When CFOs take to the cloud
The company, with headquarters in Tasmania, was started seven years ago and now has business units in New Zealand, United States, South Africa and the UK.
Justin Crawford, chief financial officer, says MSS used to have a “very antiquated system” of working across geographies. Documents were emailed of faxed into the office and the data manually entered, leading to “double handling” of information. “There was an opportunity for information to be lost or not acted on,” he says.
In the middle of last year, MSS moved its on-premise systems to cloud-based NetSuite. The cloud, he says, is a “new environment” for MSS, which he describes as “non-cloud” prior to the move.
“We have been running live [on NetSuite] since July last year,” he says, and there has only been one episode of unscheduled downtime, which lasted for half an hour. “When they say they have 99 percent uptime or more, they more or less guarantee [it],” says Crawford.
“You don’t need to maintain your server, you don’t have the hardware performance issue,” he says. “That offset a lot of the costs, you don’t have to continue to upgrade your own server.”
The company’s US manager, who had experience of using NetSuite from a previous job, had recommended checking out the cloud provider, from among a list of vendors MSS considered during a systems review.
Crawford said the “selling point” for the move to the cloud was the company’s proliferation of office systems and its international expansion. “If you have one system, you only have to try stuff in one system, not three or four accounting packages which was the case before. It created efficiencies in the office.”
In the past, he says, reports were completed in 10 to 15 days. “Now everything is in the system, you get the report and they [managers] can react to things quicker and that is a major improvement to our business,” he says. “That helps our business succeed because our managers have the opportunity to make decisions with real-time data.”
He underscores the need to work closely with the IT staff during such a migration. He says the project was managed by the finance department but he and IT manager Jarrod Cocker were responsible for the rollout. Crawford explains MSS has a lean IT team, equivalent to 1.5 full-time staff, composed of the IT manager and a software developer.
“It is an education process, it is getting the right information to the right people at the right time,” says Crawford. “So we work with our tech people to make sure the information we are giving to our key staff are on time and correct, so data is reliable and it is getting out on a timely basis.”
Key to the success of the project were good communications and working with users from the start. “Engage your staff in the process," he advises. "You can’t just go and throw your system to your staff and [say] this is what we want to use.
“You need to get them involved in the setting up and developing of reports and how information is going to empower them from the very start.”
Crawford and Cocker had worked through an online training course for two weeks before they met with the other managers and worked with them on the deployment.
“What we will do differently is have a NetSuite professional or have someone from the add on solution come to the site and do the training. I don’t think you can beat the training that is delivered from them.
“The value that we got was when a couple of weeks into the implementation and using the system, we got the NetSuite [staff] down doing the training. That encouraged efficiencies right away because they picked up things that we should have been doing,” he says.
Reginald Singh, CFO of Knowledge Universe, a multinational operation in expansion mode, faced a similar situation to MSS.
The education company, with headquarters in Singapore, has 3000 locations and around 40,000 staff with more than 300,000 students.
Singh explains that the Oracle system the company was using was “fine but not the right system to scale or go to different markets quickly”.
Since moving to NetSuite’s OneWorld, Singh says the company has “almost completely eliminated Excel”.
“I used to spend 80 percent of my time collating data putting it into reports,” he says. Singh says the move “freed a lot of value added time” that he now spends with end users.
Singh recommends using a “templated iterative deployment” for enterprises contemplating a similar move. This means the deployment process is documented and an in-house “central team” is assigned to deploy the system, he explains. “It enabled us to do simultaneous deployments and bring resources as we needed to.”
It is a collaborative approach, he says, between the central team and the users. “We go back after implementation to shadow [the] users.”
Flexibility for different business models
Gilbert Talavera, head of solutions delivery at media company ABS CBN International, says the company was formed 15 years ago to deliver content and other services, like money remittance, to Filipinos overseas.
Before ABS CBN rolled out NetSuite’s OneWorld, the company’s regional offices in Europe, Middle East, Canada, Australia, US and Japan, had their own systems, “the majority of them homegrown”, says Talavera.
Since 2008, the global operations have been integrated into one system. The deployment has helped in decision making because the business now has real-time access to inventory and allows flexibility for regions to handle different business models.
“There is a single version of the truth and we eliminated costly custom built systems,” says Talavera. Since some regions offer unique business processes, the system allows flexibility for local businesses to run their businesses based on local needs.
We minimised the IT resources for maintaining a system and lowered infrastructure cost. Instead of running six different systems, we are just maintaining one, he says. ‘There is also no need to worry about upgrades or updates from vendors.”
Another key lesson for a multinational rollout is this: “It is best to think globally, plan globally, but implement in phases. You have better success rate [this way] rather than going into on a big bang” implementation,” he says.
The executives in this article were interviewed at the SuiteWorld 2012 in San Francisco, which the writer attended as a guest of NetSuite.
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