US steelmaker CIO gives lowdown on ERP upgrade

Multi-year project will transform industrial giant's systems

Steel processor Worthington Industries is eight months into a 42-month, multimillion-dollar ERP consolidation project using Oracle as its core database across its lines of business and software from Cognos to help lower the cost of inventory. Worthington CIO Jonathan Dove spoke with Computerworld US last week at the CIO Symposium conference in Ohio about the project — and about the changing role of the CIO. Worthington is a $US2.3 billion company with 6,700 employees. Excerpts of the interview with Dove follow:

What do you see as the largest challenge facing CIOs these days? How do I continue to evolve inside the organisation? How do I get myself so I'm not looked at as an expense within the organisation but as an enabler within the organisation? And how do I get them to stop looking at me from the maintenance side of the organisation and instead as a strategic partner driving where the company is going?

I want to get from wanting to solve technical problems to wanting to solve business problems. And every step you take, you have to continue to maintain the reliability of existing systems to continue to take the next step forward.

How do you see the role of CIO changing? I think earlier on, with all the different technologies and the lack of stabilisation of them, the initial role was to develop a good infrastructure and provide a better technology-based solution for the business. Right now, I think that role is more heavily focused on the management of information and getting that information to the right people at the right time to make the right decisions.

There's been a big focus on change management in companies. Is that new for the CIO? Actually, yes. We talk about transformation. In our Oracle project now, I've put in separate methodologies and approaches toward change management. How do you get the business to adapt to change because the systems that you went from, from an ERP perspective, are already good and have industry best practices in them. So getting the business to adapt their business practices that best utilise the package has a tremendous impact.

When we went through our selection process, I let the business pick the package, because they were selecting 80% of how they wanted the business to be able to run.

Are each of your individual businesses — finance, HR, whatever — going to have separate application models? It's one centralised structure. Especially from the infrastructure perspective. All your core infrastructure items, like operations, wide-area networks, security, voice mail, email, all those types of things are centralised and provided as a service to everybody because they're very commoditised core competencies.

Are those applications disparate now? Yes. To some degree they are, and we're starting to centralise them through this whole implementation.

When did you start the project? The Oracle implementation has been going on about eight months now. We started over two years ago with designing a solution for one of our business units and then went through an RFP selection process to select the best practice for our steel business units. After the steel unit selection process, other business units jumped on board. Our HR department wanted a new system to replace their legacy system. I put them through the same RFP selection and, believe it or not, they selected Oracle. Purchasing, centralised purchasing, they went through an RFP selection process, they selected Oracle. So it essentially became our core product that we were going to implement. So HR people drove the HR implementation, purchasing drove the purchasing implementation and so on.

How long will this take you to complete? The project itself has multiple phases. Phase one is the implementation of all the core products. We're implementing finance, purchasing for both direct and indirect items, and HR across multiple business units in the first nine months. It is a massive effort in a very short period of time. We developed a methodology specifically in order to be able to do it.

Then, after that, we'll go back and design the pieces we want to put in for the steel component of our business, which is very specialised — from how do we take orders to how we do the setups to how we ship the steel.

So this is a three- or four-year project? The project itself is scheduled to take 42 months. It'll probably get done in about three years.

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