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SAN FRANCISCO -- Ask Michael Mann, director of finance and accounts at Caesars Entertainment, about the distinction between traditional on-premises ERP and the cloud-based ERP systems that are becoming all the rage. He'll tell you how it's like the contrast between buying a house that's move-in-ready and having to relocate a bathroom and remodel the kitchen before moving in.
Mann should know: He's just overseen the first phase of a move to the Oracle cloud ERP suite, a complex undertaking for a company that operates 47 casinos and 34,000 hotel rooms at properties in five countries. The fact that Caesars didn't have to do extensive customizations or rebuild its own processes was a prime attraction.
"We're moving into the house, and we're going to pick out the drapes and the carpet," Mann said during a well-attended session at the Oracle OpenWorld 2017 conference. "They built the right house."
Oracle cloud ERP enabled close partnership
Caesars' motivations for finding a new house, to borrow Mann's vernacular, were driven in large part by the fact that the company was relying on 30-year-old legacy green-screen technology to run its accounting and HR systems. Caesars' leadership wanted to simplify and shrink that footprint in the process.
But moving to the cloud is about more than picking a vendor, Mann told OpenWorld attendees. It's one thing to buy a product to run a business; it's quite another to hand over your company's data and many of its IT responsibilities. In doing so, the relationship becomes much more than a customer-vendor dynamic, as Caesars discovered.
"If you think about it, you're really replacing your IT department and system with Oracle," Mann said. "They're not really a vendor -- they're a partner. It was so collaborative, and we worked so well together."
The collaboration was critical because of the project's inherent complexity. Numerous back-office systems had to be integrated into the Oracle cloud ERP environment. The new system had to replace a largely dispersed data-entry model that was challenged by issues of consistency and accuracy, and Oracle's approach to data relationship management allowed more consistent, centralized data entry. Perhaps most importantly, Caesars wanted the system to serve up real-time reporting based on its improved transaction-processing capabilities.
Michael Manndirector of finance and accounts at Caesars Entertainment
After a one-year deployment that Mann said could have been completed in nine months if Caesars had made a few different decisions, such as investing in a dedicated person to lead testing -- an oversight that caused some delays -- the company saw the system's potential immediately. Mann said during August -- the first month the system was live -- 1,100 users had accessed Caesars' Oracle cloud ERP, processing 2.5 million journal lines, 440,000 accounts payable lines and 28,000 payments without a glitch.
While the company hasn't yet computed any hard benefits it's realized from the Oracle cloud ERP system, Mann said he expects significant gains in efficiency across the board -- from sales and service processes to hospitality and loyalty programs to the payment of invoices.
"We're really going down this integrated ERP system path to make things work better, faster, cheaper and smarter," he said.
Extensive change management, project organization were essential
It helps to go about implementation in a level-headed fashion, and according to Bill Behen, a principal at Chicago-based Oracle partner Grant Thornton, which served as the system integrator on the project, Caesars had all the right strategic pieces in place. That included a desire to take an incremental, phased approach to rolling out the various pieces of the software -- which is officially called Oracle ERP Cloud -- and buy-in from senior leadership.
"I'm sure everyone has heard that over and over again, that you need support from the top," Behen told the OpenWorld audience. In the case of Caesars, "it wasn't just talk. They had senior people very involved in the project."
Behen advised Caesars to adopt the Oracle Unified Method for SaaS applications, which helped to ensure core team members were trained on the methodology, project roles and responsibilities were clearly defined and there were sufficient dedicated internal resources.
Doing so helped Caesars overcome numerous challenges, such as limited internal expertise with cloud applications, aversion to risk, a distributed user base that was reliant upon antiquated legacy technology, and high numbers of integrations and transactions.
Caesars also worked with Grant Thornton to set up a change network, which essentially functioned as a way to provide local change management and support to a highly distributed user base.
Even successful transitions to the cloud are filled with valuable lessons, and Caesars' experience was no different. Mann said the things he realized during the implementation included the following:
- the need to dedicate full-time resources for project roles;
- the danger of underestimating the importance of validating data conversions;
- the importance of engaging both internal and external audit teams to ensure expectations are met; and
- the importance of engaging the network team to make sure the network is optimized to support cloud apps.
Ultimately, Mann had two recommendations for Oracle OpenWorld 2017 attendees: Make sure to discuss any network maintenance that might be planned during the implementation to reduce potential conflict, and don't be tempted to work with offshore outsourcers, which can result in delays as long as a day or two just to get responses to basic questions via email.
That said, however a company goes about its move from a legacy ERP system to SaaS ERP, there's one happy outcome that no mistake during deployment can prevent.
"You're not going to find yourself 30 years from now working on a green screen," Mann said.
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