales
Karl McEntee is the company’s Digital & IT Director and says the company’s web shop has grown immensely popular since this project was undertaken. The web shops and customer portals allow customers to order, look at their invoices, and see real-time stock and availability levels. A significant amount of the company’s sales are now coming in online and the proportion of this continues to grow, with ATA encouraging its customers to use the platform, while maintaining the omnichannel approach of email, phone and EDI (electronic data interface) orders.
The online shop was previously run by a third party and ATA was spending hundreds of thousands of euro per annum for this service. Bringing it in house has not only saved money, it has also created jobs, says Karl: “We created a new Ecommerce division. There’s now a team of four that are solely focused on digital marketing and Ecommerce for the group.
"This team didn’t exist 24 months ago. We can manage it better ourselves, have more control, be more agile and be more reactive than we have been in the past. We're continuing to see month-on-month growth of the amount of people coming in through the online channels. It's been a growth enabler for us and it's given us the confidence to say that ‘digital first’ is the way to go across the board”.
Creating a shared finance back office
Creating shared services for finance in Ireland has also driven and consolidated employment in the country, explains Karl. Instead of invoices coming in and having to be checked manually in each country the company has facilities, they are now processed centrally in Ireland, where using AI and machine learning, the new digital process scans them, checks company names, amounts, Purchase Orders and makes sure all information is correct. The system pairs the invoice with the company’s ERP system, and validates the information, allowing it to be paid.
Shop Floor Metrics
Real-time monitoring of the shop floor has given the company data on the efficiency of its machines, explains Karl: “We can now certainly look at the factory floor in one of the plants and see if there are some production machines that are not optimal. If they're not optimal, we've reduced capacity. So the project is bringing more capacity, more efficiencies … We now know where the bottlenecks are. We might have known where they were already, but we can quantify this now the amount of information we have. We have deployed Industry 4.0 technologies and upgraded our shop floor system, and increased the amount of real time reports available. That's leading us to more efficiencies … people are not spending time creating reports, they’re actually doing their job”.
For the application, Karl says you have to look at your timelines, resourcing, etc., but this is something that should be done before undertaking a project like this. He encourages other companies to apply because there is little to lose and much to gain. Enterprise Ireland provided ATA with good advice on which support to apply for. Initially, the company hadn’t thought an Agile grant was right for this project, but consultation with Enterprise Ireland showed them it was the right way to go.
ATA is at the upper level of SME size and most of its business is export based. The project gave the company the confidence in a field that features many big companies. Karl’s background is in multinationals and says SMEs like ATA can manoeuvre more effectively than larger organisations. In a larger organisation, new ways of doing things might have to go through many people before they’re approved, whereas SMEs can get up and running faster.
The success of this project has spurred the company on to look at other projects, Karl says: “It's given us the confidence to just go and do new things, driving efficiencies and providing us with a competitive advantage. We can see the growth in the online space. And we can see other companies are interested in what we're doing on financial transformation and on production transformation”.