Friday, 26 March 2010

Reporting for duty

Yes; it's been a month since my last post - the days just seem to fly by. We are already almost a quarter of the way thru the year and our SAP project has been live for 6 months. I really cannot believe just how fast the time has flown.

One of the big issues that we have had relates to the various reports out of the system. Things such as invoices, delivery notes, production notes, quality reports. Back at the beginning of the project, the various project team members produced a fairly long list of the different reports that we would need. I then went around them and got details of at least half as many again. These were listed on a spreadsheet, made available to the consultants along with a description of what data we wanted to see on the report. But unfortunately it wasn't quite enough.

You see, unlike a lot of other organisations, our staff tend to stay with the company a long whiles. The average length of service is actually over 8 years - we have some 29% of staff have completed 10 years or more, and 11% have completed 20 years. We have about a dozen people that have made it past 30 years and we even have a guy that started way back the day the company started and next year he will have achieved 40 years of service.

But this creates a bit of a problem - because so many of the key staff have been with us for so long, they have little experience outside of the company. This means that if they say they want a sales report, or an aged debtors list, or even an MRP report, they think that there is only one way to present this, and that they don't need to be specific in too much detail as everyone will know what they are asking for.

Of course, this is just not the case. These reports can vary enormously from company to company, and sometimes within a single organisation, the different business units will produce totally different reports to meet their own specific requirements. I'm not just talking about appearance, but the actual data, and the way that it is filtered and sorted in order to produce information that helps the business keep going.

So I made myself a nuisance by continuing to ask them to make sure that they had all of the reports listed and that they had an example available so that the consultants could produce something along the same lines. Some of these they actually did produce, but for quite a large number, the consultants said that we could make use of the standard reports / views within SAP.

There were several output documents that they did do for us - and they spent a long time preparing these. In total over 7 months and many were still not really right by the time that we went live. We've now had yet another guy in, and I have to say that this one really knows what he is doing. In a bit over 2 weeks, he has nearly cleared all of the outstanding issues on the existing forms. I would like to know why he wasn't available to us a year ago, as he could have saved us a lot of money and many hundreds of hours of wasted time.

In addition, our project leader and one of my staff have been spending quite a lot of time working on some other reports, mostly related to sales and manufacturing output, although there have been a couple of others. I've done a little bit on this myself, but really haven't had the time to do as much as I would want. Slowly we are starting to see some outputs that really add value to the software - but in many ways, it's like wading thru tar to get this done.

I've been querying a number of these reports - do we really need them? Of course, the answer is always an affirmative, the business will simply collapse without it. There was a classic example of this just a few days ago. One of the field sales people phoned up asking for a specific analysis of a particular range of products bought by a couple of customers over the past two years. It was pointed out to him that we don't have that much data yet and he went into a major panic declaring that it was absolutely essential that he have that report available by the following morning. In reality, it made little or no difference - he was just trying to justify his job, (because he hasn't made a sale since January).

There is no question that reports can be essential and the lack of them can be disastrous - equally, they can be nothing more than an exercise in CYA, and a complete waste of paper (and I really hate it when people print off meaningless reports). If people cannot get what they need, they turn to the trusty spreadsheet, and then we will be back to where we were some 3 years ago, with literally 10s of thousands of spreadsheet files stored all over servers and workstations, with people working on different version of the same file or creating their own.

For us, the spreadsheet was the worst thing ever invented - most of them did nothing to help the business, and in many cases they meant that we ended up with staff being employed to manipulate data, a terrible waste of manpower. It's recognised that we really needed to get away from this , and if we can get the rest of the reports sorted, there should be no need for these anymore. But I just have this feeling - too many people are wedded to the idea of the spreadsheet. I think that we are going to have to look at removing Microsoft Office from their computers!