15 June 2018

Successful SAP implementation? Just a dream?


We have all heard horror stories about failed ICT projects that take much longer and cost much more than initially estimated and where no one is in safe from blood, sweat and tears! When did you ever read a story about a successful SAP implementation? Well, read on, because now you are!

About four years ago, Neste decided to update its ERP by moving to an integrated ERP solution with SAP as the core technology. The new solution will be introduced using a phased approach. The aim of the program is to not only renew information systems, but also to implement updated business processes. SAP enables us to use real time information and improve our decision making to continually serve our customers better. New reporting capabilities give us the possibility to provide transparent, high quality data to our customers as well.

Baby steps instead of a “big bang”

The biggest and most business critical deployment in our change journey so far took place on the first of May 2018. We integrated Finland and Baltic sales in the new systems. Were there exciting moments? For sure! Our products are moved by trucks, vessels, train, and pipelines - as are our feedstocks to refineries. In addition, we have a crucial role in serving the aviation traffic in Finland.

We asked our customers in Finland and the Baltics to prepare for a distribution break of 48 hours at our truck terminals. We got distribution up and running in 36 hours and in the end the deployment did not cause any delivery disruptions. In May we distributed 2,7 million tons of oil products and our truck distribution terminals served 13 800 trucks.

Our strategy of phased implementation has proven to be a smart way of doing it. We have learned, gained experience, and had successes from the two earlier, smaller implementations. This has been an important factor in making this deployment a success in terms of solution, testing, implementation as well as business support.

How did this happen?

The wisdom lies in good planning. Before the deployment, we conducted extensive testing:  several rounds of end-to-end process testing. This included customer integrations, master data and transactional data loadings. We tested financial month end closing activities, performance, volume and regression. We identified risks and made a mitigation plan accordingly – an example of this was preparing ourselves for delivery breaks by increasing inventories and pre-filling tens of trucks.

We did some serious planning and even had a dry run of the deployment. In this dress-rehearsal, we implemented key processes in a test environment, which enabled us to finalize the implementation plan. We had a controlled start, i.e., we planned the first truck deliveries together with our customers in advance and this helped us to ensure that deliveries were made according to schedule.

Throughout the entire change journey, we have invested in organizational change management in terms of skills, training, and communications. Business management and teams have been actively engaged over the past eight months in promoting understanding of the coming change. By increasing change readiness, we prepared the organization to welcome the new systems and ways of working, giving both the program team and end users the chance to learn. Furthermore, we have built a support model for business and IT, which has been in use for already a year.

Was this a walk in the park?

Not at all. There were more than enough challenges and even some surprises just the weekend prior to the Big Day. The key for problem resolution was cooperation: the success of this project was down to our main partner IBM, tens of other partners, and hundreds of specialists working towards a common goal. As you may guess, we were not always exactly working from nine to five – at times it was more like 24/7! By working in shifts, we were able to avoid setting up camp in the corner of our war room. However, you were more likely to hear snoring than the clanking of iron from the upstairs gym. Team spirit was high and everyone had their eyes on the prize. I am very proud of the team for their outstanding performance!

So now you know – it is possible to have a successful SAP implementation. Based on our experience, functioning technology does not do the trick alone. SAP is only the technology – a tool that does what it has been planned and configured to do. For a successful outcome two fundamentals need to be in place: business processes and skilled users.

Marko Mäki-Ullakko
Marko Mäki-Ullakko
Steering Manager, Business transformation and ERP Program, Neste