Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Inc. (MBRDNA) Business Process Automation Project Case Study.
Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Inc. (MBRDNA)
Tech Center conducts emission tests, workshop support and other services for Mercedes-Benz projects as well as other automotive manufacturers. Vehicles are tested according to United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and California Air Quality Board (CARB) standards. Core competencies such as durability, press vehicle preparation, powertrain evaluation and on-board diagnostics also complete the MBRDNA Tech Center portfolio. The MBRDNA Tech Center has two locations; one in Long Beach, California and the other in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a corporate Head Quarters in Palo Alto, California.
MBRDNA is comprised of five cost centers; three in Long Beach, CA and two in Ann Arbor, MI. Each cost center is headed by a Senior Manager with additional supervisors for some specific areas. Individual tests and other services for projects were managed independently by each team. Both internal (Daimler AG, Germany) and external customers represent the customer base.
Tasks and communication related to projects and customer billing were managed in several different Excel files and paper documents by the managers, supervisors, team members and finance staff. As the services were provided, the finance staff had the responsibility to gather service information and consolidate and enter it into a common financial system. For the Tech Center to conduct its business, projects had to be initiated, tests conducted, material had to be requested, timesheets had to be entered, expenses had to be captured and customer needs had to be met. All this information had to be passed through a management chain for approval purposes.
Data from the business processes had to be consolidated and entered into a common QuickBooks® accounting application for the divisions in Long Beach, CA and Ann Arbor, MI. In addition, specific consolidated reporting had to be created and sent to Daimler AG, Germany on a monthly basis.
The process involved extensive manual effort to document, track and compile reports over multiple remote locations in the organization. A wide of variety of spreadsheets were utilized to compile the data among multiple users and locations, which provided opportunities for inconsistencies and erroneous financial reporting. The finance staff was regularly challenged to compile the necessary information into a consistent format for easy reconciliation by the customers. This proved to be a clear opportunity to streamline the process.
Accounts Receivable Invoicing Tool - Vendor Selection
MBRDNA Tech Center started looking for a solution to improve the efficiency and effectiveness for increased accuracy and completeness with more flexibility for updating a single source of data and generating useful tracking reports. Senior Management attention with the financial staff support identified the importance of implementing a comprehensive tool. Due to the unique nature of the operational needs and corporate financial requirements, it was quickly identified an off-the-shelf product couldn’t fulfill the specifications. They decided that a custom solution was eminent and discussed their needs with multiple vendors. After thorough evaluations, and industry-wide research and discussion, CellarStone, Inc. proved to be the best choice.
The decision focused on three criteria; financial system integration (QuickBooks®), multiple accesses including remote, and customer specific tailoring. CellarStone successfully conveyed compelling examples of similar products, namely QXchange with QuickBooks®, MaxBlox web development as well as a series of informative discussions regarding solutions and project scope feasibility. The CellarStone team understood the Tech Center’s needs clearly and was able to address it effectively in their project proposal.
Accounts Receivable Invoicing Tool - Solution
QXchange is a sophisticated data extract, transformation and loading tool (ETL) that works directly with QuickBooks® without any additional coding. QXchange could also access and modify data in many other data formats and applications such as MS SQL Server, MS Access, Excel, Flat files, Salesforce.com®, SAP B1, etc.
MaxBlox is an easy-to-use web application development tool to build hosted web applications. New data entry screens for data could be developed and presented to users in a matter of minutes. MaxBlox came pre-built with a set of tools such as user and role security, page builder, menu builder, report designer, query builder and workflow. Since the application was built on this platform, it would be very easy to continue modify and enhance the application to fit Tech Center’s future needs. The Tech Center expanded the original project scope due to the ease and flexibility of this product.
The project was governed by a detailed project plan and weekly status meetings over the length of the project. Clear requirements and detailed design documents were built and delivered at the start of the project.
The project execution was very smooth, with frequent high level communication between both teams from four different locations. CellarStone incorporated the TechCenter’s needs and proved to be very flexible in accepting changes to the specifications, also under challenging circumstances very late into the project.
During the course of the project some significant additional requirements were added to the project to meet business needs with corresponding change in the project scope and timeline, with the business’s approval.
The developing solution was reviewed during the project and feedback was incorporated into the solution as often as possible. During the project, the TechCenter upgraded their underlying QuickBooks® application to QuickBooks® Enterprise, but the tools were so well designed that there was minimal impact on the project.
A two week long training and user acceptance testing process allowed the team to gather final feedback and release a well designed working product to the entire TechCenter. Tech Center project owner said “the availability of CellarStone during the project as well as during training and user acceptance testing with all our staff allowed us to be sure that we were getting a solution that met our needs. It also helped us identify our needs much more clearly.”
With this level of automation and communalization of the data and processes, the Tech Center saw that it was much easier to share project information between the locations. “We found that locations understood what the other offices were doing and were able to borrow ideas to increase revenue and decrease effort.”
Since much of the initial process was on paper, the Tech Center expects that misplaced paperwork and subsequent delays would be virtually eliminated. In addition since the data resided in a single source database, with proper logging and approval cycles, the accuracy of data is expected to increase. The most up-to-date data is readily accessible at any time to all users which is expected to significantly reduce effort and time associated with data verification and searches. Furthermore, the Tech Center expects to leverage the single source of data to provide faster response time for key measurable evaluations and reports for customers and management.
According to the Senior Manager project owner, “I expect to get a return on investment within twelve months of the end of the project. Our lives are getting a lot easier with this solution. I am very happy with the capabilities and professionalism of the CellarStone team. I have invited them to help us again with the building out of additional functionality to make us completely automated.”
Tech Center Division Controller states “CellarStone provides very responsive customer service and shows great flexibility to meet our demanding requests in a timely manner. We highly recommend CellarStone to other companies looking for a customized, comprehensive, business solution.”