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When BAE Systems Military Air and Information (MAI) assembled a team to conduct a vital application upgrade, the company filled less than half the positions with IT people. Most of the team came from business functions, rather than the technology department.
The international defence manufacturer, which is part of aerospace, defence and security giant BAE Systems, is in the design phase of a project to upgrade and unify seven ERP systems. But large projects striving to unify ERP systems can become victims of tit-for-tat battles between business process owners who believe their way of doing things is best.
Aware of these potential dangers, John Booth, head of the project, brought people from the business into the heart of his team. “Within my core team I have got 70 people, of them, approximately 40 to 45 are from the business functions," he said. "They have been nominated to come and join the project because of their knowledge of applications and their knowledge of processes.”
In this way, the team has so far succeeded in minimising clashes because representatives from all business departments have contributed. Meanwhile, the core team reaches into business functions to work with subject matter experts, who can help analyse problems to a greater level of detail.
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“In manufacturing, when you establish how a planning engine works, for example, it is a very specialist activity,” Booth says. “We have got a core team that holds it together, but they reach out to specialists in the business when needed. Now there are 200 people who know what this project is about, who have been working with us and challenging us,” Booth says.
Re-engineering business processes
BAE Systems MAI's ERP estate had grown through mergers. This meant it has to re-engineer business processes to improve efficiency, Booth says.
“We knew we had to redesign our business process, because each ERP system brought its own business process and therefore we wanted a single-core business process. We want to say 'this is how we do it'.”
But there is no attempt to unify ERP across the whole of BAE Systems, which includes civil aviation as well as maritime and land defence manufacturing and runs both SAP and Oracle. The nature of each company within BAE, as well as the legacy applications, makes such a project undesirable, Booth says.
“We make extremely dissimilar products. A business unit making ammunitions, you could put into the high volume, process world, but submarines are very different – small batches with very unique requirements. We are very different in what we do, and globally we started from different positions.”
After a request for information from suppliers, BAE Systems MAI, which contributes to aircraft including the Typhoon, Hawk and the F-35 Lightning II, selected Infor to conduct a request for proposal exercise. The supplier and manufacturer's teams went out into the business to gather information about application “pain points”, to help form the best design for the solution, Booth says.
“The first seven weeks were spent looking at process shortfalls. We wanted to ask, 'In our new world, what would we want to do differently?'.”
After mapping "pain points", these were compared with Infor's current solution and product road map.
BAE Systems MAI was already using Baan ERP systems, so Infor, which acquired Baan, was the selected supplier partly because of a shared history. The manufacturer also felt able to influence the product road map. BAE Systems has selected Infor LN as the central ERP system, as well as Infor EAM for asset management and Infor Warehouse Mobility. Analysis and reporting will be handled by Infor BI and Infor Enterprise Performance Management. The applications will be integrated using Infor ION.
More on project management
Although Booth would not disclose an exact figure, he says the investment will run into the tens of millions of pounds. This is not including investment in new hardware and infrastructure, however, as these are the responsibility of IT services partner CSC, which is contracted to keep systems "topical and effective", he says.
As well as including experts from various business functions, Booth's team also includes members from CSC and Infor.
Booth expects the main benefit to be an overall improvement in efficiency and sharing of information, although he is reluctant to define any specific objective.
“The business will have one common process, we will operate on one system," Booth says. “It will make operations more efficient because all the data will be in a common repository. That will lead to faster decision making because the data will be at users' elbows, rather than in two or three different systems, which have to be connected by Excel. We will have a twenty first century application, which is global and fit for purpose.”
Other benefits will come through a reduction in software licensing and support costs. The team is currently mapping business processes into the solutions, including defining application interfaces. The roll-out will be staggered through business units from next year and is expected to be complete in 2015.
This was first published in October 2013