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Medical equipment manufacturer implements SAP ERP software for business growth

SAP beat out Oracle and Microsoft for Abiomed's new enterprise software implementation.

When Abiomed realized its existing systems would not be sufficient for its growth push, the company turned to SAP.

With growth plans on the horizon, the company knew it was time to replace its aging Unix Minx system.

"Did it do the job? Yes," Daniel Lubin, Abiomed's director of information technology, said. "Could it do some things that we take for granted now with our new system? No."

Danvers, Mass.-based Abiomed develops, manufactures and markets medical products designed to assist or replace the pumping function of a failing heart. The company needed enterprise software that would support it at its current size, but more importantly, the system had to be able to handle Abiomed's future expansion plans.

Abiomed's primary business is literally one of life and death -- its focus is "recovering hearts and saving lives." The vendor selection process reflected that seriousness.

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"We had a broad, cross-functional team, performed subjective and objective analysis, utilized Six Sigma tools, and involved an outside expert to help us in our evaluation," Lubin explained. "The total effort consumed over 1,500 hours."

That process eventually boiled the finalists down to SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, Lubin said. But the final decision was no slam dunk.

Microsoft's advantage was in its ability to integrate with other systems Abiomed was using. The company also liked the fact that Oracle's database product was very strong in highly regulated industries, such as medical devices.

"Ultimately, it was a tough decision," Lubin said. "All the systems we looked at were capable, or else nobody would use them."

Despite the competition, Abiomed eventually went with SAP.

One reason for choosing SAP had to do with Abiomed's acquisition of Aachen, Germany-based Impella, another medical device manufacturer. Impella immediately increased Abiomed's needs for features like localization and currency conversion -- features SAP could supply.

"The Impella acquisition did force us to think about international capabilities more," Lubin said. "It was a clear example of how the system we chose would have to give us the ability to grow anywhere, through multiple avenues."

"Softer" qualities factored into Abiomed's decision as well.

SAP's approach to the project focused on Abiomed's processes, whereas the other competitors focused more on the technical aspects -- the "speeds and feeds" -- of their systems. This may have appealed to the more business-focused people in the selection process.

SAP's eagerness to work with Abiomed's unique requirements was also a plus.

"The answer from SAP was never 'no' to any of our requests," Lubin explained.

After the six-month vendor selection process, the project kicked off at the beginning of 2006. The system, which included financials, human resources, manufacturing and portal elements, went live six months later with relatively few problems.

"Were there wrinkles? Absolutely," said Lubin, but he added that despite those troubles, the system was up and running on day one.

The biggest problems occurred where business processes involved multiple departments and functional areas, rather than individual system functionalities, he said.

The project team is keeping a close eye on those processes during Phase 2 of the SAP project, which includes a European rollout in the summer of 2007, as well as benefits, business intelligence, project lifecycle management and CRM functionality.

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