EMC’s SAP ERP Big Bang: Practice makes perfect

When it comes to launching the biggest project in EMC IT’s history in a simultaneous “big-bang” cutover with global business ramifications, you can never practice enough.

At least that was our experience at EMC in early July 2012 as we kicked off the first phase of PROPEL—the new, SAP-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that will take EMC into the future.

PROPEL was tasked with providing a highly configurable and “vanilla” out-of-the-box SAP solution that can more efficiently handle the company’s growth with minimum customization. It replaces a decade-old, highly customized legacy ERP system.

In addition to the technology change, the project involved a tremendous amount of business process change. More than 500 EMC employees from Finance, Manufacturing, Sales and IT, as well as our partners, worked for 27 months to bring about this groundbreaking transition. And while there were many challenges along the way, launching the new ERP platform all at once in big-bang fashion around the globe was the most significant one.

Getting ready for show time

The requirement was that all of the modules of SAP that we were implementing in the foundational release (phase-1) needed to go live simultaneously. To pull this off, a tremendous amount of planning went into coordinating the actual cutover events from a business perspective.

In our case, big bang was a necessity. While some companies choose to implement such business system transitions one business segment at time, business operations at EMC were already on the same system and practicality dictated that we make the shift simultaneously.

We timed the PROPEL go-live target right after EMC’s Q2 close in June to give the business the biggest window of time until the next end of quarter to account for learning curve. That meant we had to go right from the demands of closing out the quarter directly into a five-day cutover period to bring this new system up.

To get ready for the switch, hundreds of people from across the PROPEL team and the business did five simulated big-bang cutovers between January and early June, practicing all the technical steps the launch entailed.

We also had to figure out how to distribute our PROPEL core team members around the globe to make sure when the launch occurred they would be there to help users “catch” and resolve any issues that might arise. We deployed people at 18 locations worldwide to be available on the phone, at the sites and on the factory floor, so that as people logged in and had issues we had a very high-touch model to try and bring them up that learning curve as quickly as possible.

This PROPEL support team provided back up for a first-line layer of support already in place within each region. Six months prior to the launch, we had begun efforts to establish a network of 400 “super users”—employees trained in the new technology to be available as a resource to which users could turn to for further support during go-live and long term.

For the first few days after the launch, we fielded a couple of hundred calls a day as people got up to speed on how to do their jobs with the new technology. But we quickly got people over those how-to questions and the deployment went very well.

Don’t underestimate the power of rehearsal

I am convinced that the focus we put on practicing so extensively is what enabled us to have an almost seamless project launch in July.

We began back in January with just getting the right sequence of steps for the launch during initial simulations and got progressively more rigorous with each subsequent practice. The simulations covered all aspects of the launch, including converting original data and transactional data, doing all configuration into SAP, loading in users, pointing the interfaces from the old system to SAP, and doing sample transactions to make sure all interfaces went through properly.

While we had only planned to have four simulations, what was to be our final practice did not go as well as we hoped. The allotted 96-hour process took us twice as long.

We decided the best response was to do it again and used EMC technology to quickly spin up a new practice environment. The fifth practice had the right sense of urgency, the right focus and really allowed us to do a true dress rehearsal.

When the big-bang milestone arrived, we were not only on time but actually a little bit ahead of schedule. We released the system to the business as planned in a process that went far smoother than we could have anticipated.

It was a lot like getting all of the pieces to come together for the opening night production of a play. When you practice, you might not have the costumes for some rehearsals or the full set production, but getting dress rehearsal right is crucial. In looking back, nailing that final simulation with all cues, costumes and props in place is what prepared us to do what we needed to when it was show time.

The big-bang launch of the PROPEL ERP solution was a major achievement that we are pleased to say got good reviews.  But the real test for the new system was in how it performed in handling its next big debut—the quarter-end transactions and financial close at the end of EMC’s Q3. Stay tuned for further insights into this transformational project.

About the Author: Kate Parsons