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 Few of the systems have consistent contact information and many of the details are out of date (people no longer working at the particular company for example).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.


  1. Nice post! Hope you had good swimming. Usually, we want to look ourselves as the people who first collect what the people want, then do it. But, as you noted, this is not how it works. People in the field think the opposite: that we must come and tell them how they should work with the tool we deliver. I'd like to find someone or a book who talk about this.

  2. Dev

    Couldn't agree more. I've found that a lot of books / training material (and not just SAPs) are either very dry, very bland (too technical?) and don't really provide what the end user needs; or they go to the other extremes and are just too childish for words.

    There has to be a better way

  3. In all modesty, The SAP Blue Book, A Concise Business Guide to the World of SAP is not dry or bland. I have never found any books that work for end users that I would ever want to read.