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Beware ”Scope Creep” on ERP Projects

Philip E. Theiss, CFO of Natural Organics, tells what happens when the IT candy store opens for business. (Second of a series.)

If you’re installing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, beware of “scope creep.”

That’s the advice Philip E. Theiss, vice president of finance for Natural Organics, a privately held company based in Melville, N.Y., has gleaned from his company’s recent “technology lobotomy” — the transformation of its legacy systems into an ERP.

After the company officially kicked off its installation of an SAP R/3 ERP system on March 6, 2000, members of its finance, sales, marketing, and other departments sought reports and functions beyond what was originally intended.

“They were like kids in a candy store, [asking], `Dad, can I have two?’” says Theiss, who, outside of his CFO role, handles information technology, purchasing, and human resources.

The employees of Natural Organics, a manufacturer and distributor of natural vitamins and nutritional supplements (since it’s private it is not required to reveal its financials), weren’t the only ones who wanted more sweets from the ERP candy shop.

Gerald A. Kessler, the owner and founder of the company, also “had a need that didn’t exist in the legacy system” that ended up being “a plus item in the scope of the project,” Theiss tells CFO.com. For example, Kessler wanted the ERP to include a call-reporting system to track the activity of the company’s sales representatives.

Since the tracking system wasn’t part of the original contract for the project, the company had to issue a change order for the new system. Theiss says that was one factor producing scope creep on the project.

The total ERP package, including hardware, software, and consulting, cost the company $3 million.

Like other CFOs, Theiss finds that dealing with people — employees as well as outside systems integrators — is a greater challenge in ERP installation than averting technological mishaps. The first story in the series tells how a CFO dealt with problems connected with lean staffing. While the Natural Organics ERP went live on November 1, 2000, employees are “still settling in” to its use and reacting to its kinks, Theiss says. In installing the system, the company replaced its legacy system, which amounted to “a scattering of in-house systems and other vendor software,” including filePro and Microsoft FoxPro products, the CFO says.

It’s been a challenge transforming the legacy systems into an “integrated and flexible” ERP, according to Theiss. After many years of use, the existing systems were “highly fine-tuned” and “rigid,” he adds.

The response within the company to the new system has been diverse, with some people still attached to the legacy systems and some “intrigued [about] getting something better,” Theiss says.

“You don’t know what the interaction [among all the company functions] is until you go live,” the CFO adds, and “all the scenarios are interacting in real time.”

In fact, the installation has spawned delays in customer service, a matter of great concern to the sales-driven company, which swears by its on-time delivery. Among the dictates of the company’s mission spelled out by Kessler, the owner, is that listed merchandise must always be in stock and that if a store places an order by 3 p.m., it will be on the truck that night, according to Theiss.


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