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Communication the Key to Consolidating ERP Systems for Utah Department of Workforce Services When the support of your SAP ERP system relies almost exclusively on one knowledgeable person — and that person takes another job — the challenge of supporting the system can be nearly insurmountable. The State of Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) found itself in that exact predicament when its one-man support team left the department. DWS, the state’s primary job assistance agency, limped along for a couple of years without dedicated support for its implementation of SAP ERP 4.7 and the SAP applications on which the department runs its learning management technologies. “We sent some of our people to classes but realized over time that if someone leaves, then we essentially have to start over to train a new person. We realized it would be extremely costly and time-consuming in the long run to continue to do this on our own,” says Chris Gordon, project manager for DWS.

processes unemployment claims, provides economic and wage data, and provides public assistance services. As a government agency, the department is strictly regulated, which in turn puts a premium on employee training. DWS relies on SAP Learning Solution and SAP NetWeaver Portal to help train more than 2,000 state employees. New employees have anywhere between 60 and 80 training sessions to learn their specific functions, estimates Gordon.

We have very specific training requirements for new employees to learn the policies and regulations for these programs, so the (SAP) Learning Solution is absolutely critical to our success as an agency. — Chris Gordon, DWS

An example screenprint of the department’s portal application is shown in Figure 1.

The department also processes its payroll within the SAP ERP system.

“We have very specific training requirements for new employees to learn the policies and regulations of our programs and services, so the (SAP) Learning Solution is absolutely critical to our success as an agency,” she says.

Despite its broad responsibilities, DWS is a relatively small unit within the state government. With few resources for maintaining and upgrading the SAP system, Gordon says the ERP implementation had fallen woefully behind — making it

Fortunately, another department within the state government — the state Department of Administrative Services, Division of Finance— was using a fully supported implementation of SAP ERP 2004 to run the state’s payroll and other financial functions. Consolidating the DWS and Finance systems would allow the state to run many of its critical functions from a single instance of SAP.

Mission and Cost Drive Consolidation Plan Put broadly, the task of DWS is to connect job seekers and employers within the state. The department posts job ads,

Figure 1 A typical employee homepage created in SAP NetWeaver Portal

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STRATEGY impossible to enhance the SAP Learning Solution for future initiatives such as manager reports, correspondence, and online performance management. So representatives from DWS, the Division of Finance, and the Department of Technology Services investigated the possibility of merging the two systems. The consolidation now offers DWS a fully upgraded and supported version of SAP ERP on which to run its solutions. “Our goal is to run on one SAP environment without having to develop duplicate expertise. We’ve created a service level agreement with State Finance so that they are essentially hosting our system. Together we’ve developed working relationships, with the ability to work together as an SAP team going forward. The merger with State Finance provides a costsaving benefit to us and it provides an upgrade that gets everybody working on the same system,” says Gordon.

We wanted to be able to run on one environment without having to develop duplicate expertise under another agency. So it becomes a cost-saving benefit to us and it provides an upgrade that gets everybody working on the same system. — Chris Gordon

Planning on a Budget To sell the project to state officials and secure the required project budget, Gordon’s team created a business case focused heavily on the cost savings and potential functionality enhancements of the consolidation. From the beginning, the team was aware of the delicate nature of tinkering with a system that processes nearly 20,000 paychecks for state employees. Gordon’s group also needed to rein in the scope of the project, which originally included enhancements to the SAP Learning Solution that would have complicated the upgrade process.

“We discussed some of those things in our kickoff meeting, but realized we needed to stay focused on the merger initially. Once that was in place, we could move forward with some of the other things we’d like to incorporate,” she says. Because the team would hold off on enhancements to the existing system until after the initial technical upgrade, the metrics used to measure the success of the project were defined largely by the smoothness of the transition. “If we haven’t impacted payroll and DWS employees can still do their work, then we’ve been successful,” says Gordon.

Figure 2 An early draft of the project plan

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STRATEGY Assistance from Across the Globe To execute the project, Gordon relied on a team of consultants from LAZAR Consultants led by Michael Prakhina. LAZAR Consultants helped with every facet of the technical upgrade, from extracting and uploading the DWS Portal data to the Finance SAP ERP system to configuring the SAP Learning Solution. “We were incredibly fortunate to select consultants that have experience with a remote project. That was critical for us because it saves us time and money from having people fly out here to be on site,” she says. Because the LAZAR team was distributed geographically, communication among team members was critical to the success of the project. An early version of the project plan is shown in Figure 2. To accomplish this, Gordon and Prakhina engaged in two or three unscheduled conversations per week about the progress of the project. The pair also opted to enable team members to circumvent bureaucratic channels when discussing project points. “We wanted to make it clear up front that project members didn’t have to go through Michael or me to communicate with each other. We used project plans to ensure that we were accomplishing the assigned tasks. Everyone has been very cooperative. We’ve had questions, and we’ve had issues arise, of course, but once we got everyone together we were able to clarify the issues and determine appropriate solutions,” says Gordon. The project kicked off in late January 2008 and is scheduled for completion around the time this issue is published. The team recently found a bug in one of the approval processes in the payroll system, but will be ready to go live once that issue has been resolved.


Lessons Learned While the SAP ERP consolidation project has gone smoothly to this point, Gordon says project managers attempting similar projects should heed three critical pieces of advice:

1. Find consultants who can work within your means. Because DWS was working within a tight budget for the upgrade and consolidation, it was under pressure to keep costs down. Flying a team of on-site consultants to Utah for the project would have been too expensive. Because LAZAR Consultants had experience working remotely, the firm was able to manage the technical aspects with consultants spread from Canada to Russia.

2. Reconcile your project management processes. When teaming up with experienced consultants on a project, as DWS did with LAZAR Consultants, it is important that project leaders from both sides agree on how progress will be measured and team members will communicate. “I suggest negotiating project management processes up front with the other project manager to ensure that there is a system in place that will work for both entities to track completion of tasks and the project as a whole,” says Gordon.

3. Push for clarity of communication. Because Gordon and Prakhina had enabled their respective teams to communicate with each other directly, they quickly learned that clarity of communica-

tion was fundamental to the success of the collaboration. “When you can’t actually sit down with a team member and show them what you mean or do a demo on the screen, you realize you need to be careful and not assume that someone knows what you’re talking about. You might need to add a little more descriptive information in your request to ensure that it’s clear for the reader,” she says. To deal with communication misfires, Gordon and Prakhina occasionally found themselves arranging group meetings to clarify requests and objectives. “You have to be able to say, ‘You know, you really have to explain this better and maybe we need to get on a conference call so that we can talk about it.’ Maybe the team can send some screenprints back and forth and try to replicate the issue or the environment they are looking at,” says Gordon. To assist with effective communication, the project team implemented an “as needed” Project Update system. An example Project Update is shown in Figure 3. In addition to ongoing email and phone conferences, the Update provided a concise overview of the team’s progress.

A Foundation for the Future As with most technical upgrades and consolidations, Gordon hopes the project has no immediate impact on the department’s SAP users. In the future, however, the upgrade will serve as a framework for system-wide improvements. In return, the Finance department will benefit from

We were incredibly fortunate to select consultants that have experience with a remote project. That was critical for us because it saves us time and money from having people fly out here to be on site.

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— Chris Gordon

CONFERENCES & EDUCATION Career Management Services Project Update 03/18/2008 SUMMARY I am pleased to report that all of the Basis activities are complete! The State Finance Basis team has finished their required activities, so that configuration work can proceed. This is a huge step forward! Our LAZAR consultants have begun configuring the R/3 environment on the State Finance system, and the DWS team will begin their configuration activities this week. ACCOMPLISHMENTS • All Basis activities are complete. This means that the LSO is ready to be configured on the State Finance system. • Some of the LSO configuration has been completed by LAZAR. • Michael, Anna, and Chris met to determine which configuration activities will be completed by LAZAR, and which will be completed by DWS. Those involved in the configuration will be notified. Primarily this will involve JJ, Victor, Quinten, and Chris. • A Project Team Organization Chart has been added to the FTP site, in the Project Preparation folder. UPCOMING EVENTS / NEW DEVELOPMENTS • Igor Khmel (Portal Consultant) and Ekaterina Savvina (HCM Consultant) from LAZAR have joined the team and begun work on the project. Welcome! • The Security group is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, March 25th. TASKS IN PROGRESS • Work is underway to determine roles needed for DWS staff in the State Finance system. • The Project Plan is currently being updated. Please check the FTP site for regular project plan updates. DECISIONS •


Figure 3 A sample Project Update

DWS’ expertise with the Learning Solution. And together they plan to use SAP’s Homepage Framework to further customize portal content. “This provides us a foundation from which we’ll be able to make changes and enhancements. Once we’ve got the key pieces in place, we’ll be able to upgrade the system along with the State Finance system. They have a regular schedule for upgrades and support packs, whereas DWS has had a lack of technical support and is severely behind. With the merger, everything will be in place so that we can move forward. That’s been our stumbling block all along — we didn’t have the pieces in place so that we could move forward,” she says. n

ERP Expert article: Consolidating ERP Systems  

Communication the Key to Consolidating ERP Systems for Utah Department of Workforce Services

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