With a range of products, including the toothpaste Aquafresh, and leading antibiotics, SB needed a flexible, integrated software product to control its global financial and distribution operations.
In the past the company had used a variety of financial and distribution packages with varying degrees of success. In the mid-1990s, however, it was felt that there was a real need for an integrated software product to improve processes and reporting right across the organisation. For a company such as SB with operations in 160 countries, this needed to be something versatile enough to be implemented right around the world. Andrew Whitehead, director of major projects implementation at SB explains: 'Previous software systems used throughout the enterprise did not provide the flexibility and agility we required.' It was also crucial that the software was geared towards the AS/400, with the server being used in most of the countries where the company operates. The exceptions to this rule are Eastern Europe, and some smaller markets in Asia. Whitehead says: 'Those countries not using an AS/400 are those where it would simply not be economic with the volume of transactions that they have got.' He continues: 'The AS/400 is, however, an extremely robust piece of technology, and the IT community within SB both know it and like it.'
SB worked closely with management consultancy PriceWaterhouse Coopers to select the most suitable package from a 'beauty parade' of products from JDE and a number of other major vendors. Whitehead explains: 'To ensure optimum reporting and common processes across the organisation we looked towards JDE and its World Software product to provide us with an integrated, user friendly system.' According to Whitehead, JDE's WorldSoftware was selected on the basis of its strengths as a host-centric product for the AS/400 platform. Thus, SB's British and continental sites first went live with WorldSoftware six years ago, followed by a co-ordinated roll-out of Financials and Distribution modules across the other international sites, which was finally completed in December 1998, leaving ample time for SB to concentrate on the issue of Y2K. Whitehead says: 'By December 1998 the world was covered on the one version of WorldSoftware. We wanted this, because it made it a lot easier to ensure that everything was going to be predictable from a Y2K perspective.' The smaller countries within the SB empire with no AS/400, instead use JDE's financial and distribution suites running on a remote server.
The company is now working towards setting up cross-border Transaction Process Centres, which will bring about standardisation of its IT systems and business processes across a number of countries. Whitehead says: 'We have realised that when we have the AS/400 running across several countries, then it is easier for us to maintain the standardisation. For example, the whole of South and Central America and the Caribbean are now running on five AS/400s.' He adds: 'As time goes on, and the AS/400 becomes more powerful as a server, this lets us do more standardisation.' Moreover, Whitehead sees JDE as being an integral part of SB's initiative to improve its position in the market. He says: 'The benchmarking of our financial data will continue in order to maintain our current enviable position in relation to other multi-nationals. We see no room for complacency when competing within this competitive market.' He adds: 'Since implementing JDE's WorldSoftware across the business, we have seen substantial improvements in the month end closure procedures, reporting consistency and internal controls.'
The next big IT challenge for SB is a planned merger with fellow pharmaceutical giant Glaxo, a move that is expected to turn the firm into one of the top two or three companies within the UK. Whitehead explains: 'The merged company will have to decide on a new set of standards. The whole culture and approach of the company has not yet been defined. I would imagine that the AS/400 would play a part, but it is too early to say yet.' He adds: 'It is an extremely exciting time for the company.'
This was first published in May 2000