Vanilla is playing a key role in the expansion of the world’ s largest independent manufacturer of specialist subsea vehicles.

Tyneside-based Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD) provide remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and specialist trenching systems to sectors such as oil, gas, offshore wind, defence and telecoms.

Headquartered in the UK, SMD design and manufacture from their facilities in Wallsend and North Shields, with a sales and support office in Singapore and more recently a new design and manufacturing facility near Shanghai, China.

When SMD needed Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to help run the new plant, they turned to Vanilla Solutions, ERP and IFS specialists, who have a Technology and Support Centre (TaSC) based in Hoults Yard, Newcastle.

Paolo Zaino, IFS Support Manager at SMD, said: “Vanilla have been helping us to set up an IFS ERP system which is the software the Shanghai plant will use to run their operations. This has involved setting up a new database for the China office and migrating data from our UK database to our new one.

“SMD Shanghai will initially employ around 40 employees but we expect this to grow as the China market matures.

“We’ve been working with Vanilla on the SMD Shanghai project since the beginning of 2017, so approximately a year, but have worked with Vanilla in a number of different areas for three or four years,” said Paolo.

“They were chosen because they could provide the range of skills that SMD were looking for in a consultancy to complete this task. The SMD Shanghai Project required robust project management, good technical expertise and also a comprehensive functional knowledge in order to successfully complete the project. Vanilla Solutions were enthusiastic about being involved from the start,” he explained.

“Vanilla Solutions work closely with their customers as a team, providing the understanding and flexibility that is required on a complex project of this nature,” he added.

Claire Valentine, Support Manager at Vanilla Solution’s TaSC, said: “Three of us have been working with SMD on the project and it’s getting busier now we’re nearing the go live date.

“SMD needed a comprehensive ERP solution to support its business processes and simplify its manufacturing processes and we’ve moved the Shanghai operation on to IFS. What we’re implementing will be an over-reaching solution incorporating asset and project management, business analytics, finance and HR as well as contract, document and work order management.

“We also have about 30 million records to migrate from one database to another, and then we need to detach the new database from the source, so there will be no communications between the two.

“We’ve been working with SMD for a while and their expansion has been impressive,” Claire added.

SMD’s new 7200m² facility will bring additional resources and focus to the company’s East Asian expansion plans.

Vanilla Solutions has offices in Newcastle and Grimsby and is one of the leading providers of IFS applications-related services in Europe and provides consultancy, support and products to the wider ERP market.

The Newcastle office is also the hub for Vanilla’s R&D activities and such has been the demand for the TaSC’s services, Vanilla has doubled its workforce from three to six – and is looking to recruit yet more to its team.

Clients include BAE Systems, Skanska and Largo Foods, and the company employs 27 people across the UK and their two offices.


WHEN one of the region’s power stations was in need of IT support they turned to one of the UK’s leading enterprise software specialists – Vanilla Solutions.

Lynemouth Power Ltd, based on the Northumberland coast, is currently undergoing a conversion project, from coal to biomass generation. The conversion is due to be completed and the new power station commissioned this year.

The project, which includes a new facility at Port of Tyne, has had IT implications for the company which runs Lynemouth Power Station.

The company’s two-man IT team had been depleted when Applications Analyst Chris Wharton left to join Vanilla Solutions.

Lynemouth Power had looked around for the right level of IT support and several companies produced quotes for the work – but they chose Vanilla Solutions.

Vanilla had provided Lynemouth with urgent IT support and the level of service provided and the depth of knowledge, particularly around Lynemouth’s IFS applications, were factors in Lynemouth’s decision.

Chris had been at the power company for nearly five years and was jointly responsible for running its IT operations. He maintained and configured the company’s IFS application which provided Lynemouth with its maintenance scheduling, finance, procurement and HR functionalities and also helped with the implementation of Microsoft Sharepoint 2013.

“We’d previously worked with Vanilla, and obviously we knew Chris, so we spoke to Vanilla Solutions about contracting the team for a set number of hours and an agreement was reached,” said Dean Huddleston, IT Infrastructure Analyst at Lynemouth Power.

Because of the conversion project, it is a particularly busy time for Lynemouth, now owned by Czech-based energy company Energetický a průmyslový holding (EPH).

“Our business now also involves a new site at Port of Tyne so it is vital we have the IT support we need and Vanilla Solutions were working with us again within six weeks of Chris leaving. The IFS application is important to the smooth running of the company, so we have to get it right and knowing the Vanilla team is helping and supporting us is reassuring. They’ve also been working on Sharepoint with us too.

“The Vanilla team has been great to work with – obviously very knowledgeable with a deep understanding of IFS and ERP solutions, but also very flexible, responsive and friendly. It’s been a huge help to us that they knew the business and the project,” added Dean.


About Lynemouth Power Ltd:

Lynemouth Power Ltd runs Lynemouth Power Station, a 420 Megawatt power station situated on the Northumberland coast.  The station has generated electricity from coal since 1972. The plant was originally built, owned and operated by Alcan with the purpose of providing safe and secure energy for the production of aluminium at the adjacent Lynemouth Smelter.

The station is currently undergoing conversion from coal burn generation to biomass. On completion, the new power station will be able to generate up to 420 megawatts of low carbon electricity.  The company employs 146 people.


About Us:

Established in 2009 Vanilla Solutions is a no-nonsense, customer friendly systems integrator and consulting company offering a broad range of training, support, and technical services to users of modern ERP (Enterprise Resources Planning) and BI (Business Intelligence) applications. They are specialists in IFS Applications and also partners and resellers of the Qlik product suite, Nicelabel label management and automation products and Novacura’s innovative ‘Flow’ mobility and process execution platform.

The dawn of the Age of Invisible ERP?

Like around 50% of the UK population, I resolved this New Year to get a lot more exercise and fresh air. A key part of my approach has been to get up early in the morning and fast-walk 5-8km in the dark on the rural rounds around the village before breakfast. It’s been invigorating but, after a near miss with a tractor the other day, I decided to invest in a head torch. After all, being squished by an agricultural vehicle isn’t going to help me win the office Fitbit challenge!

Like many time-pressed people, my approach to choosing the head torch that would hopefully save my metaphorical bacon was to quickly Google ‘best head torch 2018 uk’ and then paste the result into the Amazon app and press ‘Buy now with 1-Click’. This tried and trusted shopping method duly delivered me a lovely, powerful head torch that, upon reading the packaging, turned out to be Bluetooth-enabled and able to integrate with an app on my phone. Wait! What? A torch that talks to your phone? How can this be? Will the tidal wave of integration that is sweeping across our lives ever stop?

No. I don’t think it will. Well, not until everything is integrated with everything else anyway.

As I tramped up and down the dark lanes of North Lincolnshire this week, my fancy new head torch got me thinking about the opportunities that integration really offers and, perhaps more importantly, the way we are going about it in the world of business applications. There are huge and obvious benefits to automating the transfer of supply chain data, improving product traceability, assuring quality and complying with a host of current and planned regulatory matters. Because of this, ERP vendors are lining up to offer ever-longer value chains to and who could blame them; the more of the ‘functionality pie’ they control, the more they can charge for their software.

However, in my opinion, the march towards even more monolithic ERP, this time being driven by a desire to reach ever further up and down the supply chain, might not be the best way for us to use our newfound interconnectedness. After all, we know that some business systems have great functionality but perhaps a cluttered or complex user interface, while others might be open and easy to use but perhaps lack some of the secure architecture demanded by the largest companies. Trade-offs abound and ERP vendor-driven integration will do little more than bind us to one set of compromises or another.

Close to the point where I was nearly flattened by many tonnes of sugar beet, I realised that, in modern integration approaches, we actually have a golden opportunity to do the exact opposite. To deconstruct ERP! Imagine, rather than buying an ERP package, you could buy some best-in-class ERP business logic from one place and a great database management system from somewhere else. Add a flexible mobility and process execution platform that lets users transact exactly as they wish and your preferred BI tool and you’ve built an enterprise application that has all the qualities you need and none of the bugbears. I’m not talking about bespoke software development here, but rather a world where platforms interact well enough that you can assemble your dream ERP from best-of-breed building blocks without the need to write a single line of code.

It gets better of course! Now that your ERP logic is abstracted from the user experience, you could upgrade the ERP part of the system without many of your users even knowing! Given the heartache and hassle that many companies impose on their staff during business applications projects, this might be the best gift a workforce could receive. I think we are already close to this point technically and, when It happens, the age of Invisible ERP will truly have dawned.

Of course, I could be wrong, so I’ll slip away now and ask my head torch, see what it thinks!

Andy Bell – write to me here