Sapphire '02: Plenty of pain, but ultimate gain for one SAP customer

Companies considering an ERP implementation may first want to hear what Aquatech International experienced.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When Aquatech International Corporation went looking for a top-tier ERP supplier, it knew one

thing for sure: It would not choose SAP. The German software firm was too pricey, too big, too much to handle.

The original equipment manufacturer of industrial water and waste water treatment systems, with headquarters in Pennsylvania and support offices in the U.K. and Singapore, hired an independent, external consultant to evaluate ERP packages.

From the start, though, the consultants were leaning toward SAP, recalled Devesh Sharma, Aquatech's vice president of products and services. "I looked them right in the eye and said "We're never going to implement SAP, not here.' ''

Sharma, speaking at SAP's annual U.S. conference in Orlando this week, told other IT decision makers that the company did eventually choose SAP, but it was not spared a painful yearlong implementation process. Before Aquatech marked its "go live'' date in December 2001, Aquatech was swamped with troubles and turbulence.

The low point was probably when Sharma overheard employees in the company cafeteria placing bets on how long it would take to go live and then for Aquatech to admit it had made a mistake in choosing their ERP software.

Drained resources, bad data

First off, Aquatech overestimated the quality of its data. "We thought we'd have a really easy time beause we had no legacy system,'' said Sharma. "We were wrong.'' At the same time, it didn't have enough resources dedicated to the implementation or enough top talent continually working on the installation.

Also, the project lacked real leadership. "The champion of the project should be a top individual whose job depends on the implementation,'' said Bill Essary, Aquatech procurement manager. It also underestimated institutional resistance, which Essary said could have been softened with an investment in presentation software.

Finally, he advised others setting out on an ERP implementation to figure out what your specific goals are.

"We set out without knowing what we were talking about,'' Essary said.

There was, for Aquatech, a big payoff. (Otherwise, the company wouldn't be hosted by SAP at the Sapphire conference here.) In the end, Aquatech, saw ROI rewards: Visibility within its supply chain that allowed better project scheduling, online material status reports, and automated packing reports, among others.

Sharma and Essary caught the attention of ERP decision makers at SAPphire Orlando '02 with their practical presentation, including a graphic chronicling their institutional pain. Pragmatek Consulting specialist Paul Duehn attended the Aquatech discussion with clients who are on the verge of a SAP implementation.

Duehn said he would rather his clients get some real-world advice than go into a software project expecting to cruise. "It's hard to fathom how much work it's going to be if you haven't been through it.''

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