Sunray Delivers a Custom ERP to Centralize and Improve Employee Processes
To create efficiency in manual and time-consuming business processes, Sunray uses low-code to deliver an enterprise resource planning solution with limited development resources
When tasked with executing a lofty digital transformation initiative, you might instinctively say it requires a massive team – staffed with developers, project managers, designers, and architects – to make it a success. But sometimes, it takes just one motivated employee with a deep understanding of business processes to build a low-code digital infrastructure robust enough to serve a multinational enterprise.
Adrian Lim works for Sunray Construction & Interior Sdn Bhd, whose headquarters are based in Singapore since 1987. Sunray has 700 employees and has expanded their business to China, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Malaysia, where Adrian has worked for the last six years. The firm’s portfolio includes construction, design & build, addition & alteration, and MEP works for mostly hospitality, retail, and corporate sectors. As Adrian says, “We give old buildings a new life.”
Before Adrian began concentrating on IT at Sunray, he had no programming experience. He was hired as a quantity surveyor, and his subject matter expertise included a detailed understanding of Sunray’s core business processes from tender to construction and internal operations.
“Sometimes we would get stuck tracking documents or approvals, or had to coordinate with each other in person to share contacts instead of going into a system to look for the data,” said Adrian. “I realized that we could build something better. I was ambitious, so I decided to generate a proposal and present the plan to my management.”
Since Adrian’s successful one-person, low-code pitch to Sunray’s executive suite, the construction and interior design firm has leveraged his vast operational knowledge and his enthusiasm for Mendix to:
- Reduce manual workflows, repetitive processes, and disparate data sources with centralized, digitized improvements that connect the business and drastically reduce workforce time costs
- Replace a few file servers and internet-based resources with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform customized to Sunray’s business needs
- Execute a digital transformation that includes cloud hosting, best-practice security protocols, customized user interface design and feature development, and future scalability
Making a Big Impact with Limited Resources
The last six years for Sunray in Malaysia have been a time of rapid growth, with big changes that required new IT solutions. “Let’s say we hire an entire new team to develop the system from scratch using traditional coding. But after a year with more manpower and a big budget I still can’t see any meaningful results. It’s a risky proposal for management because the ROI is unclear,” said Adrian. “But I know the entire process, that’s why I was able to improve the process. I can say, ‘Hey, the user definitely doesn’t like this,’ because I was in that role before, I have been that user,” said Adrian.
The executive team at Sunray knew they had a decision to make and reviewed several infrastructure solutions, but finding the right fit was difficult. They initially settled on an out-of-the-box option but quickly realized that the required construction customizations were too complex for a basic tool from off the shelf. “Unfortunately, we realized too late that the software was actually not compatible with our current workflow–it didn’t capture all the aspects, details, and terminologies we need in the construction and business processes,” said Adrian. “After that, we decided to stop the subscription.”
Adrian began creating a plan for a low-code ERP system that Sunray could build with Mendix. Adrian’s project would solve many of the process pain points that cost Sunray time and money and wouldn’t require additional staff or a long runway.
Adrian was able to sell his idea for digital transformation by highlighting three key benefits of the Mendix low-code application development platform:
- Low-code has a low cost of entry compared to the high-budget alternatives of new hires or vendor management
- Since they are building a system from scratch, Sunray doesn’t have to worry about business interruption – the ERP wouldn’t touch any current workflows or in-house operations until they flip the switch to production
- Workforce costs are low – the only in-house resource Adrian slotted for the project was himself, with some help from an authorized third-party vendor for backend work
“With low-code, I can shorten the development. I can plan the UI in the system first and then the backend developer will jump in straight away and develop the process,” said Adrian. “I have plans for every department – projects, contract, safety, and the QA/QC departments. I have overviews of the entire ERP solution in there right now, and I am building the puzzle, one by one.”
An Iterative, Business-Centric Approach to ERP Development
Sunray knew their situation was different – they didn’t have a system to build upon that was already in use. While that could be seen as more work required, it also allowed the team to create a phased, iterative approach starting with Sunray’s core IT needs in phase one and then continuously improving with new development cycles. Sunray took advantage of its wide-open IT landscape to build a single, unified ERP tool that managed multiple processes instead of several isolated, ad hoc solutions for each department or pain point.
“My opinion was to have one centralized system with multiple modules inside of it,” said Adrian. “In the first phase we built the foundation for our entire organization. This included user accounts, permissions levels, and other security requirements. Then in phase two we focused on the next module while also improving what we had developed in phase one. That was our plan.”
Phase one started in June 2021 and took approximately three months to complete. In March 2022, Sunray began phase two, which included more core ERP development as well as new feature and module development. The team finished phase two approximately four months later, in early August.
“I built one small module at a time for each department instead of completing the entire solution and launching it at once. This way users could get familiar and see that there’s now one ERP system in the company. They could gradually sign in to use different tools like the contact database or another new tool before having to rely on the entire system.”
Digitizing Employee Workflows
The ultimate goal for Sunray is to have the entire organization on the ERP platform that Adrian has spent the last two years building. Currently, around 25 percent of the Malaysian team is using the ERP daily, mainly in the construction and project management teams. Future phased development projects include bringing more and more of Sunray’s employee base into the platform and increasing platform functionality and user interface options.
“Right now, our device usage is about 95% web and 5% mobile. We’re targeting to convert all the web versions into mobile in phase four,” said Adrian. “About 70% of our team is mobile – they are based on construction sites, taking photos, and then uploading the photos into the system. We have plans in phase 4 to make those communications even smoother.”
An early project management win for the construction outfit was to build a print-to-PDF feature, which allowed Sunray to centralize the data submission process and reduce manual entry. The result was a 60 percent reduction in time to completion for the most critical project workflows.
“Previously the site administrator would need to input each data field at least three times. They would do that in one single submission first, and then separately they would need to generate a summary of the data. Then, sometimes, they would need to do reporting,” said Adrian. “But now, they input data once and the entire summary table is presented in the UI. Then if they need to provide reporting, they can export to PDF and share. It is basically just one button to generate everything, and all the data is live.”
Streamlined report processing and increased access management help Sunray control versioning, stay on top of updates, and cut down on the human hours needed to complete a job. These updates are essential when you have ten or more projects going simultaneously and are working with third-party vendors and contractors. Plan changes and schematics can get lost in communication chains and buried email attachments.
The ERP, in combination with the Print-to-PDF feature, allows communal access to the most up-to-date documentation and information for Sunray’s internal teams. It also provides output access to this information on demand from anywhere – a massive improvement from the previous workflow.
Keeping Contact, Contracts, and Correspondence in Order
Just automating and streamlining summaries, a straightforward task now managed by the Sunray ERP, has drastically cut down the project report and compilation process – from 2 days to fewer than 2 hours to compile a summary. As a quantity surveyor by title, Adrian also knew there was room for improvement within the contract management space at Sunray – in terms of main contract, sub-contract, and commercial aspect – especially when it comes to external stakeholders and leads.
“Previously, we didn’t have any centralized contact database. The ones we did have were stored in Excel and each individual person had their own Excel sheet to capture their relevant contacts and vendors,” said Adrian. “Now, after the completion of phase two, we have around 800 vendors in a centralized system that can be searched, referred to, and accessed. We now have more accessible details about each contact within our ERP system.”
Digital Transformation, Piece by Piece
Adrian’s business knowledge and ambitious spirit have driven Sunray to digital improvements that are saving the enterprise time and creating better communication internally. Adrian has been able to make an impression on all the major areas of Sunray’s business by focusing on the most significant pain points and most important areas for improvement.
Each new feature that Adrian builds in low-code on the Mendix platform consists of components that can be lifted and shifted to the next new feature. “In low-code I can build a lot of it myself right now. I can do it because our process is repetitive,” said Adrian. “After we complete phase one and phase two, I can refer to some of the features that we developed and duplicate them. I might change some of the terms, associations, or security, and then I can build on other things out.”
In addition, Adrian is growing confident using prebuilt widgets and tools and taking advantage of the extensibility of the Mendix platform. “There are a lot of prebuilt widgets in the Mendix Marketplace, and our development partner recommends we use these because then we know that we’ll have support coming directly from Mendix,” said Adrian.
As Sunray embraces digital transformation, the next crucial phases will increase platform use across the enterprise and incorporate key features to improve the most critical aspects of the construction and interior design business.
And, as Adrian jokes, they may even decide to bring on a couple more new team members to help him out. “Yes, I am planning to expand the team in the next couple of months or within the year. I’ll need to brief them on what we have right now, get them familiar with low-code and with Mendix, and will start to assign them some of the easy tasks. That’s my plan, because anyone can pick it up straight away.”