Sunday, 18 October 2009

Oh boy!

I definitely spoke too soon... the question is where to start?

On Monday, there was a meeting about some of the deliveries. It appears that there is a big problem with some that have been sent out on the wrong dates. After considerable analysis, it appears that one of the processes used to check availability of products is re-setting any date that has been entered for delivery, and making it due 7 days after the inquiry. So a load of orders have been rushed thru production and despatched - but in a number of cases, they have arrived well before the actual date the customer wants.

In some instances, they have hung onto the products, but have asked that we accept delayed payment, and to keep them happy, we have had to agree to that. In a couple of cases, the product has been refused and we will have to re-deliver later on (in some cases, next year). Meanwhile, production are upset because they have had to do rush items and it has caused some scheduling issues.

To fix the immediate problem, the Sales Manager sat down with all orders and has gone back over each item and re-entered the required date. However, after his first attempt, one of his staff had gone back in to check the availability using the same process and once more, it had reset dates. As you might imagine, he was pretty pissed about it. They are now checking dates on all outstanding orders each day to try make sure that it doesn't happen again.

We also have a major issue with some stuff that was marked for export. The guy responsible asked for the items to be put on the system, but unfortunately, the overseas client had already placed the order - although the system is supposed to flag duplicate purchase order numbers from the customer, it still isn't doing so as I mentioned last week.

The goods were made twice and as they are non-standard items, we are not going to be able to sell to anyone else. It's cost us about $10,000 not including shipping. To make sure it doesn't happen again, they have developed a manual system of checking each order - at one point they asked if I could create an Access database to monitor the orders!

Finance are not doing well either. A consultant had set up a process for running invoicing automatically - but so far, it has only produced about 1 invoice in 10. The staff are trying to get the rest processed asap, but it seems to take ages just to do one order. They are concerned that if we don't get invoices out, we get no incoming money. I know that we have managed to maintain a reasonable level of cash flow previously, but that could change in a few more weeks if we are not careful.

A big problem has occured at one of our other sites. They were struggling anyway - people were taking too long to process anything at all. I spoke to the GM on site and he was getting really quite anxious - he did indicate that they might have to start turning away orders as they just couldn't get the work done.

This has been made worse as he has now lost all but two of his office based sales staff - they just upped and quit in the middle of the week, saying that they'd had enough. We've been asked to send staff to him to help out, and it is causing some major issues with arrangements. I did also hear that a couple of others have also indicated their intention to leave - this could get really serious.

One good thing tho' - a decision was finally made about the CRM system. After 2 years of work, it's been agreed that the SAP CRM doesn't meet our needs. The way that it runs is just too slow, and the sales people think that the interface is really nasty (it doesn't show what they need on the main screen). It also doesn't produce the information that our Sales Director said was a fundametal requirement.

We have had 4 different consultants workng on the CRM since the beginning - and basically, we have nothing to show for the time that they spent on the processes. The SAPGUI part runs OK, but they said that it had to be used through a web browser - and that was where the problems were. The speed of loading was really poor, up to a minute to move between screens at times.

Over the last 2 years, they have made all sorts of excuses - not enough memory, issues with SQL settings, AV products, the only thing they didn't blame was the phase of the moon! A while ago, they indicated that they wanted to get some more people in to work on the problems, but that they would want more money to do so. The CEO was not impressed - so he has made the decison to forget about the CRM, and the sales staff are happy with that.

The consultant company sent us some documents recently about arranging for support after the go live process. We are alreading paying for SAP support (close to $100,000 pa) and they want us to pay money to them as well. They won't actually come up with a price, but just give loads of .ppt slide with the "benefits" for having them as a support contact. From what I have seen, it could double our support costs - but there would be no reduction in our staff to compensate.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Did I speak too soon?

The first couple of days this days this week went OK - pretty much like last week. But then we hit some problems.

The issue with the documents printing out extra pages is still going on, although we have one of the consultants back in to help us. He's been looking at the specifics, but hasn't found anything so far. He originally suggested that we had faulty settings on the print server, but after making us double check it all, he had to admit that there is nothing wrong there.

On Wednesday, one of the staff in sales was putting orders on the system and suddenly realised that the prices were coming out incorrectly - she only spotted this as she has been doing the job for close to 15 years and can tell if a price is close or not, which these weren't. They spent the next 2 days checking this out but so far, no-one can see where it's going wrong. All we know is that the prices loaded were correct.

We also had a problem with the production plan on Thursday - for some reason several orders were entered twice (we haven't yet found out why) and this caused the production schedule to change to deal with an unanticipated demand. The system is supposed to detect if a customer's reference number is entered twice, but it didn't flag this up as it is supposed to do.

I've been busy with changes to user roles - I'm still getting just under a dozen a day. It's starting to get tedious, but one of the consultants said that this is quite common. He indicated that one project he was on had changes being made to the user roles every day 3-4 months after their go-live. I sure hope that's not the case with us as I have lots of other work that I need to be doing. Most of this is stuff that has been delayed because of the SAP implementation and we need to be getting on with catching up.

I've also heard some complaints from senior managers. They want specific reports daily / weekly and what they are getting is not what they want. We were told by the consultants that all of this was standard and they gave us transaction codes for reports - but it turns out that some of these don't actually give us what we asked for. One in particular is a report that indicates sales invoiced, but the figures that it is producing make no sense at all. We also had a labor report that seems to indicate that efficiency levels are about a quarter of what they were a few months ago.

On the plus side, people are starting to get to grips with the program. I don't get so many people locking themselves out because they entered the wrong password. They are still slow at using it though, but that's probably because they are still finding their way around; it's going to take a few months for them to pick up some speed. We had a few complaints about speed on a couple of occasions, but we were able to identify that someone else was running a report or other process that was tying up resources - hopefully, we have now put a stop to that.

In particular, we found some workflow items that had been set-up by a consultant that were failing every time they ran. We had run into this before and with the SAP support had found out how to correct this; we were able to do the same this time.

In addition, we had some feedback from the SAP Earlywatch check. They basically indicate that our systems have more than enough processing power / memory to run the program. This contradicts what the director of the consultants tried to tell us some months back (he insisted that we didn't have enough memory). They also made some suggestion about settings which we have now implemented, and some others about security permissions which we can't just yet.

My staff and I now have a basic routine in place to check on the system performance although I think we need a bit more experience to be able to understand the results better. Unfortunately, we have nothing to judge the results against - I have no way of knowing if we are doing a good job or not, or if the results are good, bad or indifferent.

Oh well, such is life. I suppose that these are mostly the types of teething problems that everyone gets with a new product.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Week 1

Well, the first 7 days have gone by, and so far things are not looking too bad. If it carries on like this, then I for one will be quite pleased.

First thing on Monday morning, I was in very early. I'd made a point of getting as many people as possible to logon in last week to make sure that they knew their username / password and that they could actually get access to the production system. However, I suspected that there would be a few phones calls and I wasn't dissappointed! I had about 5 people had managed to forget their password and completely lock themselves out of the system - I was able to talk them thru getting back on. This was fewer than expected, so I was quite pleased.

Later, I had a few questions about access permissions - although we had spent a lot of time working these out, it was clear that there would still be issues after we had gone live. Some of the decisions proved to be a bit optimistic and it was found that we needed to give some of the lower level staff access to more than had been originally agreed. Again, I expected this, so it wasn't that big a deal for me - but it was for some of the managers, as they want everything done imediately and with SAP that is not always possible.

We've developed a reasonably satisfactory process for getting these changes authorised, but people still try to bypass the process and get very irate when I send their requests back to them with the instructions. However, they will learn eventually. I am getting more than I expected, about 8 -10 a day. Hopefully that will tail off in the next week, but I'm not convinced it will as I'm sure that they didn't check all of the variants prior to go-live.

We had one major discussion - a few weeks ago, there was a request for a change which I said was a bad move as it could cause a potential problem. That request was then reversed a few days later as our Operations guy found out for himself just how bad it could be. But then a week later, he changed his mind again - we needed this to allow the project team to push things thru. Then there was huge problem caused by one of these guys using the permissions inappropriately, so it was taken off - and then added back on again a week later. We've had an SAP Earlywatch report and they identified that this was major issue and that we should remove this permission - so I had to sit in a room and explain to the CEO why the project team had been given it in the first place!

There's one rather odd problem with the Sales documents - for some reason, they are printing an extra blank page in between the normal pages, so a 3 page page document comes out as 6 pages. We've got one of the consultants coming in ths week and it's been highlighted that they should look at this - I suspect that it's a formatting issue, but I haven't had the chance to work with some of these documents so I'm reluctant to play around with it at this stage.

The SAP production system is working well. So far, no complaints about speed. It's clear that some staff didn't get enough training as they are taking a lot longer to carry out a function than they should - again, I suspected that this would be the case. I felt that many had not had sufficient actual hands on work, but it was difficult to fit this in. I'm sure that they will pick up speed, they just need to concentrate on using the product.

One thing that I'm bothered about, is that some staff are still using the old legacy systems. They said that they were just referring to old data, but why would they need to? The same data is in the new system, and is just as available. I think it is a bit of a comfort blanket, and as such, I feel that it is probably OK to leave them alone for the present. However, I don't feel that we should let them use these older systems for too much longer as the data will quickly get out of step.

Anyway, so far, so good. There have not been the more serious problems that I dreaded, so this weekend I've had the chance to relax and take things easier. We are not out of the woods yet, but if it continues as it all did this week, then I for one will be quite relieved and very happy.