The Execution's Great, But Where's My Dashboard?

Tom Flanagan, VP & SAP Partner Global Business Services, IBM
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Tom Flanagan, VP & SAP Partner Global Business Services, IBM

In 2006, I was part of a $14 billion biotechnology company whose revenue had nearly tripled in the preceding four years. Our highly customized solutions and business processes were straining to keep up and were clearly jeopardizing future growth. There was a unanimous agreement among the executive team to embark on a major ERP program using an industry proven solution with a world class global integrator.

Adding to the sense of urgency, the company was anticipating its next major product launch in 3-4 years and did not want anything to distract the launch efforts. Our mission was clear, we had three years and the clock was ticking.

We immediately set guiding principles to establish the bounds the program was empowered to operate within. These included items such as, staff with the A team, embrace change, adopt proven processes, keep it simple, change the process not the software, balance the need for approvals with compliance, implement “vanilla” software, ensure a single source of the truth, and a few others We set an implementation strategy that balanced quality (no shortcuts in testing), with cost (tightly controlled scope and governance) and speed (focused program management) with a goal to go as fast as possible without compromising quality or patient supply. Our footprint was broad and global; including twenty six countries as well as HR, Finance, Order to Cash, Plan to Stock, Supplier Management and Business Intelligence including multiple SAP modules. In addition, we began a phased implementation of a new Manufacturing Execution System (MES) across all of our manufacturing facilities that were fully integrated with our ERP solution. A sizable challenge, but one we needed to take on.

“The challenge back in this timeframe was we didn’t have the tools that are available today to fully and easily mine and analyze the data”

Before starting, we studied and implemented best practices from programs that had preceded us. These included having strong executive support, good governance and program management, staffing the team with good people, and managing the program scope very tightly. We had done our homework and with terrific company-wide support and teamwork we completed our program in thirty-three months, achieving our key objectives of never stocking out, meeting all financial close dates, and having zero compliance issues, all while completing the program under budget and on schedule. Transactions were processing, and the finances, supply chain, and human resource platforms were scaling nicely. Our system integrator gave us an award for the best ERP program by a large company cit ing us for going nearly 40 percent faster than comparable implementations. It seemed like we had hit a home run. We were ready for our next product launch and we were able to scale. Everyone was thrilled initially. Then ever so slowly, like watching grass grow, we began to hear a growing displeasure with the quality of information being provided to our business partners. This was very surprising as we had worked exceptionally closely with the end users to create the reports they needed. But, the business now wanted more and more capability to analyze their data.

They had all this data in an accessible repository, and they wanted to fully exploit the insights it held. This included senior executives who now wanted to see their information real time in the form of dashboards so they could make faster and more accurate decisions. It wasn’t clear at the time, but it turns out we were on the cusp of radically changing the way information was used to aid decision making. We knew going into the program that we were going to get scalability, reliability and easier access to data, but we did not anticipate how fast the business was going to adapt to the new business processes and how fast they would accelerate their thirst for information and business insight now that the data was available.

The challenge back in this timeframe was we didn’t have the tools that are available today to fully and easily mine and analyze the data. Then we could get away with a serial approach of installing ERP with basic reporting, followed by addressing the subsequent information demands.

Fast forward to today and CIOs are riding the massive wave of what we now call “Big Data.” The tools and capability to provide near real time insights into data are available.  The old measure of a program’s success, providing a smoothly functioning transactional engine with clean data and standard reports is now the least acceptable. Providing deep business insights through analytics is the added value that business users are demanding. Today’s new capabilities make this a critical expectation, and one CIOs should pay close heed to, especially now as the front office and back office begin to merge and companies move towards a more “customer activated” enterprise.

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