Despite being one of the world’s largest suppliers of phosphates and potash fertilizer, the Mosaic Company has maintained a single global instance of SAP ERP since 2006. And that’s no small task for a billion-dollar business that operates in more than 40 countries.
An Innovation Foundation
Having a single instance of SAP has not only helped Mosaic streamline its operations—it’s also given the company a solid foundation for adding innovations to the system quickly and with less friction. Michael Crawford, Mosaic’s senior corporate treasury manager, talked to ASUG News about how running a single instance of SAP’s ERP has positioned Mosaic to take advantage of new technologies. He also shares the steps he took to encourage Mosaic’s global workforce to adopt the system.
Ann Marie: Michael, can you tell us which emerging technologies you currently use at Mosaic?
Michael: A few years ago, we set up SWIFT connectivity. We became a member of SWIFT and replaced all of our host-to-host connections with banking partners that had direct SWIFT connections. We implemented the Bank Communications module on SAP to make it effective. That’s been a real success for us. It keeps us true to our vision by offering a single way for us to communicate with our key banking partners.
We’re also rolling out some robotic testing this year. These rollouts will be one-off projects that start small on the accounts payable side, eventually expanding to our manufacturing side.
Ann Marie: What benefits have you seen from the SWIFT project or from the other projects that you’ve accomplished so far?
Michael: The benefits have been huge. First of all, we no longer have to maintain different types of interfaces for each bank on our system. When we went through an RFP for banking partners in the U.S. and Canada, we were able to lay out our requirements instead of having the banks tell us theirs. We were committed to the XML format, which we continue to use. It’s very straightforward and is gaining acceptance at major banks. The fact that we can maintain a single instance of SAP makes it easier for us to take on one-off projects and integrate them into the system.
Ann Marie: How does your commitment to using XML help you manage your relationships with multiple banks in multiple countries? Does it provide a common language?
Michael: That’s exactly what it does. In the old days when we communicated with banks host-to-host, everything was customized for each bank. With XML, it’s configuration, not customization. The configuration makes it easier for us to support that single instance of SAP. Upgrading SAP with enhancements is easier, too—the regression testing is much simpler.
I always say that our favorite flavor here is vanilla. We like to keep things simple.
Ann Marie: Has adopting the SWIFT technology supported your company’s business strategy?
Michael: Absolutely. It uses standard files worldwide. Our processes for treasury operations are standard worldwide. We went with an 80/20 rule: We try to get 80 percent of our processes on the ERP system, recognizing that 15 to 20 percent are always going to be country-centric. This also helps with disaster recovery planning. And there’s one source of truth for everything because of the way SWIFT integrates with our ERP system. That’s a huge win for the company.
Ann Marie: You mentioned testing. Do you have a benchmark for how long testing used to take you before versus what it takes now?
Michael: Let me give you an example. When we first went onto SAP, the testing when we converted our legacy systems to SAP was extensive, agonizing, and painstaking. Now, because we have one platform and one set of processes, testing is very simple. It’s probably a 20 to 50 percent decrease in testing time.
Ann Marie: That’s pretty amazing. Did you encounter any hurdles when you were implementing the changes?
Michael: Yes. I could talk about those for a whole day. One thing you always need to do is learn the system and get comfortable with it. Also, we have operations in many different countries. Language barriers can be a big challenge during implementation.
Even though my colleagues in other countries speak fluent English, when we were rolling out SWIFT, I literally went around the world to walk through the process and make sure that it was clear. When you’re talking about an immense project like a single SAP instance worldwide, you want to look across the table and see that everyone is getting it. You can tell by body language, which you don’t get over the phone.
Ann Marie: How did you encourage your colleagues to adopt the changes after they went into effect?
Michael: One of the things we did was listen. That was a big part of our success. When you want people to accept changes, you’ve got to negotiate, not dictate. We listened to people, showed them the system’s advantages, and then identified the parts that they need to keep country centric because of regulations in their region. If you don’t listen, you won’t be able to achieve 80 percent standard processes.
Ann Marie: Will you test that when you roll out your robotics? If a robot is going to take over a human task, you have to understand the task quite well in order to train the robot, right?
Michael: I was speaking at a conference in New York, and one of the questions from the floor was, “Michael, when will your job be replaced by a robot?” I had a good response. Robots are the products of algorithms. Artificial intelligence is almost an oxymoron. It still uses algorithms that were built by humans to make decisions, so it needs a human touch. We always are going to need human intuition.
Ann Marie: The standard industry line is that we’re handing the dull and systematic processes over to robots so that we can keep our people focused on higher-value tasks. What is Mosaic’s approach to automating these processes, and what do you hope to achieve as a result?
Michael: We’re in the infancy of this. I’m part of our IT collaboration group for finance, and the group wants to start small. They’ll roll it out to see what they can do because it’s not going to be used just on the finance side. For example, we can automate some of our manufacturing processes, such as loading products into rail cars. All of us recognize there are huge gains to be made with these types of automation, but we want to be cautious. We’re taking baby steps.
We will scrutinize our first few projects to see how effective they are, but we will also ask questions: How do you monitor this automation? How do you make sure it continues to perform the way you anticipated?
Ann Marie: Other than the robotics, are there any technologies that you are thinking of adding in the future?
Michael: There’s lots of interest in blockchain these days. I hear a lot of talk about this among my colleagues in different industries. Some are very accepting of it and what it can do, and others—I have to include Mosaic here—are more skeptical at this point. But we are looking at it to see how our colleagues use it.
Ann Marie: Thank you so much for sharing with us how Mosaic is keeping things simple.
Join us in Atlanta March 9–11, 2020 for the SAP-Centric Financials conference to hear speakers like Michael share how they have navigated similar paths and solved some of the same challenges you may be facing.