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Of Men and Mice: An ERP Case Study

CFO Lee Wilbur explains how Jackson Laboratory is dealing with the challenges of installing its new ERP system.

Launched on December 16, 1999, the ERP project will, however, take about six months longer to complete than Jackson executives thought it would take.

About planning big IT projects, Wilbur advises his peers to “expect the worst, especially if you’re working with new releases,” as the Oracle 11i was in the project’s early stages.

Because of the lack of staff experience with ERPs, Jackson placed special emphasis on training. Wilbur, in fact, was the only one at Jackson experienced in installing an ERP. Prior to joining Jackson in August 1998, he was managing director for Dessau, Germany-based AGD Kemgas Gerätebau, which had implemented an SAP ERP when he was there.

Training was an especially big cost item. “We provided as much training as we could to give [Jackson employees] a head start on the process,” Wilbur says.

Geography also contributed to the training costs. Jackson had to spend extra to bring system trainers to Bar Harbor, an island costly to travel from. For instance, it costs more to take a one-way flight from Bar Harbor to Boston (at least $363) than it does to fly from Boston to Miami (at least $235).

Thus, instead of flying employees off the island, the lab chose to fly in an instructor for an in-house course, at $5,000 per day. In contrast, the cost of a three-day, off-island course for a single employee might cost $1,500, Wilbur says.

Overall, Jackson has spent close to $450,000 on training, including $300,000 to train 32 IT staff members. (The lab, which had an overall expense budget of $80 million in 2000, has a total of 1200 employees, according to Wilbur.)

Yet all that training wasn’t enough to overcome the lack of experience, the CFO says. In attempting to modify the ERP system to accommodate Jackson’s mice-raising functions, he says, “we had to use Oracle to do it because our people couldn’t” within the allotted time frame.

The Matter of the Mice

In fact, Jackson has faced a unique technological challenge in attuning the new system to accommodate the processes of raising and supplying mice to researchers both inside the facility and out.

Jackson’s IT processes in raising the mice must fit very precise genetic-research needs. By a specified date, a researcher would typically require, say, a seven-week-old mouse and have no use for an eight-week-old one. In fact, researchers would regard the two mice as “different products,” according to Wilbur.

That situation “doesn’t fit neatly” into the discrete Oracle Process Manufacturing (OPM) modules that are part of the Oracle 11i product suite the lab uses for its ERP, Wilbur explains.

OPM was designed for companies that mix ingredients together to produce products like bread or beer, the CFO notes. “But our batch doesn’t end. It’s constantly evolving,” he adds, concluding that OPM “wasn’t written for mice.”

Jackson’s team joined up with Oracle’s for some “out-of-the-box thinking” to solve the problem. “The worst case was that we wouldn’t be able to use OPM with the mouse situations,” Wilbur says.

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