Unsurprisingly, my 'bastard child' story about SAP Business ByDesign (BYD) caught the imagination of a good few folks and not least Jonathan Phillips who has been leading Aspen Pumps multi-country BYD implementation since 2016. The story behind the projects is fascinating at many levels and Jonathan was gracious enough to allow me to record his thoughts on the project, how it succeeds and what BYD delivers.
Our conversation ran well over an hour but I chose to restrict the published podcast to the topics that are most pertinent to successful technology implementations and rollouts. Even so, the background which is not on the audio is worth the telling.
Like many mid-sized (by UK standards) businesses, Aspen Pumps had an old 'green screen' ERP which was in sore need of renovation and/or replacement. The company didn't consider that SAP would likely be a good fit given its reputation for multi-year projects in businesses that need complex solutions. Instead, the company went out to others among the 'usual suspects' camp including Microsoft, Infor, Epicor, and Sage. And here comes the first lesson. According to Jonathan, in each case, the sense he got was that the partner channels were overloaded and unwilling to provide the attention needed.
A happy accident
Almost by default, Aspen fell into the path of SAP, largely as a result of the recommendation coming from an independent consultant with experience in BYD. Jonathan understood very early on that in order to be successful, Aspen would need to conform to BYDs defined best practices rather than attempting to force fit the system to older ways of doing things. That inevitably means change and change management. Here's lesson number two.
As an end to end system, BYD forces the business to get out of siloed operational mode and think about how processes operate between departments. In addition, Jonathan determined that the best way to make the implementation work well would be to find champions who were willing to not only learn BYD but also be enthusiastic about its implementation and adoption. These were not departmental leaders although as he explains, all have gone on to assume leadership roles.
Crucially, BYD allowed Aspen people to focus on process exceptions rather than blueprinting to the nth degree which in turn meant that they could focus on topics like data quality.
The results are fascinating, providing confidence in execution at other locations. Here is how the implementation schedule worked out:
- UK - 180 days
- France - 92 days
- Germany - 76 days
How was it achieved?
Experience gained during the UK implementation informed the team about how they might improve the implementation process in subsequent projects. However, the key was to have the core team pass on their knowledge to peers in France and then Germany who in turn could take ownership for themselves.
This is fascinating. It turns out that even though there are cultural differences between the various countries, a shared mission that is well-communicated drives value. But you've still got to find ways of getting messages across. Jonathan talks about how this was achieved in countries where English is not the native tongue. It is worth listening to.
But I was also interested to discover how a configurable but ultimately restricted system provides business with a competitive advantage. My view is that in accounting or order entry for instance, there is zero value in straying outside best practices when the manner in which those functions was established many years ago and where innovation is not needed. Here, Jonathan says that while BYD is offering its brand of best practice, it has allowed the firm to think about how certain processes operated and how they might be streamlined for the future.
Nothing in that prevents operational folk from taking data out of BYD and then crunching it through their favorite spreadsheet although the firm is very clear that nothing comes back in that could break the system. The key quote:
Systems should be enablers to efficiency which frees up people to focus on what makes Aspen unique - that's the time and effort we put into delivering a quality product that customers want and building the services around them that support customers. Don't spend time worrying about where the system is telling you to put things, let the system worry about that so you can spend time on what matters. BYD allows that because SAP has worked out all those rules.