With a rental fleet worth £700 million and a new rental transaction every 2-3 seconds, it is no surprise that A-Plant relies heavily on its IT systems to manage its processes. It uses a custom-made UNIX-based system which runs the core of its business, i.e. ERP system, Finance etc. Although this is a very reliable and highly performant solution, it was also developed over 20 years ago and its user interface is a character-based green-screen.
Andy Wortley, A-Plant IT Director, explains the issues associated with this: “The interface is not user-friendly and appears quite old-fashioned, especially to young new starters in the business, making adoption of it hard. It is also difficult to introduce new functionality into the system and we were finding ourselves developing separate Windows-based solutions to cover this. This means that we had to access different core systems when completing a rental agreement, a situation we really wanted to avoid. Ashtead is an acquisitive organization and, as we were integrating new companies, we find we are actually replacing graphics-based systems with our green-screen system. This is necessary as all our corporate info is housed there, but it is not a popular decision. It was time therefore for us to look at options to modernize our system.”
Replacing the system with a commercial solution was not possible, as it’s so integral to the rental business.
Micro Focus® came along just at the right time and introduced Andy to the capabilities of Verastream Host Integrator. With reuse at its core, Verastream makes legacy applications available to a range of modern devices, without the need to change valuable business processes or source code. A proof-of-concept soon showed A-Plant how a working model of the core business application could be built, which is then served up in a Windows environment through Web services.
Wortley comments: “Verastream Host Integrator was just what we needed. We really didn’t want to risk breaking our backend logic, and with Verastream there was no need for this. We could open our core system up to other applications, modernize our interface, and integrate with newer technology, all whilst building on what we already have.”
The interface modernization saw a 5-step rental process reduced to a single screen which means rental transactions can be completed in half the time. New functionality was introduced such as a complex pricing algorithm and route optimization so that transport charges can be dynamically calculated.
A-Plant worked closely with Micro Focus professional services throughout the implementation, as Wortley says: “The partnership with Micro Focus was really invaluable. We worked on the design of the interface, while Micro Focus helped us with the back-end integration. From our proof-of-concept it only took us 2-3 months for the new version to be in Beta-testing, which is a great achievement.
The project is still in the early stages, but the new system has had tremendous feedback within A-Plant as Wortley explains: “Once they see what the Verastream system can do for them, people just want it straightaway. When the roll-out is complete we expect a ramp up in new functionality requests, as the possibilities with it really are endless and your imagination is sparked once you start working with it. Thankfully, the system was built with flexibility in mind and we can see how the integration process can really pick up speed as completed projects become building blocks for new initiatives, so there should be no problem in keeping up with demand.”
He concludes: “This has given us a great productivity boost, both on the IT/development and the sales side. New recruits need little or no training on the system and are productive straightaway. We can see massive scope and potential for the future and look forward to our continued partnership with Micro Focus.”