VISUAL ERP Software Consulting | Company History

The History Of VISUAL ERP

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Synergy Resources and Mark Lilly’s passion for helping manufacturing comes naturally. Mark’s father, Richard T. (“Dick”) Lilly, in the 1960’s was part of the IBM brain trust that created the first Bill of Material Processor (BOMP) along with the APICS “fathers of MRP” Ollie Wight, and Joe Orlicky. By the late 60’s it was clear that manufacturers needed better software to run on the “Big Iron” provided by IBM. So he left IBM to start Software International (SI), providing the first commercially sold manufacturing and financial software. SI was sold to General Electric in the late ‘70’s.


Lilly moved his family to the Florida Keys ostensibly for an early retirement, but he couldn’t sit still. Seeing the advances in computing power and what it meant for software that could help manufacturer’s, he jumped back in. In 1980, he founded “Key Systems”, whose office was spitting distance from the Florida Straits, in fact some employees commuted to work by boat. Later, acknowledging that you need to be closer to your core customer base, he moved back to the Northeast, and renamed the company ProfitKey International.


Umang Gupta left Oracle in 1984 to develop a product, SQLWindows, that would allow a software developer to easily write an application using a fourth generation programming language (4GL). This meant an entire application could be created by dragging and dropping objects and functions into a window layout. This meant that a significant amount of functionality could be deployed in very little time. The resulting application would automatically be:

  1. a real Windows application, supporting cut and paste and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE),
  2. truly SQL-based, which means that it would be very easy to get data into (import) and out of (export) the data base using tools like Excel, Access, Crystal Reports and any other standards based data reporting or mining tool, and
  3. running on a client/server architecture, which means that most of the computing power was used on the desktop, so that CPU intensive programs like MRP and Finite Scheduling would run on the user’s PC, not on a server shared by 10, 50, or 200 other users, running in minutes, not hours.


This was the technology foundation that launched VISUAL Manufacturing into being the first Windows-based ERP application on the market in 1992. Further, it was flexible and extensible enough to be able to add any level of functionality using C++, C#, and later Microsoft’s COM, DNA, and finally .Net business-objects to create a foundational layer of all the major ERP transactions using an embedded API (Application Programming Interface) that was also available to end users as well.

This allowed graphics to be used to visually represent a Bill-of-Material (BOM) and it’s associated sequence of shop-floor operations (Routing) in one complete multilevel view called the “VISUAL Manufacturing Window”. Any information about a job:

  • Where is it on the shop floor?
  • When will it ship?
  • What materials is it waiting for?
  • How much has it cost so far?
  • Who has worked on it?
  • What resources are scheduled to work on it and when?
  • What are the cost and / or time variances (actual vs standard) so far? Projected?
  • How many parts, if any, have been scrapped?
  • What quality inspections have occurred so far and with what results?
  • Is it going outside for processing or has it already, like to heat treating or plating?
  • What quote did this come from?
  • Show me the drawings, inspection plans, quality certs, vendor quotes, etc. linked to this job or these parts and routing steps.
  • What lot numbers, heat numbers, or serial numbers of material did this job use, or are being produced?
  • And much more.

All this can be found by clicking on the associated material, operation, or main or subassembly header “card” and right mouse clicking to drill on the details.


Similarly, the VISUAL Scheduling and Throughput Windows visually display the shop’s current and projected future calendar, capacity, and bottlenecks and constraints whether people, machine or material or subassembly availability. It also allows you to perform an unlimited number of what-if scheduling scenarios that enable you to see not only how much more work you’ll be able to get done internally, but also the customer service level impact that will have on the delivery time and resolution of late deliveries as well as the financial, bottom-line impact on the company as a whole of the decisions made in the what-if scenario.

During the 1990’s, Dick’s other son, Michael Lilly, became a disciple of the late Dr. Eli Goldratt, author of “The Goal”. Mike became a “Jonah”, the highest level of certification and knowledge in Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC) educational track. As the VISUAL ERP Product Manager, he embedded many of the concepts taught by TOC into the application. Throughput Accounting – the idea that decisions in the company should be based on the overall potential increases in the company’s Throughput (defined as a real numeric monetary formula whereby any unit increase in Throughput directly increases unit profit to the company in the same measure), and that there are many reasons not to rely on traditional unit cost and product costing – is supported in the system. The idea of bottleneck identification and exploitation – 2 of the main tenets of the TOC approach – is deeply embedded in the core VISUAL ERP application.

Imagine being able to see not only what your company’s bottleneck is today, but what it is going to be in the future, identifying ways to fix it in advance, and the potential increase in profit that will be a result of fixing it!

And in 2000, he undertook an initiative to put the same scheduling methodology used in The Goal, in the VISUAL ERP application. Initially called Drum, Buffer, Rope (DBR) after the term in the Goal, it was soon realized that in its implementation, and use, that most companies did not have an internal bottleneck (the Drum) against which to set the timing of the release of material (the “Rope”), and the necessary WIP to cushion against Murphy’s action in other workcenters (the “Buffer”). Rather, once material was held back and the correct priority setting put in place, WIP inventory dropped, typically in half, lead-times reduced significantly, and the speed of the flow of materials accelerated so much, that Sales – feeding the shop with new orders from which they could recognize revenue – and generate Throughput – Sales, much to the chagrin of sales managers who were used to brow-beating production managers for faster delivery and quicker turnaround on orders, became the bottleneck.

So to reflect this new reality, the term EasyLean became more reflective of the methodology and the software used to facilitate it.


Dick Lilly went to West Point. So, when 9-11 hit, he asked himself, “What can I do as a software developer to help?” Just so happens, that Synergy co-owner, Gene Caiola, had worked with a government defense contractor, using VISUAL as a base, developed a series of customizations that allowed them to bid on, create, and track projects within the system. Lilly took it in-house, added the necessary project accounting functionality, tied it together with work orders, and voila! Not really a module, rather a ‘superset’ of functionality, VISUAL Aerospace & Defense, also known as VISUAL Project for Government Contractors, provided the best of three worlds: Project Management – Bid & Proposal, Creation, Tracking; Project Accounting – unlimited Overhead or Burden rates, retro-burdening, Estimate to Complete, EAC, Cost plus, budgeting, tracking of actual, etc; Manufacturing – All the benefits and functionality of a state of the art ERP software application, tightly integrated in the Project Tracking and Project Accounting System, work order costs rolling to specific projects, inventory tracking and costing by project, even MRP by Project; – All supported in one system from one vendor. That’s the core of the VISUAL Manufacturing ERP solution.


For an even deeper and richer version of the History of VISUAL ERP, indeed, the History of MRP, MRP II, and ERP, and the fascinating story of founder Dick Lilly’s journey creating VISUAL Manufacturing read “The Road to Manufacturing Success” (kindle version) , or ask Synergy for a hard copy of your own.

Want to learn more about VISUAL ERP and what it can do for your business? Contact us today.

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