Digital Factory Transformation Through An Agile Modular ERP 

Milano Sign

About the customer

Milano Sign works with architects and corporates as a one-stop partner for developing light signs, branding, wrapping, and LED walls. Milano Sign helps businesses from the conceptualization of their project to municipality paper submission, and to the production and installation of their signs. For over 30 years, Milano Sign has served long-term clients such as Regus / Spaces, Ferrari, Credit Suisse, among many others.

Milano Sign
Milan, Italy
Services Provided
Digital Operations
Product Strategy
BI Database
Milano Sign handcrafting lights in their factory

The Scenario

For over 30 years Milano Sign’s operations have been reliant upon in person communication and paperwork, which has hampered them from offering the highest quality for their customers due to unsustainable backlogs, delays, limited customer transparency, and incorrect order fulfilment. This has directly impacted their customer retention and ability to acquire customers with strict deadlines.

As a forward thinking company, Milano Sign has identified digital transformation as an avenue for improving operations and profitability. Like many small factories though, Milano Sign’s team is composed of domain experts and expert craftsman, but they do not internally possess a team of digital evangelists nor the budget to hire a full-time team capable of transforming their business to achieve this mission.

The ERP Dilemma

Milano Sign has searched extensively for existing software, especially enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, that could suit their needs and enable seamless integration across ops functions. However, they were not able to find an affordable, easy to implement, flexible, and small-business inclusive solution that would allow them to incrementally develop the right digital solutions informed by customer needs, internal stakeholders feedback, and operations metrics.

This coupled with ERP’s often insidious pricing, long implementation times, customization complexities, and difficulties migrating existing systems resulting in low code reusability, make ERPs a long-term commitment that is not well suited to a small company like Milano Sign. As a result, they partnered with Equip Digital for designing and building an iterative solution.

Digitally transforming business operations without an external ERP? - No problem!

The Anti-ERP, ERP Solution

After aligning on the business goals and performing early stage design thinking sessions, in which we prototyped and interviewed multiple customers and value chain stakeholders, we identified a significant problem with a lack of internal data optimization caused by a lack user friendly digital tools and database infrastructure. Therefore, we designed a solution that could be described as Zapier and a modular ERP having a baby. 

As an alternative to spending months implementing an all-encompassing and robust ERP package, where we would only use certain functionalities while ignoring the rest, we developed a product strategy emphasizing small microservices supported by external SAAS integrations to solve specific ops problems. Our rationale is that external SAAS products offer a more focused and specialized solution for individual module problems throughout business ops, and if we built software to effectively connect them, we would create a pseudo ERP.

Fluidly Integrated Modules

Benefiting from existing open source frameworks and external apps, our team was able to develop a custom ERP solution within weeks that especially utilized Django because of its speed, efficiency, and scalability. Additionally, we installed Ipads throughout different areas of the factory that prominently immersed software and data touch points into the manufacturing process.

One example is how we integrated Trello to improve the flow of information throughout the factory, as its customizability, and API capabilities have enabled factory workers to be more organized and informed. In addition to improving quality of service, this has helped improve efficiency due to automated scripts that the ERP connects to other microservices. For example, once an order is moved to the ‘Complete’ board on Trello, the ERP’s built in logic utilizes its external API integrations to notify our integrated accounting SAAS, Reviso, and automatically create and send invoices to the final customer.

The results

Milano Sign has increased revenue for Q1 2020 by 49%, which is directly attributed to existing customers being better served with improved customer satisfaction. In addition, they decreased their raw material usage for signs by 78%, further decreasing costs and improving their carbon footprint. This has been accomplished at a fraction of the investment required for many of the prominent ERPs on the market, both in terms of capital and implementation time - three releases over a two month period.

+ 49 %
Q1 Revenue
+ 75 %
Q1 Orders Delivered On Time
- 78 %
Q1 Signage Materials Printed
+ 49 %
Increase in Q1 revenue

"I don't know what you guys did, but now you are the ones following up on every stage of production. A while ago it was me having to demand updates. We are now ordering more from you because you always provide accurate timelines and updates on the status of our orders"

Facility Manager, Regus Italy

Next Steps

Through this iterative approach, we have been continuously delivering value and learning from different stakeholders and customers.

The next key function we will introduce during Q1 2020 is a business intelligence database with pipelines and ETL processes that pull data into a Google Cloud SQL server. This is aimed at addressing the team’s needs for data informed optimization and decision making. With this database we will extract raw data from all of the different function microservices and integrated software (ie. Trello, Reviso, etc.) and structure it in tables that will be linked to another external SAAS for analytics, such as Tableau or Metabase. This will allow us to query and build SQL dashboards that automatically update KPIs for the Milano Sign team and also automatically flag problematic orders.

Our Team

The Equip team has been well equipped (no pun intended) for this type challenge, as our team previously helped lead the development of a digitally optimized global e-commerce supply chain for Houzz.

Are you interested in elevating your factory operations through digital?

We are confident in this approach as a strong alternative to the long-term bets associated with implementing traditional ERPs. Beyond quote-based factory ops, we are able to integrate and optimize modular functionality for sales, finance, logistics, warehousing, and e-commerce among many others.

Get in touch with us to learn more about how this agile modular ERP approach can be applied to your business. Please don't be shy! :)