Vendors say they are thrilled to have on-the-ground events back - though Omicron still has something to say about that. But on-the-ground events also put vendors to the messaging validation gut check.
During the Acumatica in Vegas, I did what I can only do on the ground: the customer hustle, pulling customers aside to get the real deal.
In Acumatica's case, I wanted to put their vigorous "agility" messaging to the customer relevance test: Acumatica Summit 2022 roundup - is agile ERP an oxymoron? Vertical news and customer views.
In that piece, I quoted customer bits from keynotes as well. Yes, customer keynote interviews are always welcome - but the deeper story requires more. I was intrigued by Acumatica customer of the year award winner Green Bay Packaging's plan to do more than 100(!) integrations with their corporate Acumatica system. Their keynote quote on pushing past legacy processes caught my ear:
A quick example of that is just the ability to drill down from our financial statements down to the transactional level stuff. It takes seconds for us to do that [on Acumatica]. In our mainframe process, we used to spend hours at the end of the month doing that. Now, instead of just the people that process the transactions and are the scorekeepers. we're really the business interpreters, telling the story of what's happening every month.
Can modern ERP address a decentralized business model?
After the keynote, I found out how they got there, via a sit down with Jason Briesemeister, Green Bay Packaging's Corporate Accounting Director (pictured middle). Briesemeister has been with Green Bay Packaging for six years, but nothing could have prepared him for the intensity of the pandemic economy. Fortunately for Green Bay Packaging, their problems were not about a loss of business, but a surge in demand: all the shipments to quarantined homes spurred box demand. But as Briesemeister told me, supply chain challenges remained:
We have adhesives we have trouble getting. About a year ago, we had the winter storm issue all in itself. Quite honestly, I think that's driven some of the supply chain bottlenecks - it still tends to be an issue sometimes.
As a company, Green Bay Packaging has a different organizational structure, one that presents a challenge to centralized ERP models. Beyond their corporate headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Green Bay Packaging has 4,000 employees across 35 locations. Each of those locations is "decentralized" - that means they get to choose their own operational software. Now the need for 100 integrations into Acumatica becomes clear.
What provoked the decision to modernize ERP? As Briesemeister told me, the answer goes back a couple of years, pre-pandemic:
We were on a 30 year old mainframe system called Millennium - some of our businesses are still there. They basically said, after a certain point of time, they're not going to support it anymore, and we have to do something different. Quite honestly, we should have done this ten years ago.
Bake off time for Acumatica, NetSuite, Infor X3 and Microsoft Dynamics. And how did Acumatica emerge? Briesemeister:
When you look at finance systems, really everybody can do a journal, and everybody can process an AP payment. We wanted to know: is it easy to use for employees, and just intuitive? I feel like across [Acumatica's] finance modules, if you know the accounts payable module, you figure out AR - it's all very intuitive compared to others.
Any ERP they picked had to be viable for their decentralized approach:
We are very decentralized. We've got 35 sites, each kind of runs their own mini-business. As a corporate function, we don't get involved in a lot of the day to day things that they're doing.
What that means is: sometimes they'll put in whatever systems they want to do, and then we've got to figure out a way to integrate all that into one place for our consolidated financial reporting. So the data integrations were also very important. We needed somebody to help us build those integrations, and get our data to one place.
The go-live waves begin
Every project needs a good services partner, but in this case, the caliber of partner will go a long way towards dictating success. Green Bay Packaging selected Crestwood Associates:
Our mainframe programmers don't necessarily have the expertise on other systems. We knew we needed an implementer like Crestwood to help us get through that, because we didn't really have that in that house.
Green Bay Packaging's first implementation wave went live on November 20, 2020. That was the corporate office go-live - AP, GL fixed assets. The next wave: AR goes live April 1. The AR wave will be a big milestone:
We have to do all the divisions at once, because we centralize the cash collection process. So we can't have part of our AR in one system and part in another, because all the cash has to be applied right in the same place. So this will be a bigger kind of a bigger bang for us to get people on.
I think it'll be good, because we'll give everybody a taste of a taste of it before we get to the AP and GL modules over the next few months.
If all goes smoothly, Briesemeister figures the final go-live will be done either end of 2022, or, more likely, first quarter 2023.
He told me their experience in Green Bay Packaging headquarters is giving them a good flavor for that. They intend to share it, as they roll Acumatica out to 35 field locations:
One of my beefs with published use cases? Most of them don't take a hard look at the services partner relationship. That's why I really liked this keynote comment from Green Bay Packaging:
The ability for us to have some have a partner we can trust in, and challenge us when we're trying to go down a path that might not make a whole lot of sense.
Crestwood Associates made a similar onstage comment:
We're willing to listen in a way that ingests the information, and ingest what we're hearing from each other. But then challenge [each other] if it doesn't make sense.
I wish more partnerships were discussed that openly. I have no doubt, if this all lands where Green Bay Packaging expects, that this well-tested partnership will be a critical factor.
As diginomica readers know, I'm obsessed with the greater benefits (some) ERP customers achieve after go-live. Transformation maturity models are a big talking for Acumatica also. Briesemeister told me: the benefits from Acumatica's real-time approach to finance should take on much greater weight after Acumatica is rolled out well beyond corporate.
Our paper mills make paper for our box plants - if all of a sudden a customer increases an order, that obviously will have an impact on a paper mill. The sooner we can get that information visible to it, we can more efficiently adjust their production schedules and the machines, to increase the order for that specific paper type... We can better adapt, having the information visible to us sooner.
Briesemeister is already seeing benefits at corporate headquarters, including time saved on the reporting/administrative side of his work: "If I'm spending 20 minutes doing that, versus half a day, I have more time to do other value-added things."
For now, it's full-speed ahead on the go-lives; the 100 integrations are now 60 percent done.
Acumatica is going to be our real source of the truth, if you want to say that, and then everybody else has to stay in sync with that. We've got processes to make sure that that happens.
It's an ambitious project, and the progress report looks good. I'll definitely seek an update on this one after the go-lives are complete.
End note, for on-site customer interviews: Acumatica has had me interview their customers without any "handlers" or Acumatica employees present for a number of years now. Not many vendors do this - it's a show of confidence that adds even more credibility to these stories. Yes, there is a trust that must be earned on both sides, but I'd strongly encourage more vendors to consider it.