Feature

ERP Journey: Changes Fray Team's Nerves Before ERP System Launches

With just five weeks to go before we convert to our new ERP system, our project team feels term-paper tension, and every day is like a cram session. Tackling new change orders is like drinking a triple grande Americano on an upset stomach.

Pepto-Bismol, anyone?

We have a dozen or so minor change order requests that came late in the project; two are potential showstoppers. Ghosts of ERP project failures haunt the conference room we've called home for the past few months, reminding me of those companies that have written off hundreds of millions of dollars in failed projects. We call this motivation.

One change order, for a particularly prickly consolidated billing process that makes riding a motorcycle on a high wire across Niagara Falls seem like child's play, surfaced only a month ago. We discovered that our new software wouldn't accommodate a Byzantine process involving a payor (us), two banks, two electronic data interchange network providers, a buying group and a score of vendors. It had taken months to implement but would save us a day's labor every month for years. And it's a condition of doing business with the buying group.

When one of our consultants objected, saying he didn't do high-wire acts, the late-winter Seattle sky darkened -- potential showstopper number one. Then one of our project leaders looked at the consultant, at the calendar and then back at the consultant. You could tell the project manager's exclaimed "Are you serious?" went through a stringent filter before he spoke. You could almost see the clock ticking in his eyes.

We changed from lattes to chai tea with Tums chasers.

DR Is, in Fact, a Disaster

Surprise number two came when testing proved the disaster recovery solution our partner offered wouldn't recover from a disaster very well. Since most of its clients were willing to pay only for traditional nightly backups, the company hadn't worried too much about the effectiveness of its DR product.

But my company wants that kind of protection, and there is no standard implementation. Each is unique and time-consuming. Our consultants were dismayed by our reaction to what we saw as a major hole in the product. Glaring gaps like these often make partners litigation-happy. They were certainly a test of our partnership.

After the air stopped crackling, we looked for solutions. Together we designed a replacement for the consolidated billing solution, and Intuit Eclipse worked overtime to incorporate our trading partners' requirements into it. The vendor's compromise retained most of our labor savings.

Excitement Amid the Indigestion

The disaster recovery gap generated two change orders: one was a Band-Aid that involved hardware mirroring; the other, a rock-solid, long-term fix. We still feel vulnerable given the weak disaster recovery solution, but everyone is committed to creating a viable solution.

In the short term, since we'll take our back office live first, our exposure is manageable. By the time we are fully converted, the new solution will be ready.

I also learned that while our process is imperfect, it works. The long, dreary hours of process analysis, tiered reviews and testing uncovered many landmines before go-live. The few we missed are being managed. We are not home free yet, but the avalanche of i's to dot and t's to cross is shrinking. We've begun training, creating excitement amid the dread.

I'm looking forward to summer and an iced triple tall mocha.

Next: We do a dress rehearsal for the go-live event.

Les Johnson is CIO at North Coast Electric Co., a wholesale electrical distributor in Bellevue, Wash. To comment on this story, email ERPJourney@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in May 2006

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