Vodafone's global head of ERP, Ignacio Garcia, has revealed the telecom giant's plans to expand its use of SAP's HANA following a successful initial project, but did warn of a skills challenge when using the new technology.
Speaking at an event hosted by SAP last week, Garcia described how Vodafone was able to experiment with SAP's HANA, which enables companies to run analytics in-memory, providing real-time results and increased agility, due to an overhaul of the company's ERP estate.
Garcia said that Vodafone had been operating on disparate systems due to an aggressive acquisition trail in recent years.
"Five or six years ago we started a big transformation journey - Vodafone is a company that grew inorganically, so we made acquisitions in different markets, which meant that our company was operating on silos across many different systems," he said.
"There was a big push from the top, from our CFO, who said that we needed to create one company. Vodafone wanted to create one operating model for finance and HR, one shared service centre, and underpin everything with one ERP system."
Vodafone is in the process of migrating the last four countries, out of 22, onto the new platform, which will support a massive 80,000 users. Garcia said: "It is a huge asset to the company, one that is enabling us to create new business processes and move really fast."
Garcia added that he was "really scared" to trial HANA, because often brand new technology "means instability". However, Accenture offered Vodafone to trial a free prototype in one of its centres, looking at how it could increase the speed at which it closes its accounts at the end of the month.
"When we consolidate our books at the end of the month, it takes about three hours. However, whenever a country has to make an adjustment to their numbers, we have to run this again, which takes another three hours. We had to do this three or four times at the end of every month, and we wanted to let our guys cut the processing time and focus on what they need to do, analyse numbers and make sure they are okay," said Garcia.
"Our aim was to reduce the time it took to close our books by at least one day, which we have managed to do using HANA. We did our prototype with Accenture, took it to the guys at the top, and with the data we had we were able to convince them that the savings were worthwhile."
From the prototype to the time it took to go live was six months, which Garcia was incredibly impressed by. He said typically it takes one year per country to implement a new technology, but with HANA it was able to implement all 22 in half this time.
He said: "We were looking at things we could do with HANA without putting too much risk on the 80,000 users. But the experience has been fantastic - it works. Our people in the shared service centre are fascinated by it."
However, despite being pleased with the results, Garcia did warn other companies looking to the technology that they should carry out a lot of prototypes and to be prepared to learn a new skill set.
"There were a few learnings. Do a lot of prototyping. Don't try do the whole implementation - test, see the results, and test again. Also, make sure you plan for your original data migration, because you need to load all of the historical data. After it's live it's all in real time, but you need to load all that old data, which was a huge worry for us," he said.
"There was also a challenge with the skills of the people and getting to know the technology - we were going to the innovation labs all the time. It's knowledge in every single area, from the hardware, to the connections, to the data centre, to the application."
He added: "However, it was also really positive, because people were really engaged. It created a very dynamic environment."
Vodafone is now considering expanding HANA to include areas such as management of fixed assets and improving the company's supply chain. It is also looking to add predictive analytics to the capabilities it has already gone live with. Garcis said that this will mean "CFOs can press a button at any time and see what the month end is going to look like", which he believes will be a "huge advantage".
At the event, the SAP's UK managing director, Tim Noble, also revealed that SAP now has 918 customers using HANA today. However, the number of customers it has piloting Business Suite on HANA is 18, and there are only three customers live with all of their transactions running in-memory.
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