South Africa's largest example of ‘rapid deployment' of a greenfields SAP ERP solution proves that time to benefit can be achieved in months rather than years.
Aveng Trident Steel, a supplier of steel products in South Africa and the rest of Africa, and its implementation partner, Britehouse, SAP's only African Alliance Partner, won gold in the Business Transformation category at the 2014 SAP Quality Awards for the use of a rapid deployment solution (RDS) for an entirely new SAP implementation.
"We achieved company-wide transparency and real-time operational control in eight months," says Aveng Steel Financial Director and project owner for the RDS implementation, Dean Subramanian. "Taking the conventional SAP implementation route would have cost us at least 18 months and considerably more money – and been disruptive to the business.
"By contrast, because our entire executive team committed itself fully to the project and spent time with users to understand their needs and educate them on what the new system would do for them, we had buy-in across the company from day one.
"This eliminated disruption to the business during implementation and ensured not only a smooth go-live transition, but immediate financial and operational value to the business."
Aveng Trident Steel's headquarters are in Germiston, Gauteng, and the company has additional facilities, including steel yards and processing and service centres, in Alrode, Rosslyn, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town.
With diverse products and services, markets spread across the African continent, and its own facilities distributed across South Africa, Aveng Trident Steel made a strategic decision to mitigate risk and improve efficiency and productivity by moving from a range of different operational and financial systems to a single instance of SAP.
Neither time nor budget permitted a lengthy implementation that would customise the SAP solution to Aveng Trident Steel's specific circumstances. The company therefore opted for a SAP Rapid Deployment Solution, providing vanilla SAP functionality for 80% of its processes.
This was a calculated risk, in that RDS implementations are a relatively new concept, and as a consequence, there is not much experience among SAP partners or their customer base, particularly in South Africa.
Also, SAP RDS options are designed for smaller and medium-sized businesses, where reducing customisation in favour of standardised processes makes bottom-line sense.
Both Aveng Trident Steel and Britehouse credit the success of the project and, consequently, the gold award to the close collaboration between the customer and implementation partner teams, 55 people in all.
"The only way to pull off a project like this, an IT industry benchmark coupled with significant time pressure, is for everyone at senior levels in the business and the implementation partner to fully commit attention and resources," says Christine Huggett, Britehouse Project Manager for the Aveng Trident Steel project. "It is also vital for every user who will be affected by the project to be involved from day one."
Subramanian agrees. "The strength of our relationship with Britehouse included the fact that we had direct access to their senior people."
Subramanian also believes the choice of an RDS option imposes its own implementation logic. "We embarked on the project because we wanted to transform the business in terms of transparency, so as to gain real-time control of every aspect of the business.
"In essence, we were simplifying processes. It made no sense to achieve this in a complex way or at a high resource, time, and financial cost. A sales order is a sales order in any industry. The details change, but not the basic process or underlying business fundamentals. SAP's RDS products recognise that, making it possible for any size of organisation to quickly get the benefits of business coherence, centralisation of process and functionality, and automation of non-differentiating activity."
Aveng Trident Steel appointed Britehouse as its implementation partner after a stringent procurement process in which it was shortlisted with two other companies.
Aveng Steel Information Systems Manager, Magriet Clemons, says Britehouse was chosen for its pragmatic approach. "The three shortlisted companies were similar in their offering, but Britehouse proposed the RDS option, which fitted our budget and time constraints. They made us aware that we would initially be sacrificing customisation for standard functionality. However, they also pointed out how quickly the RDS would begin to show benefits."
The business wins
Aveng Trident Steel achieved centralised control of and visibility across its operations in record time, making business transformation simply another strategic initiative and not an assault on business as usual.
The Britehouse and Aveng Trident Steel teams are of the opinion that RDS options are the future of ERP implementations.
"Regardless of whether you opt for an RDS or a conventional implementation, you will end up having to customise in some areas post go-live," Clemons says. "In fact, longer implementations often result in more post go-live work, because in the time it's taken to design, blueprint, develop, implement, and test a bespoke implementation, the business needs and market dynamics have changed."
Hugget believes the Aveng Strident Steel RDS project has helped to build SAP thought leadership, not only in South Africa but the rest of the world. "By pushing the RDS envelope, it has deepened the body of SAP knowledge and will encourage people to think in terms of possibilities rather than limitations."