Tailoring information systems for Hong Kong's manufacturing industries has been the core business of BEL Solutions. BEL, established in 1989, develops material requirements planning (MRP) systems that help companies determine what assemblies must be built and what materials procured to build a unit of equipment by a certain date. An MRP also queries the bill of material and inventory databases to derive the necessary materials. Alan Chan, BEL chief technical officer, said he had worked extensively with several MRP systems in the US and Hong Kong and found the standard MRP model might not fit SAR needs because of the different manufacturing environment and business nature. Unlike US counterparts, many Hong Kong manufacturers are original equipment manufacturers and need to fill orders quickly. These companies may find a batch process-based MRP system inefficient because it does not work in real time. Information is not updated automatically, which can cause bottlenecks in production. Users also may find it difficult to implement because of its hard-to-use interface and steep learning curve. To encourage businesses to try using an MRP system, Mr Chan said BEL needed to develop a user-friendly Windows-based interface to help minimise user training costs and implementation time. 'We identified the difficulties they encountered with the MRP system, observed their behaviour and saw how they entered data and retrieved information,' he said. In 1990, BEL brought out a Windows-based, real-time, on-line software called EasySolution Pro. Running on client-server systems, it lets SAR and mainland manufacturers and traders handle accounting and inventory. EasySolution Pro lets users on different platforms, including Macintosh, Windows 3.11, 95 and NT, and Novell Netware, access the company's information system at the same time. Software can be accessed by remote dial-in or over the Internet. Similar software can cost millions of dollars, according to BEL, while EasySolution Pro costs from $200,000 to $2 million, depending on the number of sites. BEL mainly uses direct mailing and exhibitions to promote EasySolution Pro. Users include Chewy Instant Noodles, Raymond Industry and Albatronics. Mr Chan said a good knowledge of the manufacturing industry was a key to BEL's success. 'You must know the industry and IT well so that you know where computerisation can help. You must make use of your knowledge and experience to make the right judgment, do what is right for the clients and not what is told by them. That makes a big difference.' His knowledge of technology and manufacturing comes from learning outside of educational institutions. Mr Chan, who studied business administration, describes himself as a perfectionist with a passion for technology. 'I enjoy technology development and I take it as an interest rather than a job.' He has found recruiting staff with both industry and IT knowledge difficult, if not impossible. Mr Chan said: 'All I can do is train up staff on my own. That sounds not very effective but that is the only way.' In the future, BEL intends to release EasySolution Pro for new operating systems. Working on technology development can be difficult, but Mr Chan said: 'We will continue not because we want to make big money, but because we like technology.' This article appears by courtesy of the Software Industry Information Centre (SIIC) Journal.