GMI Group & Function4: Building an IT Strategy One Step at a Time

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As a leading manufacturer of fittings, flanges, and supplementary specialty items for the oil and gas industry, GMI Group understands the importance of reliable parts in moving systems.

However, when the private equity group brought in a new senior management team in 2015, they quickly discovered that parts of their information technology (IT) infrastructure were not as reliable as they previously believed. GMI was utilizing outdated hardware, and their network capabilities did not match their demand. Document collaboration within their organization was also a constant challenge for their team of over 75 employees located across several states.

“When I came onboard, our company’s IT state was what you would expect from a small business that suddenly grew immensely without the necessary IT plans and tools in place to be able to scale with growth,” says Derek Atwood, GMI’s Chief Financial Officer, who was tasked with solving the firm’s IT challenges.

Understanding that they were in desperate need of a strategic IT plan, GMI’s accounting partner referred them to Function4. Together with Atwood, Function4 designed a technology solution to solve GMI’s IT problems.

About the Client

With a home office in Humble, Texas, and two production facilities in Louisiana and Oklahoma, GMI Group is an expert in precision machining, product distribution, and metallurgical testing for domestic and international clients in the oil and gas industry.

The company’s commitment to manufacturing quality products supports efficient transmission and distribution systems and helps contain corrosive liquids and gases from harming the environment. Their dedication to unparalleled service, knowledge, and quality allows them to craft quality components that keep the world running.

To learn more about GMI Group, visit gmigroup.com

The Perfect Storm: Inefficient and Outdated Technology

When Atwood first joined GMI, it was clear to him that the company had outgrown its IT.

“Through acquisitions, we have grown to be just under a hundred employees, with plans to be over that very soon,” says Atwood. “I knew I needed to find somebody to partner with to be my Chief Information Officer, a virtual CIO, to help support that kind of inorganic growth.”

DEREK ATWOOD | CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, GMI GROUP

In addition to their outdated hardware, the state of their network also caused persistent issues. There was not an efficient way for employees to scan documents to the network. The business was built upon very paper-intensive processes in both the sales and accounts payable departments, which made document workflows cumbersome and time-consuming.

For a small business, Atwood admits there is a lot of paper movement at GMI. On average, GMI processes 550 sales orders consisting of 5-20 pages each, for a total of 2,750-11,000 pages a month.

To top it off, GMI had an outdated data backup process without a real contingency plan in place for file recovery if their network was ever compromised. Something had to give.

The Starting Point: Mapping a Plan with Function4

Function4 held several discovery meetings with the team at GMI to map out the company’s needs and identify a starting point. Since GMI’s hardware was outdated, Function4 recommended a hardware refresh. This way, all of GMI’s equipment would be up to date in preparation for enhancements to their software programs.

Function4 also completed a comprehensive audit of GMI’s existing copying, printing, and scanning equipment, and found that GMI only had desktop printers and a few scanners. Not only were the products outdated, but they were also incapable of keeping up with the daily volumes and demands.

The plan formulated by Function4 consisted of multiple phases that would introduce the latest copying and scanning hardware, a document management system capable of working in tandem with their existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) program, enhanced network security, a robust cloud application designed to ease file collaboration between GMI’s three office locations in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, and improvements to GMI’s wireless network and phone systems.

Phase 1: Immediate Results with Hardware Upgrades

In the first phase of the project, Function4 focused on increasing GMI’s document efficiency.

Function4 placed new multifunctional printers (MFPs) capable of copying, printing, and scanning in each of their offices. With the new MFPs, employees can now scan documents directly to the network from the copier. Using the automatic document feeder, multi-paged documents can also be scanned, versus the old method of scanning one page at a time on a previously limited number of flatbed scanners.

“The MFPs changed how we do business immediately — now our employees can scan a 10-page document in a few seconds versus a few minutes,” says Atwood.

DEREK ATWOOD | CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, GMI GROUP

As an added benefit of their new office equipment, GMI was able to use their new scanning capabilities during the company’s refinancing document preparation. In just one day, GMI was able to scan over 1,500 documents that they needed in digital format for the settlement, resulting in a significant savings of time.

Phase 2: IT Infrastructure Overhaul in the Cloud

Next, the Function4 team took a look at GMI’s IT infrastructure and brought it up to standard to increase reliability and security. With a stabilized network, GMI’s ERP was moved to the cloud, enabling better collaboration among GMI’s Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma offices.

For GMI, utilizing cloud-based technology proved to be significant for their Greater Houston headquarters when Hurricane Harvey hit in August of 2017. Since the bulk of GMI’s data was accessible through the new cloud applications, the company had a competitive advantage during Hurricane Harvey. While many of GMI’s Texas competitors were down for a week or more, GMI was able to access systems remotely from their other offices and remain in operation.

“Despite Hurricane Harvey shutting down most of Greater Houston, we estimate that GMI gained north of 5% in incremental revenue because we experienced zero interruption in regard to our customer-facing business,” says Atwood. “It was a huge win for us. When you look at the capabilities we have now — working remotely, collaborating, processing orders in the Cloud—it all wouldn’t be possible without partnering with someone like Function4.”

DEREK ATWOOD | CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, GMI GROUP

Function4’s cloud solution not only gave GMI an edge during Hurricane Harvey, but it also continues to keep their business moving when key players are not in the office with the ability to access critical information remotely.

Function4 also implemented Help Desk support, as well as 24/7 proactive network and server monitoring, to keep a close eye on protecting GMI’s new IT framework.

Phase 3: Enhanced Capabilities for Document Workflows

To ease document workflows, Function4 developed a workaround for GMI’s existing ERP limitations.

“There is a high level of profitability that the previous owner had with our inherited ERP, and we weren’t ready to replace it because we knew the potential was still there. We just had to find a better way to manage,” says Atwood.

With the design of a modern intelligent information and content system, employees can now access invoices and picking tickets with ease. Orders are scanned in at a multifunctional printer, and through optical character recognition (OCR) technology, converted into text files that can be indexed and searched for later.

“Our sales and operations side love the document management because they are able to pull up invoices on the fly when talking to customers,” says Atwood. “That’s a capability we never had before because of the limitations with our previous systems.”

DEREK ATWOOD | CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, GMI GROUP

Phase 4: Wireless Network Expansion & Cloud Phone Systems

For their latest IT project, GMI worked with Function4 to solve spotty wireless network challenges at GMI’s Houston headquarters in Humble, Texas.

Function4 mapped GMI’s headquarters to evaluate where network access was spotty to decide where wireless access points were needed. Function4 then created a wireless network that now provides more existing coverage to the GMI team.

“Due to limited wireless coverage at our Houston office, we experienced spotty Wi-Fi connection throughout our entire complex,” says Atwood. “There were areas of our complex that had limited to no wireless connection, including our main building and warehouse. Now, our team is able to connect wirelessly throughout our Houston office.”

DEREK ATWOOD | CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, GMI GROUP

For GMI’s Houston and Oklahoma offices, Function4 also installed cloud-based business phone systems. With cloud phones, GMI’s team now has access to enterprise-grade calling features, including direct inward dialing (DID), an auto-attendant that greets callers and routes phone calls to the correct person, and additional VoIP phone service features.

With the introduction of cloud phones, GMI’s team has also been able to increase mobile workforce productivity with the capability to now forward desktop calls to their mobile phones. For unanticipated emergencies, such as power outages and severe weather, GMI can now maintain business continuity where their phone systems are concerned.

In 2019, Function4 will extend unified communications to GMI’s Louisiana location.

Continuing to Evolve a Long-Term Partnership

With Function4, GMI has found a long-term partner in IT to provide a tailored experience that goes well beyond the initial phases previously implemented by Function4.

“There is a unique relationship between the copier industry and IT. Function4 started out doing printers and copiers, in an industry where you have to fight for business, not to mention have a really high level of customer service,” recalls Atwood. “As Function4 has added more products to their portfolio of offerings, they have carried over that same level of customer service. You are able to see that in the way they handle big projects like ours, as well as in the day to day technical support.”

DEREK ATWOOD | CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, GMI GROUP

In addition to annual vCIO consulting, Function4 continues to work with GMI. In 2019, Function4 will launch GMI’s next phases that will streamline the company’s accounts payable (AP) workflows, and continue to enhance network security.

Atwood admits there is still more work to be done, “We are building our IT strategy one step at a time. But the great part is, Function4 is always there to bounce ideas off of. We see the investment more for its intrinsic value. There is no way that we would be doing the amount of revenue we have now, with the amount of people we have, if we didn’t have this IT structure,” concluded Atwood.

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