Heating up the Next Generation

Stevenson Heating looks back on a long company history related to the gas heater, a device the English company Pettit and Smith patented shortly after the invention of the Bunsen burner in 1855. In 1927, George Stevenson worked day and night throughout Bromley, England – fitting pipes, fixing leaks, installing and repairing gas-heating and solid-fuel systems. Once George’s son, Peter, mastered the pipefitting trade in Canada, he came home to England and took over his father’s business, where he built it up from four pipe fitters to 45. By 1961, Stevenson Heating Limited had weathered the war and begun to work primarily with gas. With the company’s third generation, Peter’s son, Paul, is at the helm, and after two years in the driver’s seat, Paul is expecting his family’s business to gross over three million pounds of revenue for 2007.
Family businesses are layers of knowledge, information, and innovation, and with each generation’s passing, there is a respect garnered for the methods that got them where they are. Top-notch design, friendly service, and competent installation are hallmarks of the Stevenson Heating name. But the youngest Stevenson quickly realized one thing definitely had to change in order to grow the business – the paper filing system. When their manual, patched together systems reached a boiling point, Stevenson turned to SAP Business One.

Burning up time and money

As the only computer savvy one in the Stevenson family, Paul provided IT help to the company shortly after graduating from college by setting up a simple Access database and a Sage 50 ERP system for his family’s heating business. For more than ten years, the database created work orders and tracked most of the day-to-day business for Stevenson Heating. But the software relied on photocopies, filing systems, and typists. “Finding information in our old system was based around digging through piles, going through filing cabinets, grabbing bits of paper, making notes along the way and putting it all together,” the 34-year-old Stevenson says.
Stevenson worked in and around the business for most of his life, but even with the database and Sage system, the intricacies of business were invisible and confusing. With up to 20 gas heater installations a week, more than 25 service calls a day, and a busy service counter selling parts to the heating and gas industry, things get out of control quick. The lack of transparency regarding process and procedures made inventory and costing impossible. For example, when installers left the warehouse in the morning, they pulled out what they thought they needed for the day and usually returned what they didn’t use at the end of the job. But best intentions often gave way to long days and unused flanges, thermocouples, ceramic inserts, and sensing tubes rattled around in the back of the pipe fitter’s van until the end of the month. Sometimes the parts came back in one piece; more often than not, they didn’t.
Even with these deficiencies, Stevenson Heating was making money, but how much, they didn’t know until the end of the year when the accountants would send them a tidy little package with a hefty fee. “Until we got our year end accounting report, we were blind and working on gut feelings,” Stevenson says, “And that’s no way to run a modern company”.

Turning up the heat in the back office

From the moment Paul Stevenson took over the reigns of Stevenson Heating, he began researching ERP solutions that could replace the patched together system the company had struggled with for over a decade. “First of all, I needed more control so I could see how the company actually worked. I needed to get all the information at my fingertips or else I’d be asking my father every two minutes where something was and why it was there,” Stevenson says.
Since he had performed every job in the company from scheduler to pipe fitter, Stevenson knew he needed a solid ERP solution that encompassed service management, inventory control, account management, financials, as well as strong reporting features. After 18 months of researching, Stevenson had a long list of systems that were only going to bring the company to 50 or 60 percent of where it needed to be, and that just wasn’t good enough.

All fired up before winter

“We were ready to build a system from scratch, start the coding, and get into building a bespoke system,” says Stevenson. “Then out of the blue, Codestone Technologies called and showed us SAP Business One and it did everything we needed.” It took very little convincing to come to the realization that SAP Business One was the way to go, but the real hurdle was the implementation time – a ticking clock counting down from four months. “The summer for us is fairly quiet, so we had a tight deadline from signing on the dotted line to being up and running before winter came and the phones started ringing off the hook,” Stevenson says.
With the goal of starting the new financial year with SAP Business One up and running, Stevenson worked hands-on with Codestone Technologies throughout the entire implementation process. Overall, Stevenson says disruption to the running of day-to-day business was quite low; the biggest challenge was making sure everybody was trained and comfortable with SAP Business One. “SAP was really the only company that, with a little bit of work, was able to cover our requirements. No one else could match them. It’s as simple as that, nothing else came close,” says Stevenson.

Paid in full

SAP Business One has dramatically changed the day-to-day operations of Stevenson Heating, and the improvements have surprised everyone. Department managers are now empowered with real-time information about open jobs in the field, inventory is now on a Just-in-Time (JIT) track, which allows Stevenson Heating to hold less stock, and the addition of barcode readers enables the company to sell parts quickly to the morning service-desk rush, while maintaining inventory integrity. “For the managers, I think it really has been an eye opener in the kind of information they can get their fingers on very easily and very quickly,” says Stevenson.
The ability to send the proper parts to jobs while being tracked in and out of inventory alone has paid for the SAP solution, Stevenson says. By moving all paper documents to electronic files, time spent processing purchase orders has been reduced by 90 percent.
Soon, with the linking of SAP Business One to a new E-Commerce solution, Stevenson Heating will be able to generate additional income on spare heating and gas parts with very little effort or resources. Stevenson Heating is also at the end of implementing a system which allows pocket PC’s to populate information into job sheets and select the parts to be used on a job; all of which is cycled immediately back into SAP. Stevenson Heating is now able to do things practically rather than reactively. “In the past, we had a pile of paper that had to get into the account system, and it never got any smaller, and it just got bigger in the winter. Nowadays, I’m looking for the pile and there isn’t a pile,” Stevenson says.
Paul Stevenson’s father is still semi-involved in the business, and though the filing cabinets and typewriters no longer assist in the running of the company, Paul keeps them around. SAP Business One makes for good business, but tact keeps a family business running.

Ian Alexander
Ian Alexander