Ottawa civil servant recalls wrath of angry SAP users

BOSTON — Merging the IT systems of a dozen municipalities is bound to make a few people unhappy, but an Ottawa civil servant found things at one point quite frosty.

“There were times I couldn’t get into an elevator because people

wouldn’t let me in,” Deirdre Stirling, the city’s director of corporate services, told SAP‘s annual Sapphire conference here Thursday.

She was speaking at a panel of four Canadian IT managers about their experiences installing SAP applications.

In 2001 Ontario forced Ottawa to merge 12 surrounding municpalities into one, meaning the city had to  combine 16 payroll applications covering 17,000 employees. In some cases departments were using spreadsheets and “black books” to manage spending. There was no asset management system for real estate.

“It was pretty scary,” said Stirling. “Implementing something as big as SAP is not pretty.” In some of the municipalities people had the ability to solve problems with a phone call. A major enterprise resource management application like SAP means those days are over, to the resentment of many — hence, she suggested, the closed elevator doors.

One of the pieces of advice she gave is for IT managers to plan for a certain amount of overtime for educating staff. For example, she found herself at 4 a.m. one morning in a workyard explaining to street workers, “I’m changing your paycheck, and you need to know how.”

The city finished its implementation early last year.

Doug Caldwell, chief technology officer of Indigo Books and Music, told how changing to a new IT system meant adding more staff but saving money.

The previous system had been customized so much there were only six people in the world who knew how to run it, he said — and therefore could command any price.

The company, which has 260 stores across Canada and an online selling operation which brings in $800 million in revenues a year, switched to SAP to improve its supply chain and have better inventory control

But it has a lot to do with those six consultants, who he figured were costing the company $1.5 million a year. With the SAP implementation finished in December, it now takes four more people to supervise the system — but at less than half the cost of the consultants.

Mark Segal, chief financial officer of Spin Master, a Toronto-based toy manufacturer, seems small with only 300 employees. But it has operations and major retail customers in 42 countries.

He said it decided to install SAP R3 rather than the customized All-in-One version because the major suite had more options.

“We have a complex supply chain that runs from China around the world,” he said.

Also at the conference a Canadian VAR said he is pleased with the new SAP channel program announced here this week.

“It will help us by motivating us to do better on a continual basis,” said Nir Orbach, chief executive officer of Illumiti, a Richmond Hill, Ont., professional services company that specializes in SAP consulting.

It also resells SAP’s Windows-only Business One enterprise management suite.

“If we can get additional margin by being a better partner it will be an incentive for us to grow our Business One practice, and put more resources into sales,” he said in an interview.”

The company had about $8 million in sales last year.

According to Jeffrey Watts, SAP Canada’s senior vice-president for channels and marketing, the new channel program will help him in his goal of recruiting between five and 10 more Business One partners this year. The company already has 12 VARs selling the suite.

The new channel program is one of the key weapons SAP is using to expand sales of Business One and All-in-One into small and mid-size companies.

Elements of the three-tier program are available now to partners, but the full program is not expected to be operational until early next year because it has to be tailored to Canada.

“Getting it (the strategy) right for the mid-market is critical for SAP Canada,” he said, “and is the No. 1 focus.”


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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer. Former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, Howard has written for several of ITWC's sister publications, including Before arriving at ITWC he served as a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times.

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