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Cover Story | Project Management

Going It
A lone In the treacherous waters of ERP upgrades, consultants are viewed as guides
and often safety nets, without which few enterprise dare go. But they come
at a significant cost. Ranbaxy decided to go without one and saved
costs, increased project control and delivered business results with minimal
challenges. Here’s how. By Gunjan Trivedi

Rabindranath Tagore said


it best in his poem Êkla Chôlo Re: have the conviction to walk alone. It’s a lesson that David
Reader ROI:
Briskman, VP and CIO of Ranbaxy Laboratories, takes to heart.
Going solo: David Last year, Briskman found himself staring at an ERP system that was creaking under
What to watch out for
Briskman, VP and CIO, when going solo the weight of a fast-growing enterprise and decided something needed to be done. Multiple
Ranbaxy Laboratories,
Where to get help from acquisitions and seven years of double-digit growth had pushed Ranbaxy’s hardware needle

Imag ing by ANIL T


undertook an ERP upgrade
without the safety net of How a DIY approach can into the red. He had an ERP upgrade in mind, but from experience he knew it was a decision
build loyalty
a consultant and found that couldn’t be taken lightly. The task was huge and considering Ranbaxy’s size, it was
multiple benefits. The increased
importance of testing complex as hell — and he wanted to simultaneously refresh the company’s hardware.

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Cover Story | Project Management Cover Story | Project Management

But the project itself isn’t what separates Briskman from one screen changes to another is an indicator of a system’s few could have blamed Briskman for
your average CIO. He decided that the task would be done
in-house. By any standards, it was a bold decision. An ERP
health) logged each day, servers began to hit maximum
CPU utilization. The result? According to Ranbaxy’s Head
of Global Infra-Structure, Rajan Bir Singh, the average
the added expense. The other, more
risky, proposition was to trust that Performance Monitor
upgrade on this scale would have left most organizations he could lead his team to take on the Before the ERP ecosystem upgrade and hardware refresh,
scampering to find the closest consultant, and hordes of response time for a dialog task took a painful 1,200 Goliath of enterprise software. Ranbaxy’s systems were fighting to deliver. That changed
subject matter experts — immaterial of the price. milliseconds on the ERP and about 1,000 milliseconds at Briskman chose the latter. around August of 2008.
“When organizations enlist consultants for such high- the database. It became worse when in January 2007, CPU “It was a simple decision to take.
level projects, the cost of consultancy usually makes up 60 utilization at the database server hit 52 percent, and tipped I know organizations generally
to 70 percent of the total cost of the project. The rest largely 100 percent by December of the same year. avoid taking risks with a project 1.3 1.3 1.3 1.3
90
goes in procuring hardware and software,” says Briskman. “We applied plenty of band-aids but systems began to of such magnitude, but we were a 1.2
1.17
By taking a D-I-Y approach, Ranbaxy lowered the total crawl and impact the business. And if wasn’t bad enough tad different. I’ve always strongly
price of the project and reversed that ratio. “In our case, 70 that our hardware was hitting its physical limitations. Worse, believed in nurturing a skilled team 1.1
80 80
percent of the costs we incurred on the upgrade were billed our SAP instance was already in its extended maintenance on the systems we work on. We have 78
for hardware and software. That gives you a sense of how period and SAP announced that it would discontinue its maintained an internal SAP center 74 74 74
little consulting we used. With our internal team we carried 32-bit platform,” recalls Briskman. of excellence and have consistently
out the upgrade quite cost effectively,” says Briskman. Evidently, the situation called for drastic measures. delivered on SAP for several years.
The question is: how did he do it? Briskman and team decided to overhaul the entire ecosystem We have been doing rollouts and 61
by upgrading not only their hardware but also the software upgrades without any consulting help
Health Check landscape including the operating system, the database and decided that this project should
0.52
India’s largest pharmaceutical company, the Rs 4,400- and the ERP platform. “We simply went to the business be no different,” says Briskman. 48
odd crore Ranbaxy has a complex IT fabric with a global and made this declaration ‘you have a crisis, your systems Typically, this is not the sort of
presence across 125 countries. It has ground operations are going to die and we are going to upgrade them’,” he says decision that IT departments can 0.35
in 49 countries including India, the US, France, South with a smile. take on their own — not on a project Jan-08 Feb-08 Mar-08 Apr-08 May-08 Jun-08 Jul-08 Aug-08 Sep-08

Africa, Romania and China, besides manufacturing Management got the point quickly. They cleared the of such proportions and one which Legend:
locations in 11 countries. upgrade project that would introduce a 64-bit platform for exposed the organization to huge Average response time for a dialog task in seconds.
Most of those locations run on a single instance of SAP. Windows 2003, push the database onto the newer SQL 2005 risks. This is where Ranbaxy’s IT Maximum CPU utilization at database servers Source: Ranbaxy
Their 4.6c version of SAP R/3 ran on a 32-bit environment and make way for the next SAP avatar: SAP ECC6 running department’s track record stepped
of Windows 2003 and SQL 2000 with database of about 2.25 on more efficient servers from a new vendor. in. “There’s no confidence-builder
terabytes, growing at about 45 GB a month. As the business But Briskman was not only aiming to address the like good, consistent delivery. Our
grew manifold, the number of users and transactions company’s immediate performance issues, he also wanted to management has always had faith in our IT group and has September 2008, bringing life back to the sluggish servers.
skyrocketed, putting a huge amount of pressure on the ERP enable new SAP functionalities and prepare the foundation always expected us to tackle problems,” says Briskman. In Similarly, the maximum RAM utilization level at the
system. By 2008, 1,300 out of 1,900 users — or about 70 for SOA. fact, he adds, management would have probably questioned server slid from 74 percent to 48 percent, and the average
percent of the people with access to the system — were using It was a great idea, but pinning down the dream would a need for consultants. response time for an application to respond with a dialog
the ERP concurrently. be a challenge. The IT team planned a two-phase attack. In the first phase step jumped: from about 1,000 milliseconds to just about
The company’s global footprint added to their ERP led by Singh, they would move their current ERP to the new 350 milliseconds. According to Singh, “the system was
woes. For example, the system needed to run in six David vs. Goliath servers. The 32-bit instance of Windows Server 2003 would meticulously sized with the help of our vendor, to deliver
different languages including Chinese, which required With the decision to refresh and upgrade out of the way, also be scaled up to a 64-bit environment and SQL 2005 sub-second response time. Which it did!”
double-byte fonts. All that activity bore down heavily on a tougher question presented itself before Briskman: how would replace the earlier version of the database.
the system. Ranbaxy recorded about 2,500 custom-built were they going to do it? There was the tried-and-tested — The second phase, led by the SAP COE Head, Neeraj Look! No Consultants
programs and about 900 types of transactions. At over 13 but expensive — approach of hiring consultants. It was the Kukreti, would involve a combined upgrade of SAP Although Briskman had complete faith in the skills of his
lakh dialog steps (these are screen changes in a sequence of solution most CIOs would take and is generally considered environment and migration of the data code pages based on 20 plus-member SAP team, he felt that there were several
steps during a transaction in an application. How quickly the safe route. And given Ranbaxy’s complex ERP fabric, MDMP in earlier SAP R/3 to Unicode on the newer ECC6. ways the upgrade exercise could be derailed. Not getting
During the process of upgrading the ecosystem, which these right made the proposition much riskier. “Expectation
started in February 2008, there were several sub-projects management, change management, human resource
that the Ranbaxy SAP team also undertook. While Windows management and project management all demanded

Typically, the decision to go it alone — especially on high-risk, large- and SQL were moved to the 64-bit platform and SAP R/3
made way for SAP ECC6, business warehouse and APO
attention if we wanted to run this show. When you build
confidence by delivering consistently, you are not asked a
impact projects — isn't taken by just IT. This is where Ranbaxy’s IT were integrated. Several interfaces and products were also lot of questions. I wasn’t keen on changing this equation,”
introduced, such as Solution Manager, .Net/Java connector- he says.
department’s track record stepped in. “There’s no confidence- based applications, Readsoft, Newgen, a procurement portal, Briskman began by defining the results that were

builder like good, consistent delivery," says Briskman. SAP XI and Webmethods.
By August 2008, results became apparent. The maximum
expected from the upgrade. Too many IT leaders, he
says, dig themselves in a hole by guaranteeing capability
CPU utilization level at the database server dipped from enhancements as part of an upgrade. A lot of the time it is
about 100 percent in January 2008 to about 40 percent in difficult to stay true to such promises because of the many

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Cover Story | Project Management Cover Story | Project Management

variables involved in an upgrade project. “My experience has Despite this preparation, there were technological issues Yet all the testing did little to relax Briskman — especially
been that as soon as you step out of the realms of technical that went beyond the team. These were identified and if they went too well. “I’ve been in too many projects to
upgrades and move into functional upgrades, I have rarely
seen benefit projections that are met easily,” he says.
addressed by ushering in specific expertise from their
solution providers. SAP Safeguarding, for instance, was
know that nothing ever goes perfectly,” he says. But that’s
exactly what happened in one instance when his team
Would You Go Solo?
So, Briskman started by tempering unrealistic business called to ensure the technical robustness of SAP solutions. did dry runs of a database upgrade. Everything, he says, Large ERP installation upgrades can be
expectations from the upgrade to avoid undue pressure on And domain experts from Microsoft were roped in to address went smoothly and ahead of the schedule. “This had me daunting propositions. We asked some of
his team. It formed part of his initial conversation with the key issues such as running SQL in an SAP landscape. worried because I knew that Murphy’s Law was going to your peers to find out how they would go
business. “We told the business that the systems were dying With some assistance from HP and working with existing visit us soon. Then on the Saturday afternoon of the cut- about it. Here’s what they said:
and needed an upgrade just to keep the lights on. That’s it. partners Religare Technova and Zensar-OBT. over, we had a major crisis which took about four hours
As a team, IT focused on incrementally delivering benefits to “India is predominantly a SAP-Oracle market. So, to resolve. While my team was stressed out, I heaved a
the organization at practically no extra cost. We pay constant finding an advanced level of expertise in SAP-SQL can sigh of relief because our bump had occurred before the
attention to continual improvement as opposed to chasing become a problem and then you have technical issues go-live,” he says. “It depends entirely on the
benefits that have been promised up front,” he says. that stump an otherwise skilled team. My philosophy to Testing played a more crucial role at Ranbaxy’s upgrade skill-set maintained within an
The second thing that needed to be done was to identify tackle this is simple: don’t let the OEM get off the hook. because compliance is key to the pharmaceutical major. It organization and the maturity
areas in which the internal IT team had expertise and that From experience, it’s important to involve the strategic created an enormous amount of testing and documentation for of business’s approach to IT.
could therefore be tackled without much issue. They also and original partners. It is up to them to make sure that the internal team. “To a certain extent the rigid requirements Since we maintain a strong
marked out areas where they would need assistance. The the right skills are engaged and point out if you are doing of CSV (computer systems validation) of a system forces a team with SAP expertise, I’d
idea, he says, was to keep the number of surprises low. anything that is wrong,” he says. level of precision not only in the execution but in planning go completely in-house — without third-
In the meanwhile, he put his in-house team through all By bringing his experience to bear, Briskman ensured that and testing too. It enables you to safeguard your environment party consultants.”
the appropriate SAP training so that they could understand hurdles the team faced with SQL were handled by Microsoft. against potential mishap,” says Briskman. —Satish Pendse
the new aspects that ECC6 would bring. Briskman figured He also got people at SAP’s office in Germany to look over In fact, to strengthen the validation process, the CIO, Hindustan Construction Company (HCC)
that this would be easier than bringing in a consultant and some of their work. “We found that it was advantageous corporate quality team and a third-party quality expert
then training them on Ranbaxy’s business, their system to spend a little more and ensure that even when you have were roped in. The specialist was engaged for a fortnight
landscape, and various configurations and modifications. internal expertise, OEMs are involved,” he says. to independently review the internal team’s validation
“Post training, the team was better equipped to support the Briskman, Singh, Kukreti, and the rest of the team and testing approaches. “One of the ways to be efficient
“Without the well-rounded
environment they themselves had modified. This ensured spent three months planning the entire upgrade exercise in any project is to engage the right expertise at just the
experience of consultants,
that we weren’t doing anything that could surprise us in conjunction with SAP, Microsoft and HP, before they right time. That’s another problem with working with large
undertaking an ERP project
later,” he says. “Failure on any major step of the project embarked on the actual execution. “Our approach was clear: consultants. They want people on the ground and available
could become an exercise in trial
was not an option.” make a plan, work the plan and live the plan. We ensured the whole time and I only need them at testing and during
and error. While the technical
that we rehearsed thoroughly. Using an internal team is no the go-live as a QA check,” Briskman points out.
nitty-gritty can be handled by
excuse for a lack of precision,” he says. The extensive testing and dry runs enabled the team to iron
the team, the planning and direction should
out all the possible issues and alleviate most of the pain-points
come from consultants. And they should
D.I.Y. Strategy: before the go-live process. Briskman says his team had the

D.I.Y. Checklist
have a minimum of five similar-sized ERP
Test, Test, and Test Again whole process detailed down to the minute. If a scheduled task
projects under their belt.”
The team undertook a detailed pre-upgrade analysis starting within a process was slotted to take 15 minutes but gobbled up
—Anil Khopkar
If you’re planning to go solo, ensure you with a hardware sizing exercise in conjunction with the three additional minutes, they could immediately pinpoint a
GM (MIS), Bajaj Auto
have these before you leave. server vendors. A functional upgrade check for ERP was new timeline for the rest of the process.
leveraged to identify hardware and performance capabilities All the rehearsals helped shave off hours from their
before and after the upgrade. The team also took advantage timing. While their first dry run took about five days, the
Credibility with management of application specific upgrade tools from SAP to outline final go-live for the upgrade took under 50 hours, including
“In a greenfield project it
A project everyone believes is needed problems with the corresponding solutions involved in the a 10-hour slab for final testing. “We had earmarked 72
may make sense to involve
A clear outline of the benefits of the project new SAP environment and figure out the tools built into hours for the process but saved time. It goes back into
consultants. But, for a large
A center of excellence ECC6 to correct the known problems. having a combination of planning and on-bolt technical
upgrade project, I would rely
A self-reliant team that is both mature and As they worked towards the actual upgrade, Briskman and functional upgrade processes executed by in-house
on in-house expertise because
business-oriented and his team undertook testing and carried out dry runs like skill-sets,” says Singh.
the internal team already
A list of your team’s strengths and weaknesses a religion. “With any kind of upgrade and implementation, As the in-house team took on the giant project head on,
understands our business processes. Without
The knowledge of where to get the expertise to you test the hell out of it. We did at least three dry runs of Briskman ensured that they were not outflanked by several
in-house experts, going ahead without external
fill in those skill gaps major steps in the development environment. When you possible complications. Among other things, he knew that
consultant support can pose a high risk.”
The ability to rope in OEMs take systems down in a planned manner, you can cover the project needed a high degree of senior management
—M.D.Agrawal
An extremely detailed plan things for a few days in terms of moving materials, placing endorsement. At a more tactical level he reviewed previous
CM-IT (Refinery Systems), BPCL.
The knack for staying ahead of your team to purchase orders and putting work orders in place. But not customizations to the ERP to find out if there was still
clear the way succeeding to bring these systems up again can seriously a practical need for them and whether functions in the
A propensity for testing and rehearsals hit the business’ bottom-line. So, we put in place several upgraded SAP could replace them. By reconnoitering ahead
additional dry runs to ensure success,” he says. of his team and clearing away potential sand traps, “We

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Cover Story | Project Management Cover Story | ERP

“The cost of consulting for high-


level projects usually makes
up about 70 percent of its total
cost. With our internal team we
carried out the upgrade quite cost
effectively and reversed that ratio.”
— David Briskman
VP and CIO, Ranbaxy Laboratories

were able to reduce the complexities of implementation and The numbers bear him out. About 30 percent of his core
customization by about 50 percent,” he says. SAP team started off in business functions. It helps with
He also dislodged user reservations by proactively attrition because people who are invited to join the team
seeking out users. Since many on the core IT team originated already have strong bonds with the company. “Being able
from various functions at Ranbaxy, he initiated peer-level to provide work-life balance and technological challenges
conversations with users from functions that would be most attracts people,” he says.
affected by the upgrade. “I am aware of many an upgrade The strategy seems to work. “Attrition in the core team
projects of this size have crashed and burnt because of this year has been zero. Last year two people left and two
change management issues. I always say that the software years ago only three left,” he says.
works. Success is getting people to use it,” says Briskman. Briskman now plans to leverage his team to implement
a large number of productivity enhancements based on
Labor of Love the new capabilities of ECC6. The team will stretch the use
Builds Love for Labor of NetWeaver from an integration standpoint across the
If the project brought up some people’s hackles, it worked platform, and focus on introducing business intelligence
wonders for the IT team. It challenged and motivated them, a capabilities and information dashboards. Additionally, the
benefit CIOs who play it safe miss out on. A team, Briskman core team will roll out other major sub-entities within the
says, operates best at full throttle. “We strive to ensure SAP ecosystem including financial, and governance, risk
that 50 percent of a person’s work is on new projects, new and compliance (GRC) tools, among others.
technologies and new functionalities. But we also work hard “This year is probably the most aggressive that we have had
to provide a balanced work-life environment,” he says. in terms of planning to deploy a range of new functionalities,
That approach makes them choosy about the people capabilities and executing geographic expansion. This should
they invite on the team. “People with just a couple of years keep the team engaged and busy,” he smiles.
of experience do not get past the first round of interviews It’s been a good year. CIO
because we are very picky. In fact, we have developed a
lot of people in-house from within business functions,” Gunjan Trivedi is assistant editor. Send feedback on this feature to
says Kukreti. gunjan_t@cio.in

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