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Oct 15, 2018

So what does an ERP Consultant do?

I often get this question, 'So what do you do?'

'I work as an ERP Consultant Implementing ERP for customers', I reply.

'What is ERP?' is the invariable next question.

'ERP stands for Enterprise (wide) Resources Planning', I answer

What does ERP do?

Oct 8, 2018

Chapter 1: The beginning (1998-2000)

Note: I need to fit the story of my installing 11i in my computer lab and the excitement of  remotely logging on to the application from a remote location. It was a 'Graham Bell' moment.

My career took a major turn for the better on my 35th birthday. On that day I joined ICFAI Business School, Bangalore. 
After graduating in Mechanical Engineering in the fall of 1986, I joined Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) at their Steel Plant at Durgapur (DSP) as a Management Trainee. In those days, it  was a very prestigious job for an engineering graduate. The pay and perks were excellent. 
I worked in SAIL from the summer of '87 to the fall of '98. In between I took sabbatical from SAIL (without pay) for two year to pursue MBA at IISWBM (Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management) affiliated to Kolkata University.
After completing MBA I rejoined SAIL. In 1998, I was working as a Deputy Manager in the company, earning about 600,000 per year, a princely salary in those days. Company also provided free accommodation, water, electricity and medical benefits. 
It should have been a happy situation, by any standards.
But I was not happy. I felt stifled in a monotonous job, working in an alien environment and culture, with no scope for any improvement to my station in life. I felt that I was working significantly below my potential.
What Mr.SK Das, our training manger told us during induction training was still vivid in my memory after all these years. "A few of you will do exceptionally well and become Managing Directors of steel plants. Some of you will retire as Executive Directors and a few of you will retire as General Managers. Most of you will retire as DGMs or AGMs", he told.
There it was. Our future for the next 30 years clearly laid out in front of our eyes. Looking from where I was in 1998, it was clear that I was destined to be in the 'Most of you' group.
I did not like it one bit. 
So when I got a fig leaf of an opportunity to leave SAIL and move back to Bangalore, I took it.
I resigned from SAIL and landed in Bangalore on 28th November, 1998.
On 1st December 1998, my 35th birthday, I joined ICFAI Business School as a faculty associate at a flat salary of Rupees 120000 per year, a far cry from about 600000 plus perks that I was earning in SAIL. Once in a while I used to wonder if I  had made the right decision, but most of the time, I was basking in the opportunity to learn new things. 
And learn I did. Since I was a mechanical engineer with experience in manufacturing industry, I was made owner of the subject 'Operations Management'. The subject discusses the management of manufacturing operations in a company. I  handled that subject for two years and three batches.
Teaching Operations Management (Ops as it was called) put things in perspective for me. My vision of manufacturing industry was narrow and my learning haphazard. Handling the course helped my organize my assorted work experience and structure it into a conceptual framework. The two key takeaways from teaching Operations was that I learned the theoretical underpinnings of MRP (Materials Requirements Planning) and Capacity planning. These two concepts, more than anything else helped me add value to manufacturing customers in later years.
The best outcome for me from my two year stint at ICFAI Business School was that it gave me a foot hold into the world of IT and ERP. In 1998, Oracle was trying to build its ERP ecosystem in the country. As a part of this Oracle University (OU) had tied up with various institutions to impart training to students on Oracle Applications. ICFAI Business School was one of the Organizations that OU had tied up with for the above purpose. Probably because I was an engineer, I was made in charge of the computer lab in the Institute that I worked at. My role was to coordinate the training sessions, find knowledgeable faculty (the toughest task at that time) assigning training schedules, oversee training sessions for quality etc.
Till November 30th of 1998, I had hardly worked on computers. In those days, I was even scared of starting a computer. I was worried that if I entered the wrong password, the computer would explode and burst into flames. I watched too many SciFi movies I suppose. And here I was, assigned the charge of a computer lab. Talk of divine purpose !!
I am curious by nature and a quick learner. For me, this opportunity to learn ERP was manna from heaven. I took to it enthusiastically. I read all the huger user manuals, worked on the application, explored and experimented rigorously. I attended almost all the training sessions that I coordinated.
I had a big advantage. I had worked on manufacturing domain and was teaching operations management. For me, Oracle manufacturing was a natural fit. I also had an MBA in Finance and had worked my ass out to learn accounting. Hence I was able to quickly understand the Oracle Financials applications also.
I did not know it at that time, but I was laying the foundation of what could become my USP in my ERP Career - my ability to understand and configure end to end business process flows including costing and accounting flows (technically called 'Record to Report' process flow). I think I am one of the very few consultants in the world with that depth of understanding of the process flows and who can configure it in Oracle. 
At the same time, I was also becoming painfully aware of the gaps in my knowledge. I had not learned any new technology, lets make it 'ANY' technology, I was aware that without having exposure to technology my career was not going to progress further. Unless I did something different, I was destined to be stuck in my low paying job.
I started looking around for courses in technology that would be of interest and of use to me. All I could see were courses in programming languages - C, C++, and a new programming language called Java. Programming languages did not interest me since they would not offer me any value differentiation for my manufacturing domain knowledge. In the job market, I wold be competing with young, fresh out of college coders. I was not comfortable with that.
At that time, my brother was also trying to get into the world of technology. We both were mechanical engineers who graduated in the late '80s and had spent the first 10 years of our work life in manufacturing industry. He told me about a certification program from Oracle, called Oracle Certified Professional (OCP), that was offering certification on the entire Oracle Developer Track. Endowed with much more grit than me, he patiently followed and got certified as an OCP in 2000. Immediately afterwards he joined Oracle as a Database Administrator (DBA).
His success motivated me to look at OCP. Fortunately for me providence had much better plan for me. 
Since I was working on Oracle ERP at that time, the opportunity to learn Oracle Technology sounded good. I started looking around for courses near my office. Here providence intervened second time. It offered me a much better and futuristic course at a training centre very close to my office !!
Let me briefly explain to you the new technology. 
Till the late '90s, the network technology available was called 'Client Server' technology. Also known as 'Two Tier' technology, here the application would be installed in a server of high capacity and the users will access the application on their computers, known as clients. Clients were physically connected to the servers using long network cables. In a typical office of that time, there were cables everywhere. They were lying around like inert thin snakes, cluttering the place and spoiling the aesthetics of the office.
As you can see, the main limitation of this technology was the need for physical proximity between the clients and the server machines. This limited the potential expansion of applications across geographically separated offices. Network technology limited the potential for enterprises wide remote expansion of applications.
By the late '90s, applications vendors were developing 'Web Enabled' applications to overcome the limitations of Two Tier technology. The process was spurred by the availability of higher band width and cheaper internet and the evolution of new 'Platform Independent' language, Java. 
Coming back to my story, by 1999, Oracle had started marketing its 11i series of Web enabled applications, 'i' standing for 'Internet', of course. Oracle University had designed an expensive, comprehensive and long duration (6 months instead of the prevalent training duration of 15 days) curriculum and was helping a few selected education partners to offer this program.
One of the partners was a company called 'System Logic', which was offering this program. Their office was about two minutes drive from my office. The program was being offed at a cost of 40000 rupees !. Compare it with the cost of a normal training program which was about 4000 to 6000 rupees. The expensive program cost about 4 months of my monthly salary !!
I am indecisive and procrastinating by nature, but at critical points in my life I have taken some quick and tough decisions hoping that I will be proven right eventually. One such decision was to join this program by paying the entire fees upfront. 
As I had mentioned earlier, the syllabus was comprehensive and covered a swathe of new Oracle technologies including SQL, PL/SQL, Forms Reports, Designer 2000, Oracle Web Application Server and Java programming language.
It was 'Paisa Vasool' as they say in India.
By the time program started, my life fell into a routine. My house was in North Bangalore and my office in South Bangalore. Every morning I will leave home at about 7.30 AM, to beat the morning traffic, drive down about 22 kilometres to reach my office. I will leave office at about 6.00 PM and attend training classes till about 9.00 PM. I will have dinner at 'Hotel Home Meals' in Jayanagar and leave for home at 9.45 PM and reach home at about 10.30 PM. 
(In one of the earlier days, I missed my way and spent almost two hours on Bangalore outskirts. I  had almost lost hope of reaching home before day break !!)
There were many memorable incidents that happened during these two years.
The schedule was gruelling, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
At 36 years, I was one of the oldest participants in that group. At a time when other people were trying to 'settle down' with their family and kids, I was struggling to learn new technologies, without any ultimate career goal in sight other than the 'pleasure of learning'. 
It was tiring and exhilarating at the same time. The excitement of learning something new has to be experienced, it cannot be explained. While learning PL / SQL (a programming language) I found that I had a flair for coding. Breaking up a complex problem into logical sequential elements was my strength. The moment I see a problem, a flow chart with logical sequence of its elements immediately pops up in my mind. Writing code was the ambrosia for my logic hungry mind. 
Another memorable incident that happened towards the end of the program remains etched in my mind.
One of the attendees in this program was a guy named Prasad. He was about 3 years junior to me and was working in a company about 30 miles away from the class. Every day he used to take the office bus, travel about 30 miles to attend the program. 
Since he was also working in a manufacturing company and was also a mechanical engineer and finally very close to my age, we became close during this program.
Towards the end of our program, our coordinator asked us to prepare our CVs. All of us were focused on CV preparation and sending the same to companies. There was excitement in the air as most of our CVs were getting rejected and we were modifying our CVs and targeting different companies (or different people in the same company).
All through this I found Prasad aloof. He was not interested in preparing his CV and he was not trying at all.
I knew that he was not happy about his present situation. That was why he was attending the program in the first place. He wanted a change. He needed a change.
"Why are you not preparing your CV and applying for companies like the rest of us?" I asked him one day while we were sipping our tea.
He didn't answer. I pressed the question.
"Look Ram", he finally responded, "I think I am too old to learn anything new. I think at my age I cannot learn anything."
Was he kidding? I was three years older to him and was optimistically trying to get into new opportunities. And here he was, deciding that he was old, and closing out any new opportunities that could come his way.
I left it there. May be that was why I was different. 
Being 36 years old and looking for a job in a new industry and new technology was not easy. The HR Systems had not yet moved to a paradigm of 'Knowledge first'. While the industry was rapidly changing, knowledge was becoming premium and scarce by the day, HR was still talking of 'Relevant experience', 'Role Fitment' etc.
I remember going for an interview for the role of 'Training Manager' at Wipro. Since I did not 'Fit the profile' (an HR Speak for 'You are old'), I was put through four rounds of gruelling interview, the final one by the General Manager himself. The GM was very happy with me.
But he could not give me a job since I did not have any Technology Certifications.
That happened towards the end of August 2000. I committed to him that I will be Java Certified in two months. In turn I wrangled a commitment from him hat he will offer me a job in Wipro if I met my commitment in 2 months...
It was a gentleman's agreement.
I went back and put my heart and soul into learning Java. I purchased (and read) many books, referred many websites dedicated to Java Certification, and cleared many mock tests both online and on paper. By end of October, I was reasonably confident that I will clear the certification exam.
In parallel, I also applied for the job of 'Consultant' at an IT company. The job was for a manufacturing domain expert to work as an ERP Consultant. That opportunity was also progressing satisfactorily.
In the first half of October 26, 2000 I officially cleared the Java Certification with 86% marks. Since it was online exam, I got the results as soon as I completed the test. As soon as I reached home, I called the Wipro GM and informed him that I had cleared my certification on time as committed.
"I have met my side of the commitments sir, no I expect you to honour yours", I told him.
He remembered his side of the commitment. He asked me to send a copy of the certificate which I did. Within two hours, the HR representative of Wipro called me to fix up an HR Interview. The interview was fixed for October 28th.
One October 29th I got an offer letter from Sonata Software for the post of ERP Consultant. On October 30, I got an offer letter from Wipro for the post of Manager Training. The salary in both offers were almost the same.
After discussing with a few people, I opted for the offer from Sonata Software. I submitted my resignation at ICFAI Business School on 01-Nov-2000 for initiating the one month notice period.
On Friday, 01-December 2000, on my 37th birthday, I joined Sonata Software Limited Bangalore as ERP Consultant.
My journey as an ERP Professional had begun.

Sep 29, 2018

Lot Costing (2005)

"Subbu, what is the progress in Costing?", asked Mr.Natarajan, the GM of the company and the project sponsor. It was early winter in 2004. We were all attending a project steering committee meeting to discuss the project status. Subbu was the key user in charge of process costing.
"I don't know", Subbu responded sarcastically, "I have no idea how costing work in Oracle. Ram has not yet explained it to me. Please ask him.", Subbu replied.
"Probably he also do not know how costing works", Subbu added for good measure.
Everyone looked at me. I id not have anything to say. I looked out of the window.
It was a beautiful day.

Sep 26, 2018

ERP Detective: The baffling case of exploding inventory (2005)

Initially I was not involved in this issue since it did not concern my specific area. I was not aware of the issue when it started. By the time it was brought to my attention, it had become a crisis.

I was a member of a team implementing ERP application for a Jewellery manufacturing company. It was a very complex implementation and we had totally customized the manufacturing process to meet the complex process and stringent security requirements of the customer.

From the time raw materials were consumed to the time the finished product was sent to the depot for Order fulfilment, we customized the entire process flow. 

One element of the customization was a customized window to receive the finished product from the production process. The problem was that when the user was receiving the finished product, in certain cases, instead of the original receipt quantity, a different and significantly higher quantity was being received. The only pattern we observed was that the received quantity always ended up with 'zero',

Sep 23, 2018

ERP Detective: The Dhaka Chronicles.... (2003)

One of the advantages of being an ERP Consultant is that you get to travel to many new places, meet new people and learn about their culture. As a person who loves travelling, I look forward to these opportunities. They rejuvenate me. Customer takes care of you really well because you are the 'Consultant', you see.

A look at my passport show that I spent 10 days in Dhaka from 7th April 2003 to 17th April 2003. 

Memory takes me back....

Sometime in March of that year, my manager called me.

"Ram, you need to travel to Dhaka", he told me. "We implemented ERP application at a company called GAFCO, headquartered in Dhaka. They are facing serious issues after go live"

"What is the issue?", I asked

Sep 19, 2018

The curious tale of Ragiguda stock exchange...(2006)

On my latest visit to Ragiguda, I found Sandeep Pandey looking gloomy, morose and melancholic.

In those days, I used to visit Ragiguda regularly in my role as the financial consultant implementing ERP solutions for XYZ Corporation. Sandeep was a member of my implementation team as a key user in charge of payables process. On every visit, I used to find Sandeep very happy, cheerful and pleasant. A slap on the back, a cheerful 'Good Morning' or a bright smile - Sandeep had them all. In fact I used to feel that Sandeep was becoming happier on every next visit of mine. I attributed this to his approval of the way our team was implementing the ERP solution in his organization.

That was why I was surprised - and concerned - when I found Sandeep Pandey gloomy, morose and melancholic. My immediate thought was that something has gone wrong with the implementation.

Sep 14, 2018

ERP Detective: The mysterious affair of seesawing stocks (2001)

"We have a major problem in XYZ" informed my project manager.

It was in the year 2001

In the early 2000's, I was working as an ERP Consultant, implementing an ERP product called ABC. This was a Swedish Product and my employer was the only ABC Partner in India. This product was widely sought after by European companies who had set up shop in India

My company did a lot of ABC Business.

I had joined my employer in December 2000 and after about a month of training, was assigned to implement ABC in XYZ India Limited, a manufacturing company based out of Hosur in Tamil Nadu.

May 30, 2018

Top 5 ERP News and Articles: 28-May-2018

Today the focus is on Industry 4.0 (I40). The articles below talk about how the top ERP vendors (Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and Epicor) plan to augment their applications to support Industry 4.0. The information in this post is curated from publicly available information, press releases and company websites. 

1. Oracle unveils IoT Cloud  for Industry 4.0 offerings: Oracle has released the IoT on Cloud as a part of its Cloud offerings to specifically support I40. The augmented reality, machine vision, Digital Twin and Automated Data Science capabilities can enhance production, logistics, warehousing and maintenance. The Production Monitoring Cloud offers I4.0 features capabilities like Digital Twin, Predictive Analytics etc enables the organization to have a real time view of its manufacturing shop floor.

May 27, 2018

How Jim Carey helped me in my career....

It was the beginning of the April 2016. I had just started out my career as a Freelance ERP consultant. I had no prior experience as a Freelance Consultant. I did not know how the freelance consulting worked, how a consultant received leads, how they were converted to opportunities, how consultants set their price, how they branded and marketed themselves....

Except for updating my LinkedIn profile title as  'Independent ERP Consultant', I had done nothing. I did not know how to proceed.

That is where Jim Carey appeared out of nowhere.

May 26, 2018

Top 5 ERP news and articles: 26-May2018

Curated content of top five ERP news and articles on the web, mostly related to ERP in India

1. Filtrec Bharat accelerates business growth with Infor: Businesswire India: Infor, a leading provider of industry-specific cloud applications, today announced that Filtrec Bharat, a specialist in manufacturing filter elements for industrial and process filters, has selected Infor solutions to deliver greater visibility, productivity and competency for business growth. The implementation is expected to go live in Aug 2018 and will be deployed by Godrej Infotech..
Upon a comprehensive evaluation, Infor was selected for its specialized expertise in discrete manufacturing module, especially for manufacturing planning and supply chain. 

2. 10 Manufacturing buzzwords you should pay attention to in 2015: IFS World: Manufacturing Industry has undergone rapid changes in the last four to five years mainly driven by technological advances that were unthinkable a few years ago. Terms like 'Rapid Prototyping', 'Collaborative Robots (Cobots)' are the in jargons in this industry. This article from ERPNews talks about 10 such jargons that you should be aware of in 2018. These are Smart Factory / Industry 4.0, Robotic Process Automation, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Servitization (This is new...), Additive manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality / Mixed Reality (AR / VR / MR), Block Chain and Technological Unemployment. Add the two I mentioned in the beginning, and you have a well rounded dozen !!1
Want to know what each of these mean? Continue Reading >>

3. Top 5 ERP Predictions for 2018: Panorama Consulting: As we enter 6 months into 2018, it is interesting to revisiting the predictions on ERP made at the beginning of the year. Panorama Consulting, a respected name in ERP Consulting made five predictions for 2018. These included, one, capital investments in digital transformation initiatives will continue, two, cloud ERP will reach a tipping point, three, more organizations will be forced to lay off their legacy ERP systems, four, more companies will say 'No' to ERP Software, and five, Organizations shy away from OCM (Org. Change Management).
While some of these are carefully worded to be generic and cannot be validated by data, it is safe to say the cloud has not yet reached the tipping point. With the new EU Data Protection regulations, Organizations will have to rethink their central server cloud strategy.  Also, On premise applications are far from Sunset. Oracle is in fact releasing upgraded versions of its EBS On Premise applications. (12.2.6). I think there is a confusion and lack of clarity on the cloud / on-premise strategy, mostly related to standardized / customized applications.  

4. ERP Beauty Contest: One of the underrated criteria when selecting an ERP application is its Ease of Use. Considering that the users of the application are the key stakeholders of the application post go live, it is surprising that this aspect is not given the due importance. Ease of use will automatically translate to increased user interest and enthusiasm, smoothing the requirement gathering, end user training and shortening the data collection time. 
So what are the criteria that qualify as ease of use (also called Beauty Contest?). These include intuitive navigation, personalization and ease of customization, integrated application philosophy (for example same design principles used in Payables and Receivables),  integration with Microsoft Office applications (very important), quick opening of data forms, quick retrieval of data, intuitive and actionable alert messages, quick retrieval of latest realtime information (latest inventory figures when the sales person is sitting with the customer accessing web over a WIFI) etc (Some of these criteria are mine)
How do ERPs stack up? I would love to know. I have worked on Oracle, IMO, it is somewhat average when it comes to these criteria. 

5. Clover Infotech Implements Oracle Financials Cloud: Economic Times: In my earlier role, I was a customer for Clover Infotech. Their customer support is excellent. Now I see this news that they have implemented Oracle Cloud for Financials and Project Contracts Billing. We discussed this elsewhere, Indian companies are looking at a modular approach to cloud rather than the Application approach.