Astrans plans for future
integrated logistics IT system
All businesses in logistics are integrated now. With the borderless structure and competitiveness, there are four key things for success. IT plays a very important role, (followed by) human resources, financing and the company structure," emphasised Edmund Chew, managing director for Astrans (S) Pte Ltd.
Astrans is a four-year old third-party logistics service provider with eight staff and a turnover of $1.25 million last year. Chew regards Astrans as a mini supply chain management (SCM) company for computer hardware, auto parts and telecommunication products. As a third-party logistics provider, Astrans' clients tend to be large multinational and local companies such as Gates Rubber Co, Motorola Electronics, SKF South East Asia & Pacific, Tye Soon & Co, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Sitra Wood Products.
Astrans mainly imports products from the US, Europe and Japan and re-exports it to the ASEAN countries on behalf of their clients. The company adds value to the logistics chain by consolidating or breaking the cargo size and handling customs documentation and clearance. Rather than incur the capital cost, Astrans outsources its warehouse and vehicle requirements.  
Astrans attained its ISO 9002 certification in January this year. Having completed this major project, Chew has cast his sights on the next step -- implementing and integrating the company's IT system.
Push to change
"With this crisis, nobody knows what is going to happen down the line. SMEs are fending for ourselves and cost is a major factor. But we cannot lag behind because of this. Our IT plans are already scheduled for the next 12 to 30 months. This is the best time to implement IT and train the people. If we don't implement and train staff on IT now, when the good times come, there won't be time for training," said Chew. He added that when prosperous time returned to the region, Astrans' staff would then be well-equipped to handle the surge in business.
Astrans' present IT usage is limited to a single-user accounting package written for logistics, trading and manufacturing companies. This made-in-india real-time accounting package, named F1-Idea, offers general ledger, accounts receivable and payable functions, customisable reporting and graphing features, and support for multi-currency and multi-company accounts.
Chew explained that Astrans invested in this system when the company was first established as it was inexpensive, relative to the cost of other software in Singapore. Astrans' total IT investment over the last year has amounted to $10,000 for five compatible PCs ranging from 133MHz to 233MHz.
New Software
Astran's general manager, Chew Tee Khim, envisions several different approaches to the company's future IT system.
One way is to retain and integrate the F1-Idea accounting software with another software package which will handle the operations, inventory and customer service management functions. The supply chain management software from Equinox Industries is one such package which has been shortlisted by Astrans for this purpose.
Two other packages which are also under consideration are Sysdeco and InfoMaster from Integrated Software Engineering.
Another path the company can take is to implement a whole new end-to-end system from scratch which will encompass all their business functions.
Astrans has engaged the services of Ngee Ann Polytechnic Industry Technology Exchange Centre (NITEC) to perform a feasibility study for such an end-to-end system. Chew added that NITEC is also looking into creating customised software to link F1-Idea with the other software packages.
Chew said: "We've asked NITEC and Equinox to come up with a solution to suit our present IT requirements and also our needs three to five years down the line."
Astrans expects to select their final shortlisted vendor by September. The implementation process will begin immediately after vendor selection.
"My concept is to lease a server so that we can have the latest technology all the time," said TK Chew.
TK Chew also expects their new system to run on a Windows NT network operating system.
A major benefit TK Chew hopes to reap from the IT implementation is the ability to capture details of incoming orders/shipments at the front-line operations' department through the use of bar codes and scanners.
With this information, Astrans will then be able to trace a shipment through the system if problems arise.
Investment & Maintenance
Chew expects to invest between $50,000 to $100,000 depending on the solution the company selects.
Future Plans
EVENTUALLY, the integrated IT system will also have a web interface whereby customers will have limited access to Astrans' inventory via the internet.
On the business front, Chew hopes to grow to 50 to 80 staff in five years time. He also expressed that Astrans was open to a larger company taking a majority interest in the company to enable Astrans to grow faster.
Spirit of Enterprise Entrepreneur 2003