ERP of a Different Color

While Arkansas' ERP implementation got plenty of bad press, Pennsylvania's Imagine PA seems to be cruising along smoothly. What's the difference?

by / January 30, 2003
Though Pennsylvania hasn't finished its ERP implementation, the state appears to be on its way to getting not only a good grade, but maybe even a gold star.

Imagine PA began in 1999, when the state started drafting RFP's for the ERP software and a systems integrator to assist with implementation. SAP was selected as the vendor in June 2000.

Unlike Arkansas, Pennsylvania decided at the beginning to take its ERP implementation a bit more slowly -- the state gave itself three years to complete the implementation starting in March 2001, and Imagine PA will roll out to agencies in six "waves."

Perspective Check
Pennsylvania realized what it would be doing was not necessarily a technology project, so both project management staff and the administration focused early on identifying nontechnical issues that could hamper the ERP implementation.

"That's the absolute key to this project," said Fritz Bittenbender, former secretary of administration and former director of the state's Office of Administration. "People who think of it as a technology project are going to fail."

The emphasis was placed on reforming business processes in the agencies, Bittenbender said, and agency employees were repeatedly told the reason for the ERP implementation was to save money for Pennsylvania, make certain parts of employees' jobs easier and eliminate parts of people's jobs that didn't make sense.

The state knew from the beginning that Imagine PA was going to be a business transformation project, said Don Edmiston, project director of Imagine PA.

"We really focused on business transformation, with change management being part of that -- getting the buy-in of the agencies; getting the buy-in of the employees; helping them understand that we were going to move forward with the project and that we wanted to adopt these new business processes," Edmiston said, adding that the state was also working under another type of cloud -- a change of leadership in the Office of Administration.

"We knew a group that could really turn on us at the change of administration was our senior managers and our middle managers; so we knew, at the beginning, that we really had to focus on that change management for that group," he said.

To that end, more than 7,000 managers were trained extensively on the SAP software so they could return to their respective agencies and serve as evangelists for the new software.

Though tempting to stereotype training as just another cost, Edmiston said Pennsylvania took great pains to avoid that mentality.

"So many times, training is looked at as a cost, and it has been looked at as a cost in Pennsylvania in some years," he said. "What this project brought about is the fact that training is an investment -- that what we're doing is investing in our employees."

Role Playing Isn't Just for Gamers
When the time came for managers to meet with agency employees about the new software, those meetings were often one-to-one, Edmiston said, which was a first for the state.

"We did a role mapping that took it from what the employees did in the 'as-is' environment to what they would do when they went live with the new software," he said. "The managers really helped sell Imagine PA to the state employees."

During those one-to-one sessions, managers were asked to focus on several issues: the role the SAP software would play in the employees' jobs and the training the employees would receive to perform, and be successful in, those roles.

The one-to-one sessions accomplished several crucial goals: Employees saw immediately that their managers believed in what Imagine PA could do, which made it easier for the employees themselves to believe in the new software. Employees also recognized the state was serious about training them properly so they could succeed in using the new software.

In some respects, Pennsylvania approached planning with almost a militaristic zeal, and the state changed its organization structure when it came time for the realization phase of the ERP implementation. The state focused on three areas at that point: design and construction of the system using the SAP software, testing the software, and deployment.

"The gentleman we hired to do the deployment was a U.S. Naval graduate as a Marine," said Edmiston. "We figured if he could deploy 3,000 Marines at an incident, he could deploy [software] to 53 agencies."

During that deployment, agencies had the ultimate responsibility to make sure managers had met with employees, printers were configured properly, staff had attended training, and the agency itself was ready -- both from a technical standpoint and a nontechnical standpoint -- to go live with Imagine PA.

Appearance Is Everything
As anybody who's had to confront a strange dog knows, showing fear is the wrong thing to do. An ERP implementation is a similar animal.

"If the agencies felt we weren't prepared for this, I think they would have had greater push back," said Charlie Gerhards, Pennsylvania's former deputy secretary for technology and former secretary of the state's Office of Administration. "If you do this right, it takes a lot of planning upfront, and you need to be very proactive. If you simply go into something like this and try to be strictly reactive, you're going to run into fierce pushback."

The Imagine PA team also orchestrated what was called an "expectation event" to clearly spell out what state leadership expected both out of the ERP implementation and from employees themselves.

At that event, Richard Bentz, who was involved in an ERP implementation at Hershey Foods in 1999, spoke of the well-publicized problem the company experienced with its $112 million project.

"When we started this project, everybody said, 'You're not going to be another Hershey,'" Edmiston said. "He [Bentz] came in and said, 'We hit bumps, and you're going to hit bumps. But look how it's working now.'"

The expectation event's purpose was to set forth the potential pitfalls facing the ERP implementation so everyone involved had a clear understanding of what Imagine PA was to do. Just as important as educating employees is selling them on the project.

"Marketing is a big part of it, so employees can understand the value proposition," Gerhards said. "IT is just a very small part of this project. The real focus has been on business transformation, and we spent the majority of our time talking about how we could reorganize, redefine roles, streamline business processes, and effectively using the tool.

"We started out with that theme, and I thought somewhere along the line, folks would want to push it back as a technology project, and they really haven't," he said. "They've grasped the opportunity to make it a business transformation."

Talk Isn't Cheap After All
Though many people fear committees, especially what a committee can do to a good idea, Pennsylvania created lots of committees to deal with rolling Imagine PA out to agencies.

"We set up a very structured leadership team with a good executive committee, then a steering committee made up of a cross section of deputy secretaries from various agencies so there's senior leadership buy-in on the part of the steering committee," Bittenbender said. "We then asked every agency to set up an agency implementation team, which is comprised of a project manager, a communications person and a training liaison, so there's functionality in every agency that's working on Imagine PA."

Those agency teams met on a regular basis, and the project managers from the agencies also met with Imagine PA staff on a regular basis. If that seems like a lot of meetings, Bittenbender said the constant dialog helped defuse a lot of potential problems and helped create agency buy-in across the project.

In addition, project leadership actively sought agency input on what was needed to improve the Imagine PA software.

"In the past, if you would talk to end-users, they would complain bitterly that the MIS department simply built a system that doesn't meet their needs, and they crammed it down their throats," Gerhards said. "We built systems in our likeness; that is, we built them the way we thought they should operate, versus the way our customers, the end-users, really needed them to operate. In the past, again, we were criticized, and I think rightfully so."

Though Imagine PA isn't exactly a big democracy, he said, getting agency input is important because the agency feels it had the chance to make its case about a particular bit of functionality.

"We accepted about 92 percent of best practices, based on us discussing with the agencies the various ways of doing things," Gerhards said. "Once they understood us and had the opportunity to discuss it, they were willing to embrace it."

Bittenbender said reaching out to the unions was also critical to the success of Imagine PA. He characterized the discussions as "give and take," especially with respect to the SAP package's human resources implementation, which will cast a new light on Pennsylvania's collective-bargaining agreement.

"While you try to squeeze best practices out of a lot of the other areas of the implementation, it's hard to squeeze best practices out of the collective-bargaining agreement because that's an agreement we can't change unilaterally," he said. "That is an area where we have to sit down very frequently with the unions and have a very substantive dialogue about what we're doing with the project.

"In most cases, we've been successful in sitting down with the unions and saying, 'This is a change we'd like to make, and here's why it's important not only to our business processes but to your members as well,'" he said. "There have been instances where we've sat down with unions and they've said, 'We can't agree to that change now' or 'We'll think about that change in the future.' When that happens, you have to agree to disagree and move on."

The result? That dialogue never reached the deal-breaker stage, Bittenbender said.

The key was being honest and upfront with the unions, said Edmiston, so the unions knew what impact Imagine PA would have in the agencies.

"Our first wave was budget, procurement, finance and travel planning," he said. "We knew what process changes we were going to make coming out of blueprint, and as we started that configuration, we would meet with, let's say the technology committee of our local AFSCME union, and we would explain to them what the changes were.

"We did not move forward until we knew that the bargaining units were OK with what we planned," he continued. "They also knew we weren't going into this project to cut staff and to save money on the backs of the union. They get copies of our communication that we send out to our employees. Anything we're going to publish, they're allowed to see it and comment on it. They've been part of the solution and not a problem to us."
Shane Peterson Associate Editor