ERP vendors have been singing the praises of two-tier ERP for a few years now - usually to push their own products together. Of all the two-tier combinations, one of the most intriguing is Workday and Plex.
Since Plex announced a partnership with Workday in 2015 (Enterprise Odd Couple: Plex Systems Partners with Workday), I've wanted to hear from customers who went this route.
At PowerPlex 2017, I got my chance, via a presentation and informal barside (alcohol-free) chat with Accuride Corporation CIO Paul Wright. Wright was the perfect foil for my interests - his transparent style may be part of why he was named a "Premier 100 Tech Leader" by Computerworld in 2015.
Accuride Corporation, a leading supplier of wheels and wheel-end components, has been undergoing quite a few changes of its own. Headquartered in Evansville, Indiana, with eleven production and distribution facilities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Italy, the company transitioned from public to private in 2016 (Accuride is now owned by Crestview Partners).
In 2011, Accuride took on a new “Fix & Grow” strategy. That meant investing more than $150 million to transform its core operations. Accuride's IT approach changed also; that's how Wright enters the picture - but not on the IT side:
I didn't come as the IT guy. I came as the Director of Manufacturing Systems. My job was to make sure that we were doing everything lean and IT wouldn't mess it up.
Wright soon went from the IT shadows to the hot seat. In 2013, Accuride asked him to take over the Plex implementation after the prior IT lead departed The temporary position stuck; Wright's been an IT Director since then, taking on the CIO title in 2016. You can count Wright amongst the continuous improvement buffs. As he told me:
We've instilled a culture of continuous improvement - it's always people pushing for something more.
Trying to standardize across legacy systems was a "disaster"
There's a fine line between organizational energy and chaos. Wright had to overcome the latter. "I inherited a hot mess," Wright joked during his presentation. He showed us a daunting list of all the ERP solutions that were previously in use, along with tenuous integrations to legacy products.
Accuride's prior acquisitions contributed to the systems spaghetti. Wright showed us a dizzying slide of inventory lines between systems. This resulted in another layer: custom web apps. As Wright said to us sarcastically:
You can imagine how well that worked, it worked so well we built 250 plus custom web apps to try and knit this stuff together. Then, when all of that didn't work, we used Excel.
That wasn't all: security across systems was a compliance nightmare, with inherited roles adding more confusion:
Trying to standardize that and actually walk an auditor through how we controlled that - as you can imagine - was just a disaster.
The same suppliers were showing up multiple times across systems. Difficulties tracking lead times resulted in "multiple black eyes" from customers:
We had no data to say, "No, what you're actually asking us to do is unreasonable because you ordered these parts today to be delivered yesterday." Anyone who's worked with OEM EDI knows that you see these things, and if you don't have mechanisms in place to catch it, then it becomes troublesome.
The move to Plex Manufacturing Cloud addressed many of those problems. With all plant facilities moved to Plex, Accuride was down to 27 applications, with a realistic goal of getting those apps under ten. As Wright told Plex:
With Plex all our activities and the data they produce are linked so that we can see in real time what is really happening in our business. For example, we can get data for all direct and indirect purchasing and link that to transactional activities on the floor whether that’s production or maintenance, and integrate that with quality information and shipping.
HR and finance were knocking on the door
But the work wasn't done. Accuride was still running an outdated version of PeopleSoft. Wright started hearing from the finance people too:
When we started doing our analysis of how to replace PeopleSoft, the finance team came back and said, "Hey I need something to do X, Y and Z, Hyperion called." I'm like, "I'm sure Hyperion called, and I'm sure it's going to cost a ton of money, and I'm sure we can't afford that - but it's nice of you to bring that up."
That's when the lightbulbs went off. Instead of re-introducing complexity with new HR and financials tools, why not look at a platform play?
We started thinking, "Okay, well maybe there's an opportunity here to do something more strategically where we can have just a couple of platforms."
Simplicity had big appeal from a staffing side:
That was part of our ROI when we went to Plex. We can't necessarily get all our people trained on all these different systems, and continue to innovate at the level that we want to.
Wright narrowed the decision down to SAP, Oracle, and Workday. Plex's Workday partnership got Wright's attention: minimize integration hassles is high on his priority list. Wright presented a "Why Workday?" list to us, which included Workday's global support in the areas Accuride operates, and the highest scores on all attributes by the functional selection team.
The plan was finalized: move to Workday HR and Financials for payroll, financial reporting and planning, fixed assets and expense management. Master and transactional data will move between the two systems. Wright is targeting a 3rd quarter move to Workday payroll, so things will be heating up shortly.
The wrap - on analytics, and holding vendors' feet to the fire
Wright shared a "future state" of Accuride's IT vision, which includes visibility across systems for improved reporting and planning, and moving from a fixed chart of accounts to a multi-dimensional approach for flexibility of analysis. And yes, automation of HR and FIN processes to free up strategic time.
But even as of now, there are some nice perks in place, such as a central security model for all applications (which includes Oracle SalesCloud for CRM). Web apps are no longer used for makeshift integration - only for differentiating functionality.
Wright's team has also pushed forward on the KPI side. They've built out their own Plex-based analytics:
It's really been about how do we manage our performance to the customer across multiple facilities, across multiple geographies?
Wright told me that in the past, if a customer complained about on-time delivery, Accuride couldn't show them any stats. That's changed now:
Now we can build analytics around that, and then build reports that indicate when contract terms are being violated.
Their salespeople can now show customers precisely when orders were placed in real-time, avoiding misunderstandings about unrealistic delivery dates. Wright believes these analytics apps have changed Accuride's negotiation position with customers:
Now, I'm the IT guy who constructed it, but I think that has been really powerful for us to go back and talk to customers. Maybe a sales person will say, "Well, it was more me." But I think they would acknowledge that they know more about their customer relationship than they ever did.
Wright's willing to hold Workday and Plex to the fire to make sure the integrations live up to promise. It's the model of customer as partner, but also instigator, free to relay strong views. Example: Wright would like to see Plex allow customers to query directly against Plex's data warehouse - an idea Wright says is now in Plex's ideation system.
As for the Plex-Workday partnership, Wright has high hopes, but strong words:
One of the big things I'm trying to push for is not just "Okay, these are the files that are going back and forth today." My view is, "I want to really build something here, and I want both sides to commit." You can go onstage and both say you've got an alliance, but what does that mean? To me, this means you guys are really talking. You guys don't have a turf war. You understand how to make the best possible system together... Integration means integration. Don't fake this.
So is he nervous about the Workday payroll go-live?
It's payroll. When the check is going into someone's bank account if you're not nervous about that, then you're not concerned enough about people. Or, you're a sociopath. But I think we're good.
When Wright and I parted in May, they were still testing the Workday/Plex integrations, so there is important work ahead. Should be an eventful summer. A bonus slide to end on: