Bayer speeds in central information system

With 200,000 tons of rubber to be produced annually, disk storage fast running out and an enterprise asset management (EAM) system to be implemented in under six months, you’d think working at the Sarnia, Ont., site of rubber manufacturer Bayer Inc. would be like living a nightmare.

Des Somers, project manager and manager of IS business systems, remembers it differently.

“It was the quietest install I’ve ever been involved in,” he recalls. “The week we (went) ‘live’, we had about five or six dedicated people here at the help desk in IT provide assistance and we had specialists in each of the area that people go to, but we were walking around here on day three or day four wondering ‘are we missing something?’ We expected all kinds of fire and brimstone. It was remarkably quiet. I’ve been in IT for 25 years and I’ve done installs and stuff and you have a panic. We didn’t seem to have it.”

Bayer had chosen to implement EAM to manage the equipment, facilities and processes that make their operations run. They selected EMPAC from Indus International and hoped it would enable detailed tracking of all their operations for purchasing, storehouse, maintenance planning/scheduling and project engineering requirements.

With only 24 weeks to implement the maintenance, stores, purchasing, project tracking, and invoice matching modules, the pressure was on to install and optimize hardware and software, convert data from legacy applications and develop interfaces to other business applications. As well, data building and security definitions were required. Critical business processes had to be identified and supported. Unique reporting needs had to be met. The project team and users had to be trained on the new application. All this while accommodating day-to-day responsibilities.

On Sunday, October 1, 2000, the project went live on schedule and within budget.

“I don’t think anybody has been able to put a piece of software in with this much functionality in five and a half months,” Somers speculates.

One year and one day later, the final phase was completed with a fully integrated accounts payable (AP) system.

So how did they do it? Somers admits it helped that they were working with a product that had some familiar concepts, but clearly, they did some things right. Here are his tips.

Get the right people on your side. “One of the key things is that you have to have the right mix of resources and the right people. This package spanned purchasing, maintenance, stores, project engineering and some AP. As part of the project team members we had representation from all those five areas. Some areas we had two and it was with the understanding that one person was there 80 per cent of their time and the other person would come intermittently and fill in when the other person wasn’t here. If the department doesn’t hurt when those people aren’t there, you haven’t got the right person.

Have strong project management. “You have to be able to say ‘no’. This is why we went to the phased approach. You can’t let ‘scope creep’ get in there or you’ll never finish. We said ‘okay, this is what we need to go live’. It was more functionality than we had with the original system. We didn’t short-change anybody but we didn’t put everything in. We promised we would deliver these things by such and such a date and we did that.”

Communicate with all levels. “We had weekly meetings. We had people who were going to be the users pretty informed as to the progress. When we signed the contract with Indus, we stripped down one of our own servers (and) we had the package installed. So, one week after we signed the contract, people were able to play with the product.”

Train selectively. “About a month before going live we trained about 200 key people. We’ve got a complement here of about 1300 and we determined that about 500 people would use the product. You can’t train 500 people. We don’t train everybody at the same level. If you’re a maintenance person you don’t need to know what the accounting or purchasing folk are doing. We defined specific training programs that went two days or two hours.

Have management support. “We had a steering team of upper management. When we needed a decision made at a certain level or procedures enforced they were behind us the whole way. You can’t designate that responsibility down to a lower level.”

Resist the defaults. “The Indus product is highly table driven. We spent probably a month getting those tables correct. (We did not take defaults) unless we knew what that meant further on with some of the calculations and logic.”

Know thyself. Every group spent about a week going through their process identifying certain aspects of (their business processes). Everybody had an understanding of the tables and the business process as well as what we call touchpoints where what you (do) affects somebody else along the way.

Clean up. We did some data cleanup and conversions. We probably got rid of 4-500 obsolete items in our stores. (It) must have been three or four months our DBA (database administrator) spent on cleaning data and moving it from the old system to the new system version.

So, was that frantic implementation worth it? It would seem so, judging by the system’s usage.

“On the previous system, I don’t think we had 150 people that would go into the thing,” says Somers. “On a given day, we’ve got over 500 people trained on this. We have more than 150 unique users (different sign-ons) go in and at any given time we’re averaging 60 people. We never had anywhere near that kind of acceptance on the previous (system).

“The original configuration we had did not include purchasing, so we had about 14 interfaces we had to maintain on a regular basis,” he adds. “Some of those interfaces we had overnight and they were never current. We went from 14 interfaces and we’re down to three. We’ve got the integration with the purchasing system. It is almost instantaneous. You can see the data now rather than wait overnight when the interface ran. All those things help people do their jobs better.

He says the response time is seconds with even the most complex analysis taking maybe half a minute. Since most of the processing is done on the desktop, faster desktop equipment can improve the speed of processing.

Now that the push is over and the ‘nice to have’ reports are available, Somers and team have their eyes on the potential of big savings in inventory costs by using EMPAC for supplier inventory.

“We have $22 million in storage stock; we’re looking at reducing that and getting consignment inventory,” says Somers. “We may have 500 different kinds of seals that we keep track of on our shelves. We’ve bought them all from a supplier. The intent is that the supplier will stock those 500 on the shelves and we will pay for them as we use them. This product keeps tracks of usage. At the end of the month it not only sends an automatic request to replenish the stock as soon as you use it, it does a release through purchasing – sending a note to the supplier that you need to replace this stock. At the end of the week or month or whatever the billing is, it says we used this value and here is the cheque. We pay for what we used.”

They’re also looking at more use of bar coding to speed up receiving and handling stock.

But first, there are some holidays to be taken.