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Keeping Supply Up With Demand

July 1, 2007
A lot of material handling is information handling. For this company the answer was more than blowing in the wind.

Southwest Windpower ( Flagstaff, Ariz.,, is the world's largest producer of small wind generators. The 20-year old company has been a pioneer in the development of wind technology and has produced tens of thousands of generators, distributing them throughout the world. The company has warehouses in Arizona and Germany, and partners in Asia Pacific.

Along with having the right product at a time when more people are seeking alternative energy sources, that's the good news. The challenge for Southwest Windpower was aligning its product demand with all the other processes of the business, including material flow.

What began as a search for a way to provide electricity to his Arizona ranch 20 years ago, has led Andy Kruse and his partner David Calley, to a global business. It has sold more that 100,000 wind generators in 120 countries and Antarctica.

The challenge
Because its business had grown to selling wind turbines to everyone from private home and boat owners to oil rig operators in the North Sea and Antarctic research facilities, its business processes were no longer supported by its chosen technology platform.

"What we had available with our old system couldn't by any means handle the vision we had for the company in the future," says Todd Sieber, traffic manager. "We had to have the ability to communicate with one another wherever we were, and have visibility with what was happening with our product and transactions as well."

When Southwest Windpower's incumbent technology providers prepared an estimate to meet the company's demand for greater flexibility and accessibility, the solution proved cost-prohibitive. It found what it needed in a product from NetSuite (San Mateo, Calif.,

"We saw potential in where NetSuite was going," says Gil Sanchez, IT director. It now uses NetSuite for accounting, purchasing, inventory management and sales. It expects to increase the use of the program for forecasting and marketing in the near future. To extend the process, the company will also soon turn NetSuite into its front end for its global service program, which it hopes will avoid hundreds of telephone calls per year.

In less than one year, the company has already expanded its use of the system. "We have started to look into on-line sales and inventory management with our authorized service dealers," says Susan Casebeer, CFO. "Being able to process credit cards from NetSuite has simplified our cash payments segment of the business."

A real benefit to managers is that they no longer have to have to play a guessing game when determining the company's strategic direction and material handling needs. "With NetSuite, once the status of a sales transaction changes from pending to shipped, it becomes visible on the accounts receivable dashboard, and management can view sales for that day or even that hour," says Sieber.

"With our batch-processing legacy software," adds Casebeer, "there was no way for one department to know what their neighbor department was working on without sending a representative over, or sending e-mail. Information was getting lost between departments,"

With NetSuite, they are able to see, almost immediately, what other departments are doing. Decisions are made more readily and efficiently. The use of the dashboard to manage processes is a key feature, says Casebeer.

The improved visibility process has contributed greatly to cutting the company's transaction turnaround time from days to mere minutes. "We can't even put a number of how much it's increased our communication with each other," says Casebeer.

How the process works
Key executives now receive sales orders for approval within minutes instead of having to wait for daily or weekly operational meetings.

Raw material and finished goods tracking has improved substantially as well. "In just three months we were able to lock down our finished goods inventory tighter than it had ever been, cutting down our errors tenfold," she says.

Consolidating its critical frontand back-office applications into an integrated and affordable process has given them room to continue strong growth without fighting its own business technology.

"Before, we had problems with batch processing, multiple languages and multiple platforms," says Casebeer. "NetSuite is using one program to solve all those problems between programs and vendors."

Specifically, the new process is being used for CRM, including sales quotes, orders and forecasting; ERP, including accounting, purchasing, bar coding and serialized inventory, freight integration with UPS and other carriers, and as a simplified bill of materials. The credit card integration simplifies their case payments.

Southwest has been able to cut transaction turnaround time from days to hours, reduce its inventory errors by a factor of 10, and integrate payments, raw and finished materials, and sales into the same system.

Wind turbines are shipped to the most remote corners of the planet. This one is in use in Mongolia.

Old and new wind-driven turbines stand side by side on this Texas ranch.

Andy Kruse, president of Southwest Windpower