Contrary to popular belief, the most recycled U.S. consumer product is not plastic, paper, or aluminum: by weight, it’s lead, a resource used in nearly every area of modern society.
Airplane manufacturers need lead batteries for aircraft electronic and alloys, hospitals and data centers rely on it for testing equipment, and lead is present throughout the automotive industry, including as a core component in batteries; by 2030, it’s expected that 2 billion vehicles will rely on lead batteries, including electric cars and renewable energy such as solar and wind power systems.
Lead is also highly sustainable, and more than 99% of the metal can be recovered and repurposed, an exceptional recycling rate that helps to keep 100+ million batteries out of landfills each year. Today, lead continues to be recycled from existing resources within the lower emission and sustainable model of production and consumption known as the circular economy; its performance remains consistent however long it’s used, mitigating the need for additional lead, and other battery components to be mined.
A global leader in the recycling of lead and lithium batteries, Ecobat is powering the circular economy with its commitment to safety and sustainability. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with over 2,700 employees distributed across facilities located on three continents, the $2.3 billion company’s overarching mission—to lead the responsible collection, recycling, production, and distribution of resources essential to modern life—is enabled by more than 65,000 battery collection points globally. Ecobat is also tackling the rising volume in recyclability of lithium battery demand with operations across Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.
Such an advanced logistical network requires a modern, sustainable, and intelligent technology infrastructure. Ecobat, however, had historically been structured in functional and geographic silos with inefficient collaboration and communication between its teams; the company’s use of email, spreadsheets, and paper-based systems at times resulted in additional missing data, errors, and time delays across workflows. Especially with battery technology evolving to include new chemistries such as zinc, lithium, and graphene, the need for Ecobat to embark on digital transformation became apparent even before the widespread disruption of a global pandemic.
Under the leadership of Jamie Lee, Chief Information Officer at Ecobat, the organization began a multi-year initiative to simplify and evolve its technology landscape—internally referred to as Project Essential—in early 2021. Ecobat’s first step: engaging RISE with SAP to facilitate its move to SAP S/4HANA Cloud.
Expanding Ecobat’s Digital Reach
According to Lee, who detailed the company’s transformation journey at last week’s ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Oil, Gas & Energy conference (September 14-15; in Dallas, TX), major pain points at Ecobat included risk exposure, fractured data, inefficient processes, and legacy ERP systems. At the core of all these issues was Ecobat’s aging technology, which posed cybersecurity and business continuity threats while providing limited or no visibility for measuring and improving performance within operations and procurement.
Following a technology business review, Ecobat established its “Digital Reach” objectives, intended to turn the company into a best-run business by enabling standardization, harmonization, and globalization for its processes and data. Critical to the project was an emphasis on Ecobat’s core sustainability objectives, as well as the consolidation of 26 separate ERP systems into a single cloud ERP across its geographies.
“Our underinvestment in technology in the past had left us with 26 different ERPs, but if the circular economy is to be as efficient as we want it to be, we need to be efficient internally, with our IT systems,” explained Lee.
“Going to the best cloud ERP platform in the world with SAP made sense as a call to urgency,” he added. “Post-pandemic, as the world comes alive again and starts to address electrification versus petroleum-based fuel or energy delivery, Ecobat has to move faster than the marketplace is moving. And so, we had to race to the cloud.”
Project Essential was approved by Ecobat in January 2021, and the company was recognized as the first RISE with SAP customer the following month. A long-time veteran of SAP, Lee credits the RISE offering, and the SAP support services it includes, with the success of the initiative.
“It suddenly became much more palatable to contract with SAP,” he said. “RISE puts a team around companies, rather than a sales agent who gets his license deal, wishes us good luck, and walks away.”
Project Essential officially launched in May 2021, with the SAP S/4HANA Cloud landscape available in June 2021, 90% of Ecobat’s global template established by August 2022, and the company’s last global go-live completed in early 2023. Ecobat was ultimately able to discontinue its on-premises data center, decreasing its energy consumption footprint; today, Ecobat is 95% in the cloud and working to address its remaining 5% of on-premises operations.
As part of Project Essential, Ecobat made the decision to move from its previous ERP landscape—SAP ECC and 26 instances of AS/400 legacy systems at its partner locations worldwide—into a single instance of SAP S/4HANA Cloud. Leveraging RISE with SAP to map and move all individual systems into the cloud ERP, Ecobat also adopted new standardized processes as it worked through the differences between its old and new ERP systems.
Reducing instances of Ecobat data has enabled its team to make better decisions and improved visibility of the company’s overall costs. Approaching the transformation as a greenfield net-new implementation while following industry best practices also allowed Ecobat’s team to optimize multiple business processes along the way and further reduce the overall complexity of its ERP landscape.
“Disparate datasets make for misguided management,” Lee said. “When you’ve got a board that wants you to do right with capital allocation, you’ve got to have real-time data. You want to be on top of the market. In fact, you want to predict the market. How can you do that when everything is so disparate? Going to the cloud-first S/4 SAP business platform made perfect sense.”
Lee now looks back favorably on the experience. “The RISE journey to S/4 was simpler than I thought it would be,” he said. “The cloud environment was simpler than I thought it would be. RISE is going to help us leverage the back office and get real-time visibility of our supply-chain data, to keep us resilient and ahead.”
The Future of Energy at Ecobat
Ecobat’s SAP S/4HANA implementation, enabled by RISE with SAP, has already yielded key benefits for the company, from boosting its cybersecurity protections to enhancing business continuity across operations.
The digitization of cloud ERP also allows for more effective teamwork, collaboration, and communication between teams located in different geographies, while certain areas of the business are already taking advantage of the automation capabilities enabled by SAP S/4HANA Cloud.
With one source of financial data, a greater focus can be placed on standard costs, and multiple operations have been streamlined, evolving Ecobat into a leaner, more profitable global enterprise. Supply chain planning, in terms of volume and recognition of where demand comes from, is more achievable with the availability of real-time data, leading to greater customer satisfaction. And by digitally optimizing its own operations and integrating sustainability data capture technology across the business, Ecobat has become a more sustainable company, internally managing its own circular economy and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG).
“Having a secure foundation is the right way to build a house,” Lee said of Ecobat’s success with SAP S/4HANA Cloud. Now, he’s looking to the future, with the company’s U.K.-based personnel, organization, supply chain practices, and accounting all going live on SAP in October, and go-lives still ahead for France and Germany. “It’s been three years since we started,” Lee said. “We’re still mid-transformation, but it’s all rolling in the right direction.”