Mark Hoffman, CIO of TCGRx, describes how he planned and executed on the long overdue upgrade of their business-critical ERP system.

TCGRx is a software company selling prescription fulfillment software and robotic packaging devices to pharmacies around the world. In fact, we are the largest distributor in North America of Panasonic’s tablet packaging class of robots.

At the heart of our business is our ERP system. This is because our business model is based on the steady sales of consumables that keep our robots packaging, our software licenses, and our service and support.

This ERP system includes our CRM and Help Desk Ticketing systems as well as the standard components you would expect for accounting and inventory management. In short, virtually everyone but my software engineering R&D team relies on the ERP. The tight integration between the modules of the system ensures that service tickets requiring parts flow directly to the warehouse. If the ticket requires a customer visit, the relevant information is also sent to our field dispatch team. Ultimately, everything flows to accounting. In short, we cannot run our business effectively without this system.

Moving ERP from Accounting to IT

Historically, the administrative support and maintenance of our ERP software was handled by our accounting department with the help of a third party service provider. This administration and vendor management fell largely on our CFO’s shoulders and earlier this year he decided it was time to upgrade the system. He also announced that he would be retiring before the upgrade would kick off.

With the announcement of moving forward with the upgrade and losing the key business sponsor, alarm bells began ringing in my head as we prepared to embark on a project that could not fail. This upgrade was long overdue and necessary to support our continued growth. In fact, several years ago, the accounting team and a different service provider tried and failed to upgrade the system without IT’s support.

With the CFO’s pending departure, I saw the opportunity to shift administrative and vendor management duties from accounting to IT.  IT would also run the upgrade project.

Planning the ERP System Upgrade

My IT Director and I are both former military men. As an Army officer I looked at five elements when planning an operation: Situation; Mission; Execution; Service and Support; and Command and Signal. I use these elements frequently in steering projects to ensure success.

Here was the situation: our ERP was lacking functionality and was no longer supported by our vendor. Furthermore, previous attempts to upgrade failed, so anxiety was high. And, finally, the system could not be down for any extended period of time without severely impacting our business and our customers. 

The mission was simple: upgrade the ERP over the weekend and avoid disrupting the business.

Execution: I made it clear to all business stakeholders that they were accountable for testing their areas within the new system and for being active participants in the project. Together we developed the plan and IT served as a sounding board and coach for the areas that needed additional guidance. At various points during the planning, I probed the team to ensure tasks, roles and responsibilities were clear, but developing the plan was a team effort wherein all stakeholders contributed.

Service and support in a military operation comes down to the supply of “beans and bullets,” but for this project we looked at infrastructure and licensing. My IT Director set up a farm of virtual desktops for the business unit testing. As testing completed and each business area signed off on their functionality, IT served as the hub to ensure that end to end processes that spanned the entire organization were tested and executed. When a business area was delayed in testing their area, I halted the project to ensure they were able to catch up.

After all business lines finished testing and gave their stamp of approval we were ready to cutover. On the final morning before cutover I moved into the last element, command and signal. This was to be a very large cutover process with many moving parts commencing Friday night at 5:00 PM and continuing throughout the weekend, with a high likelihood of spilling over into Monday. Because of the complexity, I took the step of ensuring that everyone agreed on how and when communication would take place throughout the weekend.

The Big Cutover

There were hiccups throughout the weekend, but come Monday morning, the core ERP systems were working. Our CRM was not. However, this was a contingency we discussed on several occasions including our final “go/no go” the previous Friday morning. All the business heads and my boss, the CEO, were in full alignment about the prioritization of issues and it only took one reminder to sales about where CRM stood in the order of priorities. In full disclosure, we had a few more bumps through the first week, including two that required us taking the system down for some quick patches, but overall the upgrade was a major success.

The learning points from this project were as follows:

1 – Leverage the strengths of IT in project management and risk mitigation.

2 – Hold the business lines accountable for performing their system testing.

3 – Be the glue that binds the organization together. 

4 – Leverage the strength of IT in incident management and prioritization.

Operations traditionally held these central roles because of its understanding in materials management and how supplies moved through manufacturing processes. Today’s companies move data not material, and therefore, IT has taken the pole position in understanding the interconnectivity between business units. One area where IT trumps operations is in its need and ability to manage change. 

We live in the golden age of opportunity for IT leadership. We are now an indispensable and integral part of all businesses. Our experience with incident management, systems maintenance, deploying new technology, safeguarding our assets, and our broad enterprise-wide perspective enable us to be the ideal coaches and leaders for our large corporate initiatives.


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