Thursday, 30 December 2010

Looking forward

I hope that everyone has had a good Christmas holiday and is looking forward to the new year with anticipation. We have a family get together planned to see in the new year - my wife is just starting to get the food arranged, so I am banished to the den. As it is the end of another year, I thought that I would look back to analyze what has been happening, and I also decided that I would try to be more upbeat than usual.

So... lets start by looking at the actual systems. This is very definitely a positive point as our servers are running (for the most part) pretty smoothly and we only get a few issues from time to time. When we do get an issue, it is generally down to someone doing something that they have been told NOT to do - run a report without filling in any filtering information so the program tries to run the sales data on every single item that we have in the catalogue for every single customer. I'm sure that you will know the problem!

For many people this will sound stupid - after all, you would expect a system to run well, or why would you want to use it? However, I know from talking to many other users that we seem to be doing better than a lot of other businesses in terms of system operation, even tho' we are still quite new to SAP.

We are also managing to stay on top of the database admin work, software updates, system monitoring, and still do the rest of the normal IT work, even tho' we have no more extra staff than before. Again, I have heard stories from other companies that indicate they allocated a significant increase in manpower in order to maintain a level of service, and we have been able to avoid that so far. This all means that we are able to maintain our budget levels, and that has been noted by the senior managers.

Partly that has been due to training - we have spent some time to get all of the IT staff (including myself) along to an SAP training center. This has proven to be money well spent in many areas, and I am really keen to see this rolled out amongst the rest of the project team. Just before Christmas, I spoke to the CEO about a particular organization - I was able to tell him how much they have spent in a particular area that we have handled internally, and to estimate just how much we have saved as a result. In dollar terms, it's about $400,000 over the last 2 years which has to be good news. He is not entirely convinced about the training yet, but he has given the green light to a couple of others to do some training and if that goes well, I'm sure that he will then authorize more.

Throughout the business, we can see that most people (not all yet sadly) are getting quite proficient at using SAP. Certainly in each department, we are seeing most staff can complete most processes with relative ease. It has to be said that there are still issues with about 20% of the various processes, and these (naturally) seem to be the biggest stumbling blocks and generate more work than they save. We are using the key staff to try to make sure that others are trained appropriately - we have tried to start some "refresher" style training sessions using these key people. Time will tell if this works or not.

There is unfortunately still an issue with data output - we are still not where we would want to be. However, we are starting to get some valid data at last, and this is being used to correct some of the initial input which we always knew was poor at best. For example, we are now seeing some more accurate figures on production costs, so that is being fed back into the systems, and hopefully, we will see this improve the way that we start to price goods up. It has taken a lot longer than anticipated, and some of the figures are still questionable, but it is what we hoped we would eventually be able to see.

We successfully completed a secondary project to use document management within SAP at the beginning of the year - as I have indicated before, this has been a truly useful change and has been instrumental in encouraging some people to look at the program in a more positive light. This has also lead to a couple of other small projects associated to SAP. We have reduced the amount of printing that is required by about 20% - not a huge saving in the overall scheme of things, but something positive to point to. We are producing bar code labels for products that have customer codes on them as well as ours, and we are currently evaluating making use of scanning more widely as part of our internal processes.

So we would have to say that our SAP implementation has been successful. Certainly, there are many other organizations that have had a far worse time than us and are still struggling with their systems. Of course, there is still much to be done and considerable effort required to ensure that the ERP does deliver what was always hoped for. But with what we have achieved so far, and what has been learned, I am sure that we can continue to build upon that success.

Now at this stage, I should say that I am not an SAP convert - we have spent so much, the project has taken so long that I'm still not entirely sure that we will ever see an ROI. In addition I am going to say again that much of the success of our project is down to the hard work of our internal project team. Without their effort, skill, commitment and knowledge of the business, I seriously doubt that we would have ever gone live successfully.

But we have gone live, and it has been fairly successful and there is evidence that we can continue in this way. So tomorrow night, I will definitely raise a glass to the guys and gals that have worked so hard and wish them all the best for 2011.

I also wish the same to everyone that reads this blog - and may the new year bring happiness, health and prosperity to you all.

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