SAP, Siemens help the Phoenix rise

If you’re in the business of giving aid to those less fortunate, it’s a good idea to make sure your back office isn’t in need of a little aid, too.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) knew as far back as 1996 that its IS backbone was no longer up to snuff. At that time CIDA, the government agency that supports economic development in impoverished nations, was relying on an ageing CICS mainframe, part of an in-house IS system called the Aid Information Systems (AIDIS).

But it wasn’t until 1997 that a working group concluded that CIDA was due for an upgrade.

“Over the years, CIDA made fewer investments (in IT). So it was time to take a look at these systems,” said John Redmond, director general of the Phoenix Project, and information management and technology with CIDA in Hull, Quebec. “Clearly, the IS system we had wasn’t meeting our needs.”

Routine maintenance of tables would often cause slowdowns in the department, as changing data using AIDIS “fix” jobs was cumbersome. And more importantly, it was impossible to add functionality to AIDIS.

Thus the Phoenix Project was born. Redmond was appointed to help oversee the transition away from AIDIS to a new Agency Information System, or AIS for short. The AIS was to include, among other things, Y2K compliance initiatives, Web and remote access enablement, the replacement of OS/2 workstations with NT workstations and the installation of an ERP package.

For the latter, CIDA chose R/3 modules from SAP Canada Inc. Initially, CIDA looked to SAP for help only with financial and funds management, but it didn’t take long for management to increase their expectations.

Redmond said it was getting increasingly difficult to mange development projects abroad. CIDA doesn’t develop all third-world projects; in some cases, they study third-party submissions and decide which ones are eligible for funding or other means of support. “We needed a system to help manage those projects, and that’s essentially where we asked ourselves, ‘How far can we go with SAP?'”

A bidding process was held, and Siemens Business Services LLC won the right to install seven SAP modules, including Financial Accounting, Funds Management and Project System.

For Daryl Sanford, part of Siemens’ business solutions group in Ottawa, the CIDA installation project posed challenges on many levels. “The biggest issue was the amount of data,” Sanford said. “CIDA has diverse business objects.”

The AIDIS legacy system contained information on some 50,000 vendors, partners and suppliers, and many of those records were multiples. Also, CIDA maintains 60 different contracting processes that had to be considered and translated into the SAP environment.

Then there was the timing. “We chose a very aggressive implementation schedule,” Redmond admitted. Siemens and CIDA began the hands-on part in late January 1999. The targeted go-live date was June 1.

“The project was broader than just ERP, so timing…had to match with the other Phoenix activities,” Redmond explained. As well, CIDA wanted the system up and running and the people trained before CIDA’s new fiscal year got underway in September. And the transition had to be seamless; CIDA employees still needed to access the old systems until the day of the switch.

At first, Sanford had his doubts about the timeline – but says that was put to rest when he saw how committed the CIDA team was to meeting the deadline. “The leaders from the different groups called us into a room every morning and said, ‘What are you doing today?'” Sanford said.

Redmond agrees. “We had four executive committee members directly involved on this project,” he said. “We had two vice-presidents to report to, one from the business side, and the other from IT.”

The executive also gave Redmond and Sanford the power to make decisions without having to check with them for approval, they said.

Siemens and CIDA followed SAP’s ASAP implementation methodology, which provides clients with a five-step, life-cycle plan for ERP tools. Following that template also helped the project team get up and running quickly, Sanford added.

According to Sanford, with the project factors taken care of, the biggest technical obstacle was data conversion. “SAP handles and uses data in a much different way than AIDIS,” he said. As well, the translation included transactional data, and information from almost 10,000 active and existing projects had to be accommodated.

The June go-live date, which the team only missed by two days, marks the halfway point for CIDA and Siemens; CIDA intends to add human resource modules and e-commerce capabilities as well; specifically, Redmond would like a way for CIDA partners, who must report to them every three months, to do so on-line. “So there’s still a lot of opportunity for us.”