May 2005 | Commentary | Supply Chain Technology

The Three Sides of SCE Implementation

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In part one of this two-part article (April 2005), we explored relationship building among partners in a Supply Chain Execution (SCE) software implementation. The players in that successful SCE implementation included:

  • Major Brands, an alcoholic beverage distributor that sought an SCE system to cut costs by improving inbound and outbound shipment processing, and refining picking techniques in its warehouse operations.
  • CIBER Enterprise Solutions, a consultant and integrator.
  • HighJump Software, a 3M company, a software vendor.

As we saw in Part One, a collaborative effort and commitment to continuous improvement are keys to a partnership's success. So is choosing the right partners.

When HighJump chooses a consultant partner for a client's software implementation, it considers many factors, such as financial stability, industry process knowledge, knowledge of its SCE application software, and the ability to integrate HighJump's software with other systems.

"Industry process knowledge is the most important factor we consider when choosing consultant partners such as CIBER," says Mike Star, director of strategic alliances, HighJump. "Supply chain execution is an applied technology. A partnership provides value by effectively pairing a consultant's domain expertise with HighJump's advanced software technologies. The domain expertise can be specific to a particular industry or ERP system. The customer benefits from lower risk, quicker implementation, and a better return on investment."

A Matter of Trust

"Trust is an essential part of any successful partnership," says Star. "It is the thread that connects HighJump to its partners and customers. Integrity is HighJump's first core value, and we expect the same from our partners."

HighJump ensures its implementation partners develop a high degree of aptitude around its applications by offering formal classroom courses as well as hands-on training. After training is complete, HighJump validates its partners' capabilities through a two- to four-week shadowing exercise with its professional services organization. Only at this point will HighJump certify a partner to perform installation and configuration services on its applications.

Being able to link different software products, such as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), ERP, and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), is a crucial challenge to any partnership alliance among software vendors and consultants/integrators. How much information does HighJump share with CIBER in terms of seamless hookups, reduced cost to the customer, and legacy system replacement?

"HighJump relies on CIBER's domain expertise for a variety of integration activities," says Star. "Typically, this means host (ERP) integration mapping along with interface development. Material handling equipment integration is another area where HighJump heavily leverages CIBER's expertise."

Understanding the standard method of interfacing supported by the two systems involved is the first key to integrating an SCE system with other applications such as PLM, ERP, or MES, according to Cal Petty, CIBER's supply chain director.

"We determine if a standard exists that enables the two systems to interface and allows translation between the systems to occur, without a lot of modifications," Petty says. "The goal is always to leave the packaged software products as undisturbed as possible.

This saves headaches down the road when it is time to upgrade."

In order to have multiple options available for interfacing and integrating systems, consultants/integrators should be capable of working with multiple technologies. They should select the technology that best fits the situation, not force solutions to fit their preference, says Petty.

When choosing integrators, HighJump also examines their ERP experience because this is always an important component of an SCE implementation.

When implementing supply chain execution software, CIBER resolves critical issues with its partners up front so expectations are clear. Gaining buy-in from top management, clearly defining the application's goals before the project begins, and making sure the client understands the extent of change the application will require, as well as the education and training involved, sets the stage for a smooth implementation process.

"Getting top management support, understanding operational changes, grasping the necessary education and training, and knowing why the product is being implemented are critical issues," explains Petty. "SCE implementation projects are a team effort, and companies need to understand that even with the support of the software vendor and consulting partner, much of the responsibility for project success still lies with the company.

"Team members need to keep in mind that implementing a working system is not the goal," Petty says. "The goal is achieving the measurable results that are established before the project begins."

Consultants bring to the table industry experience, project expertise, and a proven implementation methodology that, when combined with robust software, is a potent formula for project success. But the customer must remain actively engaged throughout the process.

Steps to Success

During its 2004 quality audit, CIBER pinpointed three steps that positively impact an SCE implementation. They are:

  1. Secure active and formal executive sponsorship. It is critical to align the project to executive management's expectations early and often throughout the process. CIBER conducts regular monthly status meetings to update executive managers on project progress, and to discuss open issues at a high level. These meetings give top management the proper background to understand decision audit trails.
  2. Reevaluate assignments early in the project time line. It is often hard to predict exactly how project team members' defined roles will mature as the project moves from its early phases through solution design. CIBER recommends implementing a key milestone date at the end of the solution design phase to reset expectations and adjust task responsibilities as needed. Executing these changes early in the project leverages actual implementation experience to ensure challenges are addressed proac tively without impacting the final result.
  3. Understand the impact of compliance needs. Every company faces specific compliance issues due to industry requirements or internal company policies. When creating the original project budget, companies often don't account for the time required to achieve compliance. Failing to do so leads to unnecessary rework at the end of the project. As a result, the project may exceed cost and time budgets.

During initial planning, the project team should account for any additional time the customer requires to meet internal needs. The customer should provide sample deliverables or system overview instructions before the project budget is established so the proper time is allocated.

In some cases, an SCE implementation requires the customer to change its processes, which creates additional challenges.

"Robust SCE applications are usually easy to configure to meet a variety of needs," Petty says. "Every project, however, still involves at least some minor changes to a company's processes. A good integrator will understand the importance of managing change; it is not one-way communication."

Achieving Desired Results

By looking at where a company is now, and where it wants to be, CIBER works closely with clients during the requirements-gathering portion of the project to develop a model of the desired "end state." CIBER then advises the client whether it can achieve the desired results with current processes intact. If not, the partners discuss early on why the processes need to change, and new processes are documented.

To see the implementation through, CIBER creates a project team "triangle" consisting of the software vendor, CIBER, and the user. "CIBER provides the strategic and operational assessment capability, industry knowledge and best practices, project management skills, quality assurance, and consulting skills—such as managing communications and expectations," Petty explains.

"The software vendor provides technical expertise, product education, and knowledge of how the software has been applied to previous customer requirements," he continues. "And the client drives it all, providing business and systems direction, and fundamental ownership of the project."

The exact responsibilities and level of involvement vary, based on the complexity of the client's operation and implementation time line. Some companies want to own as many of the project activities as possible, while others may have limited resources or less implementation experience, and want the integrator and the software vendor to take on more responsibility.

Partnering for SCE implementation is not a simple affair. It starts and ends with trust, but involves many complex interrelationships among the triangle of players.

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