First came a spinoff to private-equity ownership two years ago.
Then came the acquisition of a major competitor two months ago.
Now the clock ticks on a 12-month project to shift the merged commercial industrial lighting business—as much as possible, of all people, key functions, processes, and technology—to SAP S/4HANA. And, additionally, to improve efficiencies and business results along the way.
That’s the short story from GE Current CIO Mark LeClair, who discussed challenges, complexities, progress, lessons to date, and advice he’d offer other organizations of midmarket size that are facing multi-company business, technology, and functional integrations.
Innovate, Simplify, and Streamline
“This is an opportunity for us to let the experts do what they do; to let the hosting providers do what they do—SAP and AWS collectively,” LeClair said, adding, “To let all the right people do what they do best so that we can leverage and use the solution to innovate with the business, improve our business processes, and streamline features and functionalities within the organization by using the core SAP product on the S/4HANA platform.”
LeClair could not have known that he and his team would be where they are now when he took the tech leadership role in 2019, just after GE sold its commercial industrial lighting business to American Industrial Products (AIP). At the time, GE Current ran SAP ECC 6.0 and “all the traditional bolt-ons—Concur, Ariba—that you’ll find in a big corporation like that,” he said.
For the next 18 months, GE Current focused on its ECC instance, optimizing and right-sizing applications and processes for the standalone business. Meanwhile, LeClair emphasized “application portfolio rationalization.”
“We took the portfolio of applications—whether integrated with SAP or not—and rationalized all 200-plus of them. We started to convert [or] shut off, or changed a lot of those applications to right-size them for the size of the company that [we] now are. We had to rationalize that portfolio and shrink the application footprint to fit the business needs,” he explained.
GE Current used the parent company’s “full-fledged Hyperion,” Oracle’s financial reporting and analysis system, appropriate to “a big conglomerate,” LeClair noted. The independent GE Current adopted OneStream to perform the same work.
Acquisition Included SAP S/4HANA
As the standalone technology and application rationalization work continued last year, the prospect of pairing with archrival Hubble Lighting through acquisition became attractive, a more promising growth path instead of what can be typical under private-equity ownership. And now, with that deal complete just weeks ago, LeClair, the internal team, and key partners are taking on the acquired company’s SAP S/4HANA migration and other tasks. The merged organization is still AIP-owned.
LeClair, who characterized the company’s current state as “in the throes of separation from the greater Hubble organization,” said that “even though Current purchased Hubbell Lighting, from a technology footprint, we’re kind of doing a reverse transaction because we want to go to the S/4 platform—it’s a newer, modern version of SAP and it saves me from having to do any massive changing in the ECC landscape. We’re carving out the Hubbell Lighting business from Hubble and we’re carving in the current business onto the S/4 platform.” Specifically, the company aims to have an S/4HANA Private Cloud instance with SAP, all by year-end.
The organization already envisions improvements via SAP S/4HANA Cloud, including:
- Improved business processes using SAP S/4HANA—for native applications, particularly supply-chain improvements, as well as order-to-cash processes
- Simplified workflows using core, basic SAP functionality; accelerating go-to-market for the combined organization’s products and services
- Manufacturing and inventory control, through standardization and SAP S/4HANA native manufacturing capabilities
Master Data Rationalization Is Key
But progress isn’t without challenges. According to LeClair, “Master data rationalization is going to be a very complicated process because we use very similar materials. When we started to rationalize some of the parts and pieces, there was a lot of what they call a ‘part’ we have as a ‘finished product’ using that part number—those kinds of things.”
“Master data rationalization is going [to] be extremely key to get to where we need to end up,” he emphasized.
To achieve the technological and envisioned business improvements, LeClair assembled a cross-functional internal team supplemented by key partners, and, of course, SAP. His lean internal IT staff collaborate with internal functional leads—sales and marketing, finance, and the like. They also collaborate with partners that handle project management, application management services, and configuration, among other elements.
LeClair is also quick to note the organization’s reliance on peers, communities, and resource connections through ASUG, especially given the tight timeline.
“I really had to leverage—through this particular transaction with Hubbell Lighting, moving from an ECC platform to S/4, understanding the capabilities of RISE with SAP. Using all of those learnings through the partnership with ASUG and SAP clearly helped me make the decisions that we did,” he said.
Now that the deal’s done, and that integration and SAP S/4HANA implementation are underway—with milestones achieved and many to meet—what does LeClair remind himself and GE Current regarding everyday essentials?
“We’ve got to keep it simple. We’ve got to keep it standard, meaning out of the box. And we’ve got to put in solutions that solve business problems. Those are the three things that I think are key to everybody’s success,” he said.