Woolworths get BI curious with SAP

It wasn't all smooth sailing when Woolworths upgraded to SAP's BI 7.0 recently, but as the retail chain put it: "An ASX Top 10 company cannot consolidate their results on an Excel spreadsheet".

It wasn't all smooth sailing when Woolworths upgraded to SAP's BI 7.0 recently, but as the retail chain put it: "An ASX Top 10 company cannot consolidate their results on an Excel spreadsheet".

"I must say we were apprehensive about it at first," said Magner.

We thought we might just be getting a re-conditioned engine ... I think we got the BMW.

Rob Magner

Prior to the upgrade, Woolworths had been running BW 3.1. While the decision to change was welcomed within the company, Magner and his team were not sure how effective BI 7 was going to be: "When we took our first look at the package we thought we might just be getting a re-conditioned engine, perhaps with red spray paint," he said.

"Looking back now I think we've got a little bit more than that, I think we got the BMW."

Magner and his team had two specific goals for the project and regarded them as non-negotiable outcomes if BI 7 was to be considered a success for Woolworths: eliminating the risk of BW 3.1 and increasing its overall reporting capability.

The project went through two phases before being unleashed on the company. "We began with a feasibility study and then moved through to a design and development stage," Magner said. "After that we were able to start the rollout phase and we went live at the end of February."

Woolworths' first real headache came as a result of dealing with such a large and dispersed group of users, and issues around familiarising them with the new system.

"I know it's a cliché, but business change was our biggest challenge," he said, "and the training component was the biggest problem within that."

"There are a few examples that spring to mind looking back on it. We had a former manager who suggested that a one slide PowerPoint display was sufficient training. We also found that some training consultants hadn't even used BI 7 before," Magner continued. "In some cases we've had to go back now to increase the turnaround of people's reports."

Other unexpected issues emerged in the upgrade process. "Workbook conversion was a difficult process, we probably left that a little bit late, and in the early stages we did have a lot of critical error reports coming in from all over the place. They have slowed down a lot recently but we still have some coming through."

Magner added he believes the infrastructure component of the project could have been engaged earlier.

Despite these problems, Woolworths has been optimistic about the upgrade overall and is looking towards making the most of BI 7's capabilities, now that the retail chain has jumped the initial hurdles involved in implementation. "It took a while, but I think our users trust the system more now overall than they did before, it's been a positive reaction so far."

"What I'm most excited about is being able to utilise the broadcasting capability," he said. "The speed of delivery and extra functionality is something that we're still discovering. Now that we're through the transitional period we're also hoping to up the skills of consultants and contractors," Magner said.

He expects that Woolworths will see a return on its investment within the next one to two years, but added the estimate only takes into account the basic figures and the company can already go some way to claiming a positive return as a result of the efficiency of the new system.

"We are seeing it already, it's enabling a number of other projects to roll through as a result of the new functionality," said Magner. "Woolworths is a growth stock, it's expected that we will acquire other organisations and grow," he said, "so scalability is very important, and luckily with this package there's no problems as far as that goes."

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