Last week, we heard from Esri about how the company began its SAP S/4HANA journey. Rob Seifert, senior manager of financial systems at Esri, and John Austria, SAP S/4HANA program manager at Esri, walked us through how the company choose SAP S/4HANA, built its business case, and how the ERP solution has improved business processes. In part two, we’ll examine how Esri navigated this project through COVID-19 and John and Rob’s advice for SAP customers who are about to embark on similar projects.

ASUG: Part of this project happened during COVID-19. How did you all initially ensure the safety of your employees who are working on this project while also making sure it was on track and organized?

John: Like just most everyone else, the COVID-19 impacts hit us really quickly and unexpectedly. We were in the midst of our project, which had kicked off in July 2019, and we had our PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) partners on-site with us. By early 2020, we were already starting to hear inklings about the virus and what was going on internationally. Luckily, we started planning a few weeks before the broader U.S. lockdowns started. We didn’t want to be caught off guard if we were forced to go to a fully remote working model for the project.

Things fortunately aligned for our team and project. PwC’s leadership instructed all of their consultants to work from home. We had the same directive from our executives as a full work-from-home policy was instituted by late March of 2020. As a company and as a project team, we had already started leveraging technologies such as Microsoft Teams to collaborate. I would say it was a pretty seamless transition for us. At the time, our major concern was around how were we going to organize and operate our design and build sprints. During these sprints, you’re typically in a room working together and you're whiteboarding.

We were able to leverage very organized and structured Microsoft Teams calls. We made sure every call had a leader and a note-taker and we ensured that everybody had the opportunity to provide input or opinions. This framework was carried throughout our design and build sprints and carried through to all our testing cycles. At go-live, we carried over the same framework. We had calls scheduled for the different business process verticals. For example, we had an order-to-cash Teams call for issues and a central hub Teams call where everybody gathered for issue coordination and daily status. It worked out nicely for everyone involved.

One of the things that also helped was our implementation partner, PwC, a global company with a multitude of clients at various stages of their SAP S/4HANA implementations. They had clients that were a few weeks ahead of us, so they were the guinea pigs when COVID-19 hit. PwC learned a lot from those projects and applied them to our engagement.

I just want to reiterate what a great partner we had in PwC. We had to manage this project very delicately because of this once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic situation. I think the results of our implementation demonstrated our team’s resiliency and highlights how thoughtfully we managed this project in light of the entire team working remotely for almost the majority of the project.

Rob: We started contingency planning early on. There was open communication between PwC and Esri about what we thought was coming and how it would impact the different teams. This made the transition a lot smoother than we had expected. Part of this was making sure, early on, that everyone had their camera on. On the business side of the house, we had daily check-in meetings with all of our staff to make sure they had everything they needed, they understood what to do, how to work, and how we were going to stay in connection with each other.

Another thing that helped was regular update meetings with leadership. The core leadership of the team—John, PwC, myself, and other leaders that were part of the core team—met regularly to make sure things were still working smoothly. We addressed any issues early on and we adapted as quickly as possible.

Change management was a huge part that helped us succeed as we moved over to remote working during COVID-19 and prepared for the project. It was the biggest piece for me, because throughout the entire process, not only were we engaging specifically with all of our different project core teams, but we had each of them coming up with their sub-teams. Our change management team make sure that the core team and all sub-teams were engaged and kept updated on progress or changes to the project. They also helped ensure John and I were providing updates to everyone on a regular basis. This really helped all of our business colleagues feel more engaged.

We know this was a huge effort and it could be complicated by the fact they weren’t in the office with everyone. You can’t rely on eye contact and body language to know that people feel engaged. Now, all of a sudden, you have to rely on different ways to know if people understand what you're saying, if they are engaged, and if they agree with you. It took quite a bit of extra time to proactively engage with people individually to check on them, too, to see how they were doing and make sure that they felt comfortable giving us any feedback. In the end, we wanted to succeed as much for them as for us. The more open we were to their feedback and the quicker we made the adjustments, the more comfortable they felt in our support and our leadership and the effort.

ASUG: How else did COVID-19 affect this project?

John: We couldn't have done this without our fantastic enterprise change management team. We were lucky and we got assigned a very solid and experienced enterprise change management team. They kept us honest. I've managed a lot of projects and the first thing that goes is usually change management. You don't have the time to build out the communications and to have the face time that you need with your stakeholders. That’s so important with a project of this scale: to make sure that everybody's aligned to the same goal.

Daniela Piper, our enterprise change management lead, helped coordinate those monthly meetings with our different stakeholder groups. We also sent newsletters, not only from the change management team, but also from our different business area project leads would send their own tailored team updates as well. She coordinated the training. We had a 50-person change-agent network from across the business that we utilized to manage change management within the different departments. It was instrumental in making sure that we were all marching towards the same goal. It came in handy when we needed to reach out for assistance with testing and engagement during training and production cut-over.

When you're doing a project of this size and scale, the ask is great of the business. I'll give you an example. For our user acceptance testing, we had over 250 people from across the company involved in user acceptance testing. We had every single customer service representative on our SAP S/4HANA UAT system. I've done a lot of projects and that's never happened before. Because of the change management program, we had such excitement and support from the business community that we actually had to tell people who wanted to be involved that we weren’t quite ready for them at certain times during the project. That was another component that was integral to our success: having a solid change management team behind us. We're very fortunate that we had those resources to help push us forward.

ASUG: What advice do you have for companies who are just about to embark on their SAP S/4HANA journey?

Rob: Part of it comes down to having a strong business plan and corporate support. You need executive support, early on engagement with the leaders, and a clear understanding of what we could accomplish in this project. Setting clear boundaries and having strong change management is also key.

The other piece that I think was key is that this project had two people that were helping co-lead it. One was from the technical side and one was from the business side. I have already worked with a lot of our business colleagues over the years and had a good working relationship, businesswise. John already has all those relationships, understanding, and expertise on the technical side. And between the two of us, we knew we would find that right balance and measure for success. It all comes back down to how well can you balance out your people, your process, and your technology. John and I made sure we got the right people engaged that could help provide the leadership in each of our key areas.

As I said earlier, executive buy-in is also vital. If you can't get executive support, nothing else matters. The minute we had executive support—along with clear expectations from them and open dialogue with our business users and our stakeholders—is when we had what we needed to move forward. It may feel very overwhelming. It did to me. When we first started, I did not know where to start at all. It comes down to coming up with that initial plan and taking things one step at a time.

John: I'm going to give you the IT delivery response, which is you have to have a strong partnership with the business! I give much kudos to my friend Rob. From the very beginning, we shared a strong commitment and partnership. Our CFO co-partnered with our CIO on this effort. I've done a lot of IT projects where we haven't had such strong support or engagement from the business, and those projects definitely did not go as well. That was one of my key takeaways from this engagement: you have to have strong buy-in and partnership from the business to make this successful.

If you're embarking on this journey, you also have to make sure that you have the right partners engaged with you. We absolutely selected the right partner in PwC, who has a lot of experience implementing SAP S/4HANA, and PwC provided Esri with the technical and business process transformation expertise to ensure that this was successful. We had equally fantastic support from SAP, Microsoft, and Vnomic, as well.

Across the board, our vendor partnerships were so strong and beneficial. On projects like this, you are going to encounter very difficult problems and issues. You have to trust that you have the right team assembled and involved, both internally and externally, to get through them. Just be prepared for that. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and it's never easy.

I'll give you an example. We did eight mock migrations from SAP ECC to SAP S/4HANA. We thought we had everything down, yet we still hit a couple of major issues that we didn't expect during the cut-over weekend. We had planned for a 73-hour cut-over with 11 hours in our back pocket as contingency. We ended up utilizing all 73 hours plus 10 hours 59 minutes of the contingency to complete our cut-over. At the end of the day, you can plan and plan and plan, but things are still going to come up, so you have to trust that you have the right team assembled and supporting you to make sure you're successful. In this instance, we absolutely did.

Rob: Credit to Dan Abushanab, our CIO. He wanted to make sure that this migration was not a technical only migration because that's another way to ensure that we don't succeed. He also said, “you better be answering the question, ‘what is in it for me?’ as you go along this whole process.” I need to make sure everyone that I support knows the answer to that, and that you know the answer when I'm talking to you as well. I thought that that was great feedback from the CIO to be thinking from a business perspective as well, not just the technical stability side.

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