Learning from the Pioneers – Vetrazzo

November 12, 2009 Appirio

Today, we’ll be speaking to James Sheppard.  James is the CEO of VetrazzoVetrazzo collects discarded glass from sources as diverse as last night’s chardonnay and Heineken bottles to decommissioned traffic lights and and transforms it into beautiful, eco-friendly surfaces such as countertops and tabletops.  James is a veteran software industry executive who took over the helm at Vetrazzo in 2006.  James has overseen a radical reinvention of Vetrazzo’s IT foundation and now runs Vetrazzo’s manufacturing, warehousing and distribution operations entirely in the cloud.

We’ll be speaking to James about what led him to build an ERP system in the cloud and what he’s learned from the experience.

Who is Vetrazzo and what is your role there?

I am the CEO of Vetrazzo.  Vetrazzo manufactures a recycled glass surfacing material for use as countertops, vanities and more.  Think of it as a sustainable alternative to granite and other quarried stone.  We’re excited to be part of the rapidly growing market for green building products.  Our product has been in the market for 13 years but we relaunched the Vetrazzo brand under a new company about 4 years ago.

What led you to look beyond traditional manufacturing solutions such as SAP and Oracle?

When we formed Vetrazzo 4 years ago, a lot of the internal manufacturing operations were being run off spreadsheets.  We knew there was a big opportunity to gain efficiencies if we had the right system to manage our operations – inventory, manufacturing, etc.

Our requirements for our new system were the following:

  • Needed a web-based system to support multiple locations and plants
  • Wanted remote users to have the same experience as others
  • Wanted to scale and grow the business without a large dedicated IT team
  • Needed fast turnaround time on developing new application functionality

We couldn’t find anything off-the-shelf that could work for us without a lot of development effort.  We looked at solutions such as SAP and Oracle but they are a bear to configure and customize.  Then, in April 2008, we started thinking about using Force.com.  We’d been using Salesforce at Vetrazzo for CRM but weren’t aware of what the platform could do beyond CRM.  But after Salesforce built a prototype of a manufacturing system, we were convinced that it could address our needs.

What made you take the leap of faith to a new platform?

Frankly, it wasn’t that much of a leap of faith.  I saw from looking at the prototype that there was nothing limiting what was possible with the platform.  The alternative of building something on my own or heavily customizing Oracle or SAP was a non-starter economically.  Since all we had to invest in was the platform licenses and some consulting fees to help us build the app, the decision became quite easy.

What happened after you decided to build your ERP system on Force?

We engaged a Salesforce partner to help us start building the applications we needed.  I’d already done a ton of work gathering requirements and putting a very formal structure in place so I thought I could re-use that to drive the Force development project.  I was prepared for a typical IT project with traditional waterfall processes, offshore and onshore teams, etc.  Once we got going, I found that whatever I could dream up could be developed quickly.  We gave up the traditional approach and start working iteratively because we could build as quickly as I could come with ideas.  In 7 months, we built a system that would have taken years and perhaps millions of dollars to develop using on-premise platforms.

What processes do you currently have in the cloud?

Other than financials, we run our entire business is in the cloud.  We use Salesforce CRM to manage our leads/opportunities and we have a custom Force.com application for core operations.  Our core operations system includes manufacturing, inventory, production planning, customer service, shipping, warranty management, equipment maintenance, plant reporting, quality assurance, channel training, purchasing and more.  It’s really a full-featured ERP system in the cloud.

What was different about developing in the cloud compared to what you’ve experienced in the past?

There were three main things that were very different than what I’ve seen before.  The first is speed of development.  We could literally build apps as quickly as I could dream them up.  I’ve never had this experience before.

As a direct result of the speed of development, we were able to move to a very iterative model rather a traditional approach.  This was much more effective.  Finally, we found that we could operate with very lean teams.  All we needed was a business analyst and a developer.  We didn’t need a large on-shore team to gather requirements, map the current and future state and then an offshore team for development.

What advice do you have for customers who are considering moving to the cloud?

Every organization should pick a small app and try building it in the cloud.  If you do, you’ll see that you can get something live and get a win in the same time that you’d be having your 48th meeting on requirements.

You should resist the temptation to pick something too small.  Unless you pick something that matters, it’ll be hard to demonstrate benefits and prove value.  We started with managing production, ordering and shipping for our product.  Not everyone needs to do that but picking something that matters and addresses a real pain point is critical.

For many organizations, the best way to build momentum is by demonstrating the value of building in the cloud. By building an app on Force.com, you can demonstrate how quick, cost-effective and easy-to-support cloud apps are.

Note: Vetrazzo is not an Appirio customer

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