However, since its Microsoft Dynamics ERP implementation went live in December 2011, Suman Mohammed, regional IT manager at Sikka, says that has changed.
Sikka is a Swiss-based speciality chemical company with 13,500 employees (rising to 14,500 this year) and running from 75 locations around the world. That means 75 different IT entities, and Mohammed oversees the IMEA (India, Middle East and Africa) region, which he says was using a lot of legacy applications that he had to unpick in order to move the company forward.
“At Sikka we are not early innovators, we tend to wait until systems have matured. IMEA is also generally two or three steps behind the rest of the world. Recently, we moved from Windows XP to Windows 7, and that was a big jump for us. We waited the years until other companies had used it,” Mohammed says.
“Before this implementation we were using early versions of Dynamics. In terms of the move of technology, our move to Dynamics’ ERP AX was our biggest shift and implementation in years,” he adds.
Despite being slow to deploy new technologies, Mohammed says Sikka’s ERP implementation was a necessary move to ensure the company was capitalising on relevant information.
“We had issues with pulling out data and we weren’t very satisfied it was all accurate. We had to invest a lot of back-end work into making our IT teams gurus in Excel in order to sanitise the information and get it into a format that management could actually use. So that was an underlying reason because we needed to shift to something where we could actually pull out information,” he says.
“We wanted to get everybody onto the same platform and get active intelligence out of the data that we gather. We also wanted to be able to give management relevant information to predict and forecast, and that is something we couldn’t do before,” he adds.
Sikka chose Dynamics, Mohammed says, due to past experiences and the culture it provided, but also because it meant the IT team did not have to customise the bank-end of the solution to suit Sikka’s needs.
“I have worked for Microsoft before, I knew of the vendors here and the challenges of working here, and also in terms of the culture. Our company is a Swiss company; we have a huge Swiss team here and are made up of a mixture of expat employees – so the culture needed to fit. We went through a very rigorous short listing exercise. We came across Levtech, who I had actually worked with before so knew they were trusted – they knew the subject matter very well and understood what we were looking for,” he says.
“We wanted a very robust accounting system – something that captured key components of our data. We also wanted something that would enable the users to access something without any performance issues or problems with extracting data for ad hoc reporting. We didn’t want to customise the bank-end to suit us, and with Dynamics we didn’t have to,” he adds.
The original development and testing of the core system in Sikka’s headquarters took eight months, which Mohammed says overran by two months. The first implementation took six months, which has now been reduced to four months, he adds.
In terms of knowledge transfer, Microsoft trains several more technically-minded staff members to become ‘super users’ and they then help train other and new staff. Sikka also conducted both online and classroom-style training.
Mohammed says the implementation didn’t run completely smoothly and some challenges did arise.
“The first key problem was managing expectations. When you specifically talk to end-users they have a number of demands and then if you talk to management those expectations are very different. You need to make sure what the aim of that particular system is. We had to be very strict in terms of what we wanted to map into the system,” he says.
“Another key challenge was change management. Originally there was a lot of push back from people who thought they were quite happy with the systems that they had – however inefficient they were. Then there is the time frame – each of the countries and entities had different goals they needed to maintain. If you look at our current implementation in India, the only time we could go live was in April because of the taxation, so we had to pause it and choose a different country,” he adds.
Mohammed and his team successfully dealt with the challenges to ultimately meet the organisation’s expectations.
“We’ve seen some very good efficiency in bringing in ERP. It’s added a lot of value to the organisation. The shift did take a lot of change management and buy-in from management, but after we did that, more and more of the business started to see the value it had,” he says.
More to come
Mohammed says the success Sikka has seen with Dynamics ERP will lead the way with more implementations in 2012. Its current implementation in India will be completed by May, whilst it is also looking at Turkey, South Africa and Bahrain.
He claims his IT team’s positive and productive relationship with the management contributes to Sikka’s success.
“From a management side they are very supportive of IT. They understand that technology has to complement business strategy, and without that we won’t be able to be as competitive as we can be,” he says.
Mohammed also says that despite being a slow mover in regards to new technology, this does not mean Sikka invests less in IT.
“Sikka has always been quite slow in what we invest in, but we invest in the right technology when we see value to it. We’re like a big ship that moves slowly, it takes us a while to turn, but when we do we do add value. Despite the economic climate, we have not lowered our IT budgets, and actually in some regions it has increased,” he concludes.