Sunday, 24 May 2009

The sun is shining...

It has been a particularly nice weekend - I've not had to do any SAP work (although I've been checking up on some other IT issues). We went out yesterday for a walk in the country, and it was extremely relaxing. Because of that, I'm in a slightly better mood and decided to write about some parts of the project that have been a bit more positive.

For one thing, we are getting data cleaned up. About 4 years ago, I raised the issue of data integrity and consistency and it has been a topic of conversation many times since. Although people have tried to do this at various stages, we have a large amount of really poor data in the various systems. For example, in the legacy systems we use, the customer / supplier addresses don't match, and not just the wrong zip codes - some of it is far worse. Few of the systems have consistent contact information and many of the details are out of date (people no longer working at the particular company for example). I hate to say it, but there is a similar problem with product information, manufacturing data, accounting information etc as well.

The SAP project has been a good opportunity to address this; and a considerable amount of work has been put in to tidy up the data before migrating it over into the new system. People were tasked with this and a lot has been done - although I think we could have done a better job of explaining what they needed to do as several of them didn't get it right, and we have had to send the data back to them for checking not just once or twice, but many times. A case in point was one of the sales staff dealing with pricing for export - after 3 months, he still hadn't got the right prices against the right products. In the past he had been allowed to get away with asking for changes to be made by the IT staff when errors were found, but not on this occasion.

As a result of all this work, we now have a much better idea of where some of our pricing is wrong, and we can adjust this to ensure that in future it is much better - we know that we have lost potential orders in the past as our pricing was too high, and now I think we can be a bit more competitive.

For many years now, the production team have worked on getting a leaner approach to the job, and they always have a project underway to improve processes. I know that they have used the SAP project to take a good look at some of the specific processes they have not previously covered to see if there is a better way of working. The project team in particular have benefited from this navel gazing - I think that they will need to look again at some of their processes in about a years time though, as I'm not sure that they have achieved what they need to. However, having taken a long hard look at what they do for this project, I hope that it will enable them to do it again.

Although the accounting side is still not working as it should, it has highlighted a big issue relating to reporting - this was not something that we did particularly well in the past. If we can get all of the various reports working correctly, then I expect we have a much better understanding of where our costs are coming from. At a previous company I worked for, they could accurately show what each sale cost, to indicate profit or loss - my current employer only knows that once all of the finances for the year have been finalised.

There is another small project that I am working on for our telesales people and it has highlighted some of the areas where it is clear we could do much better. We had hoped that the CRM would build upon this so that we could streamline the process. That has most definitely not worked, but the principle has been shown to be sound.

These various things have confirmed something - that most people in the business don't actually know what it is they want. Because of this, it is difficult for them to articulate their needs in a way that makes sense in IT terms. To be fair to the consultants, this has been a real problem and made worse as most of them haven't had experience in our paricular sector. However, having to go through these various steps, painful as they have been, has actually been of some benefit. Although they still have a way to go, most of the managers now do appreciate some of the issues relating to poor data, incomplete requirements definition etc. And that can't be a bad thing!

Might even head to the beach this afternoon - it looks as if it will be a great day for swimming.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Status Report

The go live is delayed again - it seems appropriate to put together an overview of where we are.

From the previous post, you'll know that the CRM just isn't working - the consultants are squirming like worms on a hot plate, but whatever they say, it is just no good in it's current format. We've tried our best, but at some point we will have to move on.

By department, Marketing probably have the least to worry about - no CRM, and nothing else has been arranged. They will almost certainly not be using SAP at all.

The Sales staff are reasonably happy with their processes in the ERP and can make quotes, place orders etc. fairly well. There is a problem in that it still doesn't price things up correctly; some of the tests have come out with really bad results, up to $100 out on a single item. This is being looked at, but it has been an issue for about 6-8 months now. There were problems with the output documents such as invoices, confirmations etc. but most of these have been rectified. The remaining issues are a nuisance, but wouldn't stop us going live - although we might look a bit stupid with some of the errors.

Purchasing is also working well for the most part - their only problems are back to back ordering and batching of purchase items which have been an issue almost from the beginning. There have also been some concerns over the releasing of purchase orders; we have found occasional glitches. However, these have not been too serious.

Within Manufacturing, most of the processes are also OK, but there has been an issue with goods movement - it still isn't right. About a third of them are having to be corrected by the senior production manager and he has been given much higher access than would normally be the case just so that he can correct these problems. They do have an issue in that some of the workshop documentation they need is still not yet working - and this could cause serious delays in the output as the staff have to wait for production managers to resolve quite simple inquiries.

The Inventory is a big problem - so far, we've not been able to get a valid figure on anything, and some of the errors are so riduculous. Literally thousands of items appear on stock figures instead of 1.

The Project Team are badly affected by this and it has proven to be the biggest failure so far. Transfer of goods between sites generates all sorts of strange anomalies. On top of that, only about 10% of the standard project tests came out even close to being correct - several have generated errors in the 10s of thousands of dollars and in one case almost half a million dollars.

Logistics have managed to work around the few issues that they had - there is a problem with the stock racking, but they can live with it. They have been waiting for their output documentation for months - they finally got it sorted about a month ago, and we've also now managed to get the address labels printing this week. However, there is still an issue with some of the output - addresses don't quite appear correctly. This is not too serious, but we would like to get it right if possible.

The finance though is a mess - the chart of accounts just didn't match what we needed. The consultant that was supposed to be their specialist didn't seem to understand some of the basic requirements. At this stage, we can just about invoice, but there are major discrepancies and no sign of how these can be resolved yet. They also don't have access to a lot of the reports that we were told they would be able to generate. It is still being worked on, but the Accounts staff are not happy at all.

The QA / QC people are also not satisfied - the defect notification aspect appears to be non operational. They have tried several times, but so far the consultants appear to have no one that has even the most basic understanding of this aspect.

There were so many other reports missing, that almost every department was concerned. We have had a specialist on site and he has fixed several of these, but not all of them. This of course is a major reason for buying an ERP system - without it, we will struggle to use it for more than a few months.

Finally, we are supposed to have a Document Management system, and yes it is installed. However, there are serious questions still unanswered about how it will work - it was supposed to automate several processes, but instead they have become more labor intensive. We were given to understand over a year ago that they had a way of scanning incoming paper based files for auto assigment - this was completely incorrect, the consultants just referred us to another company that wanted to sell us new xerox machines at twice the price we paid for the ones we have, and still use a manual system for assignment.

So there we are - the go live date has been pushed back again and is now beginning of 4th quarter 2009. When we first met with the consultants, they promised us a go live of January 2008 - I said at the time that was completely impossible, but they were so confident. The strange thing is that their director insists that they made no such promise despite us showing him the actual letters that he wrote.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

CRM - Sour CReaM

It's been a while - time to try to catch up....

When we first looked at SAP, the VP then in charge of sales wanted the CRM package. He completely bought into the promises - linking into ERP, all the pipeline reporting etc. We had a number of different systems used all over the group and it made sense to buy a single package that every one could use.

When the consultants did the first presentation of the CRM, I was not impressed - it just didn't work. The guy doing the demo showed the pages, but no actual data or processing. We had a second demo a couple of months later, and they didn't show the product at all.

After the project started, it was several months before they had gotten the system installed. I setup user accounts as instructed and the client software. It was only about 2 months after this that we were told we would be using a browser based version - and I was given no information on setting that up.

The "CRM specialist" provided for us finally gave a URL for the sales people to use - but it didn't actually work. I'd bought some books and one of those had some info on setting up the BSP application in the user favorites - without that, we'd never have got started. After several hours of working to try to identify why it wouldn't work thru the browser, I worked out it was a security issue - there were some settings in IE6 that needed changing (even more in IE7). Once these changed, it got us started for real.

We then ran into some more issues. It actually took the "CRM specialist" a YEAR to realise that there was a specific user role that had to be used by all users. Prior to that, I had to give everyone the SAP_ALL profile just to allow them to work in the CRM. He also failed to provide any real information on setting up the business partner relationships, which I was told were essential to getting it working; I did find some info in one of the books, but to this day, I don't know if what I did was right.

There is a component for "organizational model" - this sets out the relationships between staff so that (I think) it allows the workflow to process jobs giving the relevant alerts etc. He created this model and I've not seen a bigger pile of crap in my life. The names of staff were mixed in with the names of the consultants, plus what I think were made up names. The actual job functions were all wrong, the site details were wrong, people in the wrong user groups, wrong sites, wrong job functions - well you get the picture.

I did work out how to change this and managed to correct it - then was told that this cannot be transported between systems so has to be manually changed in each client. Having made the changes (taking several days), I was not happy when I found out that he had gone in and modified it further, making a mess of it again.

So far, it would fair to say that this was just teething troubles - but it was far worse than that. The sales staff had real problems using the CRM software - it was slow, painfully slow. It would take literally a minute to open the main page. Then to go between sections could take 20-30 seconds at a time. It was flaky as hell - the system would crash regularly even when only one person at a time was working in it. Four sales staff spent an afternoon doing some testing - in one hour they crashed it a total of 19 times. Even when it didn't crash, they found it impossible to enter data at the speed that is required when someone is on the phone giving you an order.

We moved onto the test system from the development system - and the sales manager found out that the consultant had copied over all of the crap data from the dev system. (Subsequently found that this had gone to the production system as well). It was then discovered that the CRM didn't link to the correct ERP system - this was only finally corrected 6 weeks ago - and yes that was because I had found out where it was going wrong and corrected it.

They had also promised that the CRM would link into Exchange /Outlook, but when this was tested, an error message was produced that we needed to install a CDO from Microsoft. Having checked on this, I discovered that this is a bullshit message - it's only required for earlier versions. In fact it is a security issue and can be easily corrected. However, the senior consultant kept insisteing during meetings that we were being awkward because we wouldn't install this CDO despite my showing them that trying to install the software produces a message saying it is not needed.

There were numeous messages back and forth - but they took their sweet time to answer anything, sometimes weeks and on one occasion a month. It seemed impossible to get anyone that actually knew anything about the product. They sent a guy over from Germany, who spent 2 days on site, and I'll be damned if I know what he actually achieved.

So there we are - the CRM is pretty much unusable for anything. The sales staff really don't want to waste any more time on it and I don't blame them. At this stage, they would be far better off using an Excel spreadsheet for what they want. We've had about 4 meetings between the director from the consultants and our CEO in the last 3 weeks. The last one was really nasty - our CEO has asked for our money back and has been told he won't get a red cent. That's about $80,000 down the pipes and he is pissed as hell. We've actually held off on making any payments to them in the last 4 months - and they have no chance of getting any more money from us.

Bottom line - the CRM is piss poor and we are already looking at finding another product.