Jim Johnson’s first day as CIO of Guide Corporation, the oldest automobile-light manufacturer in North America, was also the day Guide split off from its parent company, General Motors (GM).

Immediately, Johnson faced a tough situation: Guide ran on GM’s archaic operating system, and the new company had two years to develop its own system. Johnson was given the awesome task of installing Guide’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

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For more information, check out TechRepublic’s Enterprise Application Center, or visit PeopleSoft

Implementing a successful ERP system on a tight time line was only one of Johnson’s obstacles. Guide also lacked an IT department and was paying GM $1 million a month to use their system.

So how did Johnson make an implementation work with a strict time line and without an experienced IT team? In a recent interview with TechRepublic, Johnson discussed strategies he used to make Guide’s ERP system a success.

Keep it simple
TechRepublic: How did you plan an implementation without an experienced IT team?
Johnson: We basically lacked the needed technical skills, the ERP skills, and the project management skills. There simply wasn’t time to go out and hire the skills and build our own staff. We had no choice but to outsource. We brought people in…from Electronic Data Systems(EDS), A.T. Kearney—you name it. We brought in people from the functional [internal] departments like finance, manufacturing, engineering…and turned them into the full-time team.

TechRepublic: Are there any challenges inherent in bringing internal people together?
Johnson: The real challenge in this was the team-building. For example, you [need] to treat the contractors as a single team. Then, when you bring in everybody else with the contractors, you need to treat them all as one team, not as separate players.

TechRepublic: What other steps did you take to make the implementation work?
Johnson: We had some overall guiding principles of the project:

  • ·        We went “vanilla”—as shrink-wrapped as possible. You can never go 100 percent, but it was pretty much a vanilla implementation.
  • ·        We had fierce project management and scope control from day one.
  • ·        We had an understanding with the people in the business that they were the ultimate owners [of the project]. IS was driving the design, but they had the real ownership for implementation and ongoing support.
  • ·        We didn’t reengineer the whole company. If you do that, the risk of failure goes up.

TechRepublic: Were parts of the ERP project easier because there was no IT team?
Johnson: When I look at it in hindsight, I think [not having an IT team] was a plus. I didn’t come in with an IT team that had a great personal vesting in the old systems. So there were few hang-ups about the status quo and existing personal issues. I could bring in the best types of skills I needed only when I needed them.
And because I had no IT team, I could go to [Guide’s executive team] and say, “Hey, I need somebody from finance…give me your best guy.”

TechRepublic: What led Guide to install QAD’s MFG/PRO solution?
Johnson: Time was our enemy. What we did not do was write a big request for proposal and ship it out to the world. Instead, we brought in people from PricewaterhouseCoopers that knew the auto industry and ERP packages. With that, we were able to winnow our list down very quickly to SAP, QAD, Baan, and Oracle. When studied further, it really boiled down to SAP versus QAD.
QAD has a good vertical market in the auto industry, and they are a good fit for us. At some point, you get so massive you outgrow QAD, but I have previous history with SAP and I wanted to avoid that. QAD has a very solid product for an auto industry company.

More on QAD

Since 1979, QAD Inc. has provided industry-specific software solutions for various vertical markets, including the automobile and electrical industries. QAD’s software enables companies of all sizes to acquire raw materials, transform them into products, and deliver them to customers. For more on their ERP, supply-chain management, and e-business solutions, visit QAD today.

TechRepublic: You avoided many of the pitfalls that ERP implementations can fall into, including data and system integration failures and project fatigue. What advice do you have for other CIOs tackling similar projects?
Johnson: Insist that there is ultimate business ownership of the project. It is not an IS ownership; it is a business ownership. Also, you can’t overcommunicate in a project this size. You need to keep [the organization] aware and educated about what’s happening with the project.
And then of course, you are going to choose partners. The key is picking the right partner. I would look more for the “meat and potatoes” kind of guys. Very frankly, you need people who have “been there and done that.” You need people who have rolled up their sleeves as opposed to “the suits.”

TechRepublic: What is the one thing CIOs should not do during a project?
Johnson: You should never abdicate your responsibilities. I see that happening. You, the CIO, are still responsible. You’ve got to keep your hands on and in the project no matter what.
Typically on an ERP project, you outsource or contract project management and technical help.

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