Friday, 25 June 2010

Keep on movin' on

So after having made a few posts about what I've seen eleswhere, I'm back to writing about our project.

As you might expect, things have begun to settle into place. Most of the staff are now beginning to know what the processes are, they can generally carry them out most of the time and we are now starting to see some of the benefits of the SAP installation project.

We are seeing far fewer mistakes with the purchasing which had previously been very high. No-one has quantified this yet in detail, but it appears that we may see some savings in that area of about $100,000 per year due to fewer errors. Although this won't cover the cost of the project, it was an unexpected side benefit that will be very welcome. There is also evidence that it has reduced the work load on the purchasing staff by an amount which will also be beneficial.

The finance department still have some issues with analysis, but the data is going in the system, and with the ability to attach scanned copies of documents, they have significantly reduced the problems they used to get with missing files. Again it is not something that we have tried to put a value on, but the accounts manager has estimated that it is saving her staff 2-3 hours work per week. This may not sound a lot, but the time benefit does mean that they are able to concentrate more on the actual work they are paid for, rather than simply chasing down bits of paper.

Sales still have quite serious issues - I'm convinced that we have not got the right approach to pricing which makes it too complex. They are now looking at changing part of the process which I think will help. Customer feedback has been mixed with some people seeing fewer errors, but unfortunately also some fairly major failures due to a problem in the system. It appears that if someone places an order, and then a few days later changes the order, the due date for the goods is automatically pushed back a few days, and this has caused some delivery issues and this problem has yet to be resolved.

Shortly after our go-live, we added in an electronic fax server service which can supplement the email transmission of orders, invoices etc. We did this ourselves without the assistance of the consultants (they wanted to charge us $25,000 in consultancy fees to do the work!). Customer comments are that they appreciate the new feature - there were a few issues back at the beginning of the year, but they mostly seem to have been resolved. The only problems we get are down to inaccurate data regarding email address or fax number - sales staff were supposed to have cleaned up the data way back, but it appears that they could have done a better job.

Distribution have also seen some benefits, although they have had a few major problems caused by the orders being pushed back incorrectly. There were also some inventory issues for several months, probably due to faulty data at the beginning, but these now seem to have been corrected. For some years, we have wanted to implement bar code scanning and this is an area that we think will benefit from this - the staff are quite positive about the concept, and I think that they would make good use of it.

The production area generally is also seeing some benefits with the use of the technology - previously everything was on paper. Again, the details have yet to be accurately quantified, but the production manager suggested that we have seen reduced waste and a slight uplift in productivity. Nothing to set the world on fire, but enough to suggest that the process change is beginning to make a difference.

Unfortunately tho' the project system area is still struggling. About 40% of the work is repeat business and that seems to be generally OK, but the rest is all bespoke and we are still seeing far too many issues. We've had one particular consultant working on that are from the beginning and although I accept that the requirements are quite complex, I think that he seems to have taken a very long time to address some of the simpler issues. The scheduling of work has been one of the biggest issues and it still isn't working as it should which has an affect on so many other areas.

So pretty much a mixed message overall - definitely some benefits in time and cost savings, but some issues yet to be fixed that still frustrate everyone. We have a little bit more time to try to address these, but soon the company wants to start rolling SAP out across the rest of the group. We have a couple of sites in this country and a few others elsewhere and I think that we really need to try to get these problems sorted before rolling it out any further. However, I am a bit concerned that we won't get the time, as pressure is on to try to standardize across the group.

Still; as the man says, "keep on movin' on". We will get there, it may just take longer and require more effort than perhaps it should.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

People get ready (part 2)

I've been off-line for a couple of weeks - busy at work, then the chance of a last minute vacation. But I'm back now.

As I indicated, earlier this year, I had the chance to meet up with some people at companies that are also involved in SAP implementation. Two of the companies were large organizations - both had $1 billion per year plus revenue, so they were both much bigger than the one that I work for. One has about a dozen sites around the world, with between 250 and 500 staff at each - the other has about 80 sites around the world with between 30 and 200 staff at each.

In both cases, the parent sites(s) have already implemented SAP and are making good use of the product. One for about 2 years, the other for a little less. They are now planning to roll this out to the rest of the business and it was interesting to see how they plan to do this.

In both cases, they had a consultancy on site for the original implementation - one of these was well known, the other less so. The larger business took almost 4 years to get up and running, and although they didn't confirm this, I did hear that they had a false start, and after just over a year, pretty much went back to the beginning.

What was clear was that in both cases, they had a fairly clear idea of what they wanted to achieve from the project. They also had a set of KPIs to measure against, although one guy I spoke to said that these appeared to have changed after the false start. The directors of both organizations were keen to see the project succeed, and a great deal of effort went into making sure that the work was done as required.

However, in both cases, they indicated that they had major issues - a common complaint was that they didn't get the same consultants throughout the project and this lead to several instances of work beng delayed or being done incorrectly due to lack of consistency. I found it interesting that they also had issues in getting output documents sorted out, something that has plagued us from the beginning.

One thing that was clear in both cass, was that for their rollout across their larger business, they are very keen to avoid making use of any consultancy at all. There were a number of comments (some quite strong language as well) that indicated their preference for using their own internal staff as much as possible.

They have both set quite ambitious targets for the rollout - I did query this, and their senior management seemed keen to push ahead as quickly as they could. No doubt this was to try to see some sort of return for their investment The staff that I spoke to were not quite as confident that they could do it in the time allotted. One manager expressed serious concern at the proposed plans, indicating that it could mean no vacation time for any of the key project team for the next 3 or 4 years. She also said that most people agreed it seemed unlikely that they would be able to maintain the current plans, and the dates would inevitably slip.

As it happens, in both instances they are actually late starting their roll out to the other sites. In one case, they have been trying to get a suitable Project Manager, which they now have, but I was told that he has only ever been part of an SAP project, not actually running one. It also appears that he hasn't made him self popular with the senior managers. Having bee told what they wanted, he agreed that it was possible, and now he is in place, is insisting that they change the plans to roll them out over a longer period.

I will say though that I suspect in both cases, they should be able to achieve what they are planning to do, if not in the time frame set - they have previous experience, the right people in their teams and the right attitude from the senior managers. It appears that they have also spent a lot more time, effort and money in preparing their staff for the project. They both have excellent communications channels, and have done a much better job of engaging with their staff than we did (something I think that we could learn a lot from).

I have wished them both well and hope that I will be able to keep in touch. I think that it will be interesting to see how they get on.