By Kate Parsons, Senior Director, EMC IT
In my last blog, I talked about how EMC succeeded beyond expectations in launching our new ERP system – codenamed PROPEL – in a big-bang cutover that went live without a hitch on July 4, 2012. But the real test of the PROPEL project still loomed: closing out our first ever quarter using the new SAP ERP system.
I’m glad to report that PROPEL passed that critical test— thanks to planning, persistence and plenty of hard work by our project team, the business and everyone involved across EMC. While we are still honing processes, and evaluating training and resources to get the most out of our new system, we learned some valuable lessons by going through our first quarter-end (Q3 2012) processing using PROPEL. Here are some highlights that will hopefully help you in your transformation efforts.
The Vanilla Factor
First, don’t underestimate the steep learning curve you will face with business users at this critical stage in your project’s implementation. I think in some areas we didn’t anticipate the full magnitude of the changes that business users would have to absorb as they closed the quarter.
In fact, the challenge for the business was huge, because EMC had never embarked on such a wide-ranging business process transformation project before. To add to that, we had to ship what turned out to be a record volume of orders for the company leading up to the end of our third quarter.
Our legacy Oracle-based ERP system was heavily customized to match our business processes and nuances – to do exactly what we wanted it to do. So when we had launched our previous ERP system (in 2001)—while the screens looked different—we were pretty much only teaching users how to use the new application.
However this time around the PROPEL team was committed to using standard SAP applications—so-called vanilla software with minimal modifications that would remain upgradeable and flexible into the future. This meant—business users had to master a much more extensive set of changes to adapt to the system rather than having it adapt to them. So for the users (in a long time), the system was different, their process was different and their system tasks in a lot of ways were different. Bottom-line – it was a huge transformation.
Among the biggest adjustments users had to make was the fact that the new system was not error-proof, as our old customized ERP was. In the past, as we customized our system, we literally put in error messages; checks and warnings that made it hard for the users to make a mistake. They could almost process the end of quarter requirements on auto pilot. They didn’t have to think too much about a given transaction or process flow because we had done so much to customize and automate the process. You might say it was almost foolproof!
PROPEL, on the other hand didn’t work that way because we took the “vanilla” or minimum customization approach. We had to bend or change some of our business processes to match the SAP application functionality. So, there was a learning curve – the business users needed to be extra careful during each transaction step to minimize errors.
Be proactive in heading off problems
From responding to learning curve challenges to compensating for some reporting issues we knew existed before the end of quarter, having plenty of trained and knowledgeable people at the key business sites and on the phone to help muscle through problems was invaluable.
In fact, we armed the sites with extra hands on keyboards at shipping sites and manned war rooms in non-manufacturing locations around the clock so that any issues arising could be remediated quickly. We had PROPEL teams at each of our manufacturing facilities in Cork, Ireland; Apex, NC; and Franklin, MA, to support groups of super users—employees trained in the new applications to be available as extra resources. When we noticed some reporting needs were not being met, we spun up report teams to cover the data shortfall to try to help keep the process moving.
We also did a lot of proactive monitoring to identify ahead of time where users might run into difficulties. If we saw, for example, that some orders were getting stuck because users had failed to take the correct ship confirm steps, we set up an automatic query to alert us to that situation so we could proactively help the business through the bottleneck.
Our Q3 2012 was a very challenging quarter – a reflection of our changing business – given the high order volumes and a brand new ERP system, but we got done what we needed to do and it did exceed our expectations!
EMC DNA and Entrepreneurial Spirit
We owe it to our EMC DNA: the determination of our teams and “failure-is-not-an-option” attitude, which has always been a part of our corporate culture.
One of the things I am most proud of in this project is that fact that everyone chipped in and did whatever they needed to do. Business units, in particular Finance and Manufacturing went above and beyond. PROPEL members jumped in to help with the transactions. IT staff kept their focus and drove for success.
The business units have truly done a great job taking ownership of the new system and driving the review of what went well and where we can improve as we look forward to the next quarter end, as well as the next release of PROPEL. They are assessing whether they have the right resources in the right places and what kind of training they need.
The PROPEL applications team, in turn, is working to determine how best to meet the business’ training and system needs. For example, are there tips and tricks we should offer to prepare for the times when transactions don’t go as scripted or should we provide some insight on how to diagnose and fix problems as they arise?
The business has accepted this new ERP system built to support EMC future growth and is driving it. The PROPEL team couldn’t be more excited and will provide any support they ask for to make the next quarter-end even smoother.