By James Barnes, Manager of Continuous Improvement, and Chuk Roberts, Director of Information Technology, Zippo Manufacturing Company

It’s been said that “productivity is never an accident.” Rather, “it’s the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Indeed, a cornerstone of Zippo Manufacturing Company has always been the highest level of excellence. And we’ve achieved that excellence, in part, through intelligent planning and focused effort.

As we celebrate our 80th anniversary, we’re now a global company that sells our world-famous lighters, in 160 countries. We recently manufactured our 500 millionth lighter backed by our lifetime guarantee. Yet we’re also a strong advocate of American business and ingenuity, as evidenced by our ownership of W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery, an American manufacturer of premium, hand-crafted knives that are passed down for generations.

As we continue to grow, we realized that our IT infrastructure wasn’t keeping up. Zippo and W.R. Case were operating on separate enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, both of which were aging and had become heavily customized. As a result, it was impossible to implement common business processes and shared services across the organization.

To accommodate our growth, we wanted to unite both operating companies with a single ERP system. We also wanted a more modern ERP system that could support our future growth plans, which include several acquisitions. Based on Gartner’s ERP Magic Quadrants and the assistance of our CPA firm Schneider Downs, we narrowed our list to three major ERP systems: JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, Epicor 9, and Microsoft Dynamics AX. We then set up a detailed scoring system to compare each of these systems based on functionality and support. Our analysis included interviews with the vendors, demos of each of the products to determine whether they could meet our requirements, and discussions with companies that had already deployed these systems.

In the end, Microsoft Dynamics AX scored the highest. One of the areas the solution excelled was reporting. The reporting tools within Microsoft Dynamics AX are both thorough and easy to use, which means we’ll be able to use them right out of the box. Having a single platform with a common reporting system is going to save a tremendous amount of time and effort.

Of the three products we evaluated, Microsoft Dynamics AX provided the most flexible development architecture. This will enable us to personalize our ERP system to satisfy specific requirements—without hampering our ability to maintain a solid upgrade path. Finally, Microsoft Dynamics AX offered the cutting-edge technology we needed to support our long-term growth. By comparison, the other products included older technology that may or may not be in use a decade from now. What’s more, Microsoft is continuing to invest in the solution at a rate that’s keeping pace with our future needs.

With the help of Microsoft Gold Partner mcaConnect, we are implementing Microsoft Dynamics AX in two phases. Once fully deployed in January 2015, the benefits will be significant. For one, we’ll eliminate the cost of supporting two disparate ERP systems. Second, we’ll be able to standardize our business processes across the company. We’ll also gain real-time access to data, which will allow our employees to make quick, highly-informed business decisions that advance the business.

Over time, we hope to tap into the mobile and enterprise portal capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics AX to enable our customers and vendors to access their information wherever they are from a web browser. We also hope to extend the mobile enterprise portal features to our sales people, allowing them to check inventory and enter sales orders—while saving us the cost of having to physically install the solution in all of our offices.

Overall, we’re very excited about implementing Microsoft Dynamics AX. Not only is it going to help us save money, but it will boost our business acumen, taking our long record of excellence to the next level.