At the recent PCI Custom Coater Forum, I had the chance to sit down with PCI members, Tim Milner, owner of J.I.T. Powder Coating and Ron Beltz, Director of Strategic Accounts for Bluestreak to learn about J.I.T.’s recent software change. Change is always difficult, but with the speed at which technology moves today, businesses must change to keep up with competition, improve efficiencies and work smarter. For J.I.T. Powder Coating, a custom powder coater in Farmington, MN, a commitment to technology in the past year is seeing positive changes in how they manage their powder coating operations.
Q: What led J.I.T. to look into new software options for your powder coating operation?
We used a “home designed” software system for 20 years. The problem for us was there was no real software connection between shipping, purchasing and process documents. When it was time to seek ISO certification, we didn’t have a system that documented what we do well enough to qualify.
Q: How did J.I.T. decide on a software like Bluestreak?
We didn’t want to work on, or modify, any
ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Many
ERP systems seemed to be written by accountants
and those wouldn’t work for our powder coating
I also didn’t want to spend the money on an IT person as I did not feel we would have enough work to keep them busy. Finally, I wanted to see if I could replace our internal computer server that was getting old and needed lots of outside IT support.
So, I was looking for a cloud-based system that someone else would maintain, modify, and protect for security. Bluestreak offers a modular-based software that allowed us to start with a base module and then add modules as we go along. Additionally, they maintain, modify and protect the software and our data so we no longer have to do that. Bluestreak was a great solution for us. First, they had software specifically written for powder coating operations. That was a big plus right from the start, and since the software is available in modules, starting with the base Quote to Invoice module, it prevented this from being an overwhelming process.
There is a misperception that people think data stored on your own in-house server is safer than the cloud, but that’s not true. Clouds can be much safer, as data is backed up on three different servers in different locations. No software resides on J.I.T computers or machines.
Q: How has the transition to new software improved J.I.T.’s business?
The Quote to Invoice module that we began using handles customers, prospects and vendors in one database. All parts, work orders, and process steps can be set up in the system so work orders flow through the job to the invoice. Once invoices are uploaded to our accounting software, they become locked so they can’t be changed, meaning reconciliation is constant.
J.I.T. pushes over 500,000 parts per month. Stuff can happen, so the system really offers feedback to each person in the chain of what is missing or what they need to do to keep the chain moving. This is the biggest savings for us to date. Our next step, planned for April, is adding the Production Pathway module. This module adds data capture through each step of the process. It is the part I’m really excited for, as everyone will know where everything is throughout the shop. It will help us tremendously in our cost analysis to make sure each step of the process is performing as expected.
Q: How does this new software impact J.I.T.’s costs?
We have 8-10 users and my costs are only a few hundred dollars more than what I had before for some outside IT help. And Bluestreak does far more for us. We’ve been using the system for ten months and it has never been down. We can access our data 24 hours a day, anywhere and place, and have never had any problem. Considering how rudimentary we were and where we needed to go, one thing that was very important was, could we do this in modular steps? Bluestreak has provided that for us.
Q: How difficult was the transition to the new software?
We spent three months doing research in conjunction with Bluestreak before making the changeover to Quote to Invoice. We needed to get our staff up to speed, and then we spent another 90 days for everyone to feel comfortable with the new software and processes. The learning curve was relatively straightforward, and most employees got up to speed quickly.
What has really impressed me is the level of support Bluestreak offers. There are more than 200 training videos available to J.I.T. employees, and a help button on the screen gives staff access to those videos. You can also send an email from the screen or use the information buttons that explain things. Our typical response time has been one day.
Bluestreak will import as much historical data as you’d like into their system. I intentionally limited the amount of information we originally uploaded. Therefore, we have had to input much more data than average, but that was my choice since I wasn’t sure how good our data was. I didn’t want to start off with bad data in a new system.
Q: How often is the software updated?
Bluestreak’s staff is incredibly responsive and I’m very happy with that aspect of our new system. When we find an issue, we pick up the phone and they point us in the direction to either fix it or the development staff works on a fix very quickly. With other software we considered, updates happened annually at best; Bluestreak updates monthly. I didn’t want a system that constantly made custom little fixes and then we’d have pay to have them corrected after each update. Bluestreak has put solid development time into creating a software backbone that makes sense for a job shop.
When we’ve seen something that didn’t flow for our operation and asked it to be changed, they’ve considered if that change would be beneficial for all their customers. They have been very good about incorporating improvements into the core product for all their customers without charging for the updates.
Bluestreak continuously builds new software versions based upon customer feedback. We release new versions approximately every month that include “what’s new,” and we provide a video that is associated with the updates. Sometimes when we get a development request, we’ll put it out to other customers to see if they can use it as well and share the cost of development. And there are a lot of things we just do because it’s the right thing to do and we don’t charge anything.
Bluestreak currently services approximately 100 powder coaters and is willing to tweak the system for one person when needed. We work with companies from small businesses (less than 10 employees) up to a 140-billion-dollar company. Our software works for everyone. We also handle all backups and monthly updates so J.I.T. no longer has to manage a server in-house.
Q: Does J.I.T. plan to expand its use of Bluestreak software?
We’ve built up enough internal expertise that we’re ready to move forward to the shop control module, which Bluestreak calls their Pathway Production module. We’ve scheduled to begin using it in April of 2018. This summer we are going to begin our quest for ISO 9000 certification.
I anticipate that we will probably be as close to a paperless operation as possible by 2019. There are other modules available for shipping, including electronic signature, quality control, and even maintenance scheduling and tracking. I expect at some time we will adopt some of these modules.
Q: What is the biggest benefit J.I.T. has received from the Bluestreak software?
The big thing is that this system got our entire company on the same structure with access for everyone at every step. It has been especially beneficial to our account managers. They now get a daily report showing that all parts have arrived and ensures there is a price, color, paint vendor, etc., attached to them. They don’t get surprised anymore by unexpected parts showing up.