Doing cloud ERP the right way - field tips from Guardian Seal Tech's Acumatica project

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed February 2, 2016
Acumatica's 2016 Summit featured more customer presentations than ever before. The first, with CIO Francisco Callegari, was an instructive guide to cloud ERP done right.

I'm knee deep at the Acumatica Summit 2016, but this year there's a twist. Past years were focused on the partner ecosystem, but this year marks the first time there is a customer-dedicated track. All told there are 60 customers here, including about 15 prospects, which Acumatica hopes to count as customers shortly.

As part of the kick off session at the customer track, Francisco Callegari, Chief Information Officer at Guardian Seal Tech, shared his field lessons on cloud ERP success from their Acumatica project. In February 2015, Callegari led his team through an ERP evaluation.

They needed a standard system to support their 520 employees, including 400 field technicians. In a matter of one year, Guardian Seal Tech moved to Office 365, Acumatica's cloud ERP system, and they're about to move to cloud HRIS and payroll. But there's a bigger change underway: a dramatic shift in business users' perception of IT, from necessary evil to indispensable partner. Callegari credits the move to cloud systems for this change. Here's his team's hard-won tips.

1. Don't just plan for ERP in the cloud - re-envision how your entire business could work in the cloud. Callegari's team undertook a visual planning process, outlining the pros and cons of moving their business to the cloud. A cloud-focused roadmap was created:

We saw that there was a significant value in bringing our business to the cloud. We put together a roadmap to track the benefits as we executed that plan. For instance, before implementing Acumatica, we said, "Listen, we need to move email, SharePoint, and our Intranet - all of those items that are a heavyweight to our IT department - and let's move to Office 365."

2. Re-allocate internal IT teams into roles that support the business. As Callegari's team moved more systems into the cloud - such as a switch from ADP to cloud payroll with Workforce One - they freed up their internal IT team members. Callegari:

We didn't have to hire new people; we could work with the IT people that we had, and leverage their expertise into the business. That was a tremendous success for us; it created a lot of empowerment of our IT people. We also leveraged a lot of savings because of licensing reductions with Microsoft.

3. Integrate your cloud ERP, CRM, and VoIP systems for better customer experiences. Callegari will be integrating Acumatica ERP and CRM with their VoIP system from ShoreTel (the ShoreTel install was recently complete. The result will be integrated customer service, and better real-time visibility:

Companies like ShoreTel allow you to receive office calls on your mobile phones, as well as conferencing capabilities. ShoreTel has all sorts of features we will be integrating with Acumatica. For instance, if you have a customer calling you, and you have a CRM system, through ShoreTel we can see who is calling me, what opportunities they are interested in, and the previous points of contact. All of this functionality - it's not new. But it's new for small and midsize conferences, and that's a big difference.

4. Involve the executive team in cloud ERP selection to ensure their buy-in. Callegari advises that the executive team and line of business leaders should have input if you want them to support the system after the fact. In Seal Tech's case, Callegari's team coordinated the evaluation of 106 requirements. He involved the CEO, the CFO, and other leaders in the evaluation process:

I had the CEO involved, I got the CFO, I got the lines of business - everybody was involved in this process. Then we sat down with multiple vendors. We had Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft Dynamics SL; we had NetSuite; we have Workday; we have Acumatica. We did a comparison in terms of what's my total cost of ownership? What will it take to implement this solution versus that solution? It came out Acumatica, with two thumbs up by everybody. That gave the buy-in from the key users - because those are the users that, in the end, are going to make it happen.

Callegari in presso mode

5. Frame your ERP requirements in the end-to-end process. Callegari is not a fan of a laundry list of requirements. Instead, pull requirements from an end-to-end process flow:

Whenever you collect your requirements, think about from beginning to end. In our case, we went and did the analysis, from the time that the phone rings to the time the cash is in the bank. What did all the data go? Where did all the process points go? Then we mapped the whole thing into our requirement listing. We were able to use that to compare against Acumatica.

6. Don't force-fit a solution on a line of business. Consult with them on requirements and system fit - you may be able to turn a department's attitude around. Callegari ran into resistance from his sales department, but a collaborative process changed minds:

At first, the sales group said, "No, everything can be implemented, but not sales. We are special; we have our own thing. Don't mess with us." When we went ahead with our analysis engaged with them, they started seeing what the new system could do: "Oh, if I do this, then I get that."

7. The project isn't done until you achieve adoption. Some projects count their success on go-live; Callegari rejects that model:

It's so easy to say, "The project is implemented, I'm done." Wrong. You're done when the system is adopted; when the users have gone through the process. To do that, your IT mindset has to change. Your IT team must say: "I need users to really utilize the system in a way that is practical to them. How can I reduce the number of clicks?" If the user has to work on five screens and still go to their Excel worksheets, that's not good enough.

You have to find ways to turn that around, so that you can drive adoption of the system and provide the customer very powerful features. You have general inquiries that you can build, and filters that can be mapped to your process flows. That's the beauty of what we have found with Acumatica - you can drive adoption of the system.

The wrap - for now

Callegari had two more tips worth noting: do some dry runs before go-live, engaging more users each time (he described this process as "fun" for the teams - if you can make an ERP project fun, you have definitely put yourself on a short list). Finally, as we might expect, choose a good partner, one that grasps your business needs, not just your technical requirements (in his case, Roc Solutions). Callegari still has a cloud HR go-live in the works, but he's already won over some hard-to-please stakeholders:

When we went live, the Chief Operating Office told us, "This system is better than advertised." Another statement was, "It was like turning the lights on," because when we went live - boom! They started seeing all the flow of the data, the reporting. That was the beauty of doing those dry runs. Even if you cannot afford parallel systems, always try to get adoption. You want your users to believe that this is the way to go.

End note: after finalizing this piece, I conducted an in-depth interview with Callegari that goes deeper into his journey and how he turned IT from scapegoat to asset. I"ll share that in a future installment.

Image credit - photos by Jon Reed.

Disclosure - Acumatica covered my airfare and hotel to attend the Acumatica Summit. Acumatica is a diginomica premier partner.