Government agencies are increasingly implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems in order to boost efficiency and reduce costs in their financial operations as well as meet federal mandates for greater transparency and reporting capabilities. By providing a central repository for different types of data across an organization, these systems facilitate the flow of information across an organization and manage connections to outside stakeholders.
But ERP implementations are very complex projects that can be filled with pitfalls. System integrators, better known as SIs, may experience schedule delays, cost overruns, poorly delivered functionality, and a host of other problems because they don't fully understand their clients' unique business requirements.
"As a system integrator, you have to get your business and solution in alignment," advises Bryan Jester, Vice President and Division Manager in CACI's Business System Solutions (BSS) group. "SIs should understand in depth not only the business of the federal government, but the business of their client agency. If you look across the spectrum of successful implementations that CACI has completed, you can see our deep level of expertise across a wide range of business processes."
CACI's expansive ERP experience stems from developing systems that have a variety of functions, such as paying the Department of Defense's (DoD) invoices to vendors; procuring billions of dollars in goods and services across five federal departments; managing major budget submissions for the Army, Navy, and Air Force; and handling many agencies' financial management activities while yielding clean audit opinions across the Intelligence Community, DoD, and Department of Homeland Security. In fact, more than 100 federal agencies today rely on business systems that CACI has implemented.
What makes CACI so successful as an ERP system integrator? Subject matter experts in CACI's BSS group have compiled these seven tips for success:
- Understand Your Customer's Business. A big boost to ERP success is when the SI is knowledgeable of the customer's business from the beginning. In so many troubled or failed ERP programs, the SI was awarded the contract strictly on its technical qualifications, rather than its knowledge of business processes. Consequently, once the contract begins, the customer and the SI require months of requirements meetings – and by that time, the schedule has already slipped.
According to CACI Vice President and Division Manager Tim Bonnett, "This leads to misunderstood or poorly defined business requirements, which ultimately lead to schedule delays due to failed test runs or difficulties in data conversion." CACI comes to projects with deep functional domain understanding, which minimizes ERP customization, facilitates Organizational Change Management (OCM), and provides a bridge between the final product and its functional end users.
According to Executive Vice President and Business Group Manager Gil Guarino, "ERP normally introduces a very significant transformational change to a customer's business operations, so doing OCM well is a critical success factor in any ERP program. If the SI can support OCM from a position of strong understanding of the customer's business process, this is extremely helpful."
- Exercise Control Over Requirements. Scope creep, especially through inadequate requirements definition, is often the root cause of major schedule delays, cost overruns, and poorly delivered functionality. To avoid this, the SI should ensure that a strong scope governance process is in place.
Val Lyons, Senior Vice President and Division Group Manager, explains the difficulties of requirements development: "When you have multiple stakeholders working together on system design, they may agree to 'raise the level of abstraction' just so that they can all buy in to the requirements. But this means they end up with only high-level requirements and not the lower-level details that are so important to the system integrator and developers."
CACI successfully employs agile techniques, early in the design phase, to gain understanding and buy-in from functional end users and ensure that critical system requirements are defined. This also has an added benefit: "The earlier in the lifecycle that requirements are well defined, the lower the lifecycle cost of implementing the system," says Bonnett.
- Pull From a Pool of High-End Talent. Complex ERP integration programs include a wide range of system engineering activities that require high-end specialized talent. To ensure that integration doesn't get delayed if attrition occurs, it is critical to have several sources of talent inside both the SI's and the customer's organizations. "CACI actively seeks out companies to partner with in building high-performing SI teams, and then manages them as one integrated unit," says Senior Vice President and Division Group Manager Larry Ferguson.
- Apply Best Industry Practices. Whether ERP is central to the project scope or not, applying best industry practices – such as those supported by the Software Engineering Institute in their Capability Maturity Model – is essential to any complex SI program. Even within a flexible approach, the underlying disciplines must be there to ensure successful configuration management, quality assurance, and metrics-oriented program management and reporting.
- Look at the Bigger Picture. Because federal agencies have typically implemented only one ERP domain at a time (e.g., only financial management), every ERP project has the significant challenge of concurrently developing and implementing often over 100 new interfaces to various legacy systems until they, too, are eventually subsumed by an expanded ERP that covers more functional domains. At "go live" time, each new system must be in perfect sync with all those legacy systems. To take on this challenge, SIs need the full cooperation of the many different government organizations that "own" those legacy systems – and that makes program management especially important to ERP success.
CACI stands out for its creation of Model-Driven Design and Implementation (MDDI), an advanced approach to the system development lifecycle. MDDI enables the automatic generation of a significant amount of standards-based, executable software code that is fully compliant with the DoD's architecture framework (DODAF). According to Ferguson, "MDDI is especially effective in developing the scores of external system interfaces that are critical in enabling the configured ERP-centric system to actually operate within the customer's total integrated systems environment."
- Start Data Conversion Early. Before a new system can go live, SIs must first convert the old data in legacy systems to new data structures. Full collaboration with the customer is the key to making this work, and starting the analysis and data cleansing process at the very beginning of the project is critical. Good analysis can lead to a very high percentage of the data conversion/migration being automated, which eliminates labor-intensive manual data cleansing and the associated risks.
- Refuse to Fail. Perhaps the most important factor in CACI's success is the can-do attitude ingrained in the company's culture. According to Ferguson, "CACI simply refuses to fail." The company has been the prime contractor for several hundred complex business systems that are relied on by more than 100 different federal, DoD, and Intelligence Community organizations today.
"CACI has expertise in deploying multiple agencies in one shared ERP solution, and that's a very unique skill set for any system integrator," says Jester. "We have deployed systems to agencies, and integrated them with agency-specific legacy systems, in anywhere from nine to 18 months, which is substantially faster than a typical ERP implementation [which takes 18 to 36 months]."