Debbie E. Jackson: Life at the End of the ERP Tunnel

Debbie Jackson is starting to get her life back. It has been on hold since late 2003, while she and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University endured one of the truly harrowing ordeals of business life: a major ERP implementation.

As supply chain procurement team lead for HopkinsOne—the initiative to move all the Johns Hopkins enterprises onto an integrated SAP platform—Jackson is responsible for SAP’s Supplier Relationship Management module. That has meant gathering requirements, redesigning processes, working with technology specialists to implement and test the software, then training users.

The system went live in January 2007, but that doesn’t mean the work is finished. “We’re now in the ‘post-go-live support,’ phase, where we fix all the problems,” Jackson says.

Even when that’s accomplished, Jackson won’t enjoy too much downtime. “As soon as we can, we’re scheduled to do an upgrade!” she laughs.

But lately, Jackson has been able to log an extra hour of sleep each night. And she’s looking forward to the upgrade’s scheduled completion in 2008, when she can devote more time to working on the Baltimore row house that she and her husband bought in 1995 and are restoring to its 1940s grace and beauty.

Until then, Jackson will continue to focus on remodeling Johns Hopkins’ supply chain processes. One of the most difficult challenges in implementing HopkinsOne is that it covers purchasing not only for the university, but also for the Johns Hopkins hospital and health care system.

“We needed to bring together two different businesses and processes on a streamlined platform,” she explains.

Luckily, in her previous job as the university’s associate director of purchasing, Jackson had already collaborated on strategic sourcing with her colleagues in the hospital and health care system.

“It made a big difference that we were not meeting for the first time to work on HopkinsOne,” she says.

Another implementation challenge lay in the fact that the university—and to some extent, the medical system—relies heavily on federal programs and other sources that fund research.

Processes in the ERP system had to comply with their procurement requirements. Jackson’s team also had to consider the needs of internal clients, vendors, and many others.

“Getting everybody on the same page was a large undertaking,” she says.

The ERP implementation is starting to pay off in efficiency. “As one example, all the Hopkins enterprises can now talk to each other,” Jackson says.

And, with contracts stored electronically, all parties have access to the same sourcing information. “The knowledge doesn’t necessarily reside with one particular buyer anymore,” she notes.

SAP’s electronic bidding and automated approval processes also make procurement simpler, Jackson adds.

Looking back on a supply chain career that encompasses environmental consulting firms, the academic world, and the Baltimore Orioles, Jackson says that if she could do one thing over, she would grab the chance to exercise her skills on a global stage.

“I would accept a job overseas,” she says. “Mexico would be my preference because it’s on this side of the world. But if I had the opportunity to go to China, I wouldn’t think twice.”

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