Diplomacy is key as Air Products moves ahead with ERP overhaul

Air Products, a £3.6bn-turnover industrial gases firm, has nearly completed an application retirement programme that is vital to its global enterprise resource planning overhaul.

Air Products, a £3.6bn-turnover industrial gases firm, has nearly completed an application retirement programme that is vital to its global enterprise resource planning overhaul.

The application retirement programme underpinned the finance model for the ERP roll-out by freeing up resources previously used to support legacy applications.

This programme centres on managing old technologies, rather than giving staff new IT systems, but is still essential to the success of Air Products' implementation of SAP's business applications and business re-engineering, which started in 2001.

According to Gillian Berg, enterprise archiving manager at Air Products, these factors meant communication and persuasion were vital ingredients for the IT team running the programme.

Access to legacy data was also part of corporate due diligence, meeting the legal, taxation and health and safety requirements.

Berg said those in charge of the programme therefore had to engage with a diverse group of involved parties, including lawyers, tax experts and industrial scientists, as well as keeping on top of the technology challenge.

"It was not easy; it took a fairly long time to persuade people to become involved," she said.

"A lot of people did not understand why we were doing this. We had to grab the attention of people at the top to make sure the message cascaded down."

Legacy applications, some of which dated back to the 1970s, were running on HP mainframe systems and IBM AS/400 mid-range servers.

Air Products worked with Open Text, an enterprise content management consultancy, to implement an ECM archiving system. It also stored formatted SAP reports and scanned documents from SAP systems belonging to joint venture partners and acquisitions.

Berg's team is completing the second cycle of application retirement and will bring the lessons learned to bear in the final stage of the programme, which starts later this year.

"Throughout the programme we have concentrated on maintaining regular communication - we have had to keep reinforcing the message. We also had to celebrate our achievements, as it is not easy to keep people interested in a project like this," she said.

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