I shared my perspective on ‘surviving’ a digital transformation here a few years ago in the context of our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) technology and process implementation supported by S/4 HANA. That project is complete (with many bruises to prove it!) and now serves as the foundation from which we can launch new capabilities. As CFOs, and sometimes dually CIOs, we can learn from each other to ensure our organizational resources are deployed in a way to bring innovative and efficient solutions to life effectively.

Implementing a new ERP should create a long-term runway to deliver material benefits in future. This is often the pitch we hear from vendors but also what we share with our respective boards to gain alignment. Expected outcomes tend to focus on better cost transparency and improved decision making. Often those improvements come to fruition, but not after a timeline and resource investments that look far different than original expectations.

“As new technology and processes came online, we eventually shifted into a new gear - still grinding those gears occasionally - to leverage this new level of understanding.”

During our ERP implementation at Sargento, we faced a more challenging and demanding rollout than expected. After going live, it took much longer than we had hoped to get to the same level of functionality as the prior system, and even longer to start reaping promised benefits. We struggled to produce baseline reporting capabilities the organization had relied upon for years which required the business to be flexible and operate with limited data until the reporting issues were addressed. Staying nimble was paramount. Fortunately, our corporate culture is one that is built on mutual support and collaboration so, we were able to adopt an agile mindset to make the pivots that were necessary.

As new technology and processes came online, we eventually shifted into a new gear - still grinding those gears occasionally - to leverage this new level of understanding. Once we re-established our key data feeds and reporting the resource investments stabilized, allowing us to focus on new capabilities and tools to leverage a much broader and more granular dataset. Even with these more focused enhancements and capabilities, the road ahead was bumpy and winding.  

One area about which we were particularly excited was the ability to automate most of the manual invoice processing. With the allure of moving to 85% or more of our invoices being processed systemically we moved quickly and even leaned in to reallocate some accounts payable resources elsewhere. We saw an increase in the number of invoices processed automatically, but as one can probably imagine we aren’t anywhere near the 85% target due to many constraints in both our systems and processes that weren’t initially apparent. We have added resourcing in the interim to manage our invoice flow and now have a clearer understanding of what the ceiling is on automated invoices (hint, it’s below 85% for now) but more importantly what that path looks like to get there.

We still have a long distance to travel before we reach the goals we set for ourselves which are largely based on our high standards for quality, food safety and customer service.  I’m pleased to share that our more recent progress has provided valuable momentum and our experiences have allowed us to shift into short-work solutions and bite off work in more digestible chunks. These smaller and more focused projects also have the benefit of a targeted internal audience for training and change management needs which we have found to be more effective. Ultimately, and thankfully, we now know how to learn more quickly and solve problems faster.