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Cautious about SaaS, Textron came around to Oracle ERP Cloud

Textron IT and finance leaders said the company only trusted cloud for nonessentials until aging systems made the move to SaaS ERP inevitable.

SAN FRANCISCO -- For more than 20 years, Textron, which bills itself as the world's oldest conglomerate, chugged...

along with a legacy ERP environment running on a combination of Infor and Lawson Software.

After a couple of years of careful planning, the company eventually decided to consolidate on Oracle ERP Cloud in combination with the Oracle Integration Cloud Service.

"From a strategic perspective, Textron had to do something different," said Mike Skibo, who was CIO until leaving the company recently. "Continuing to invest in monoliths that are really monuments just wasn't going to work for us."

Textron leaders shared their OracleERP Cloud migration story in a session at the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference here this week.

Piecemeal SaaS gives way to Oracle ERP Cloud

As the Infor and Lawson systems began to show their age, the 95-year-old manufacturer behind brands such as Bell, Cessna and Beechcraft started experimenting with the cloud, moving nonessential systems to SaaS alternatives. But many critical applications, including ERP and finance, remained on premises, either because of the regulatory limitations global companies face, or because the company's leadership simply wasn't ready to entrust them to SaaS providers.

Some of these applications were ported to a private instance in Microsoft's Azure cloud, but finance and ERP were left alone, in part due to the reluctance of the financial professionals who use the systems to embrace change. For a while, the company managed this arrangement by layering Oracle Hyperion consolidated reporting over the existing environment, but it only delayed the inevitable.

According to Skibo, succumbing to such resistance wasn't a long-term option.

So Textron spent much of 2016 and 2017 preparing to make the big move to cloud ERP and financials. Requirements were outlined, processes optimized and specifications established. Skibo and his team found themselves with a long list of project objectives: Find a modern alternative to Textron's aging systems, enable better decision support with analytics, ensure that users can tailor operational reports to their requirements, and replace labor-intensive manual processes with a combination of automation and best practices.

Textron also would have to integrate with external supplier and partner systems.

Facing a time crunch to get a new system in place by the end of 2017, the company decided on Oracle ERP Cloud and began a frenetic 13-week deployment.

Ultimately, the project came in on time and on budget, but it was not without its challenges, starting with the initial pushback from finance users, who argued that the numbers wouldn't change regardless of technology, and that they relied on getting the reports they'd always gotten.

"I wouldn't say they're my flag carriers for change," Skibo said.

Eventually, he was able to sell them on the need for change, and on the promise that they wouldn't have to contend with the disruption of major ERP upgrades every few years.

There was also the moment that Oracle announced the availability of release 13 of its cloud, less than a month after Textron had gone live on release 12. That turned out be a relatively easy transition, but it clearly was not how Textron would have scripted things.

Finance manager advises close attention to data model

Over the course of the deployment -- both the initial core implementation and the subsequent phased rollout of modules such as accounts payable and the general ledger -- Textron relied heavily on Oracle Consulting to help it get past the hiccups, deal with needed configurations and familiarize the company with its new cloud-based functionality.

Really think about the data model and how information in the Oracle ERP Cloud maps to your information.
Kelli Gudzsenior finance systems manager, Textron

"We all had a cohesive focus and were working toward one common goal," said Kelli Gudz, Textron's senior finance systems manager, who joined Skibo in the OpenWorld talk.

That kind of collaboration was present internally, as well, as Gudz said that involving the business in every step of the migration was critical to ensuring that users would understand the new SaaS ERP system sufficiently, be able to create their own account strings and generally shed their dependence on IT.

Now, months later, the Oracle ERP Cloud-enabled version of Textron has said goodbye to costly upgrades, achieved healthy user acceptance and adoption, seen more reliable real-time data flowing through the company and positioned itself for future growth.

As for other companies considering a similar journey, Gudz had one recommendation based on a lesson Textron learned. She said she wished her team had started the data conversion effort sooner; it underestimated the differences in the Infor-Lawson and Oracle models, which led to staff having to do that work over last year's Christmas break.

"Really think about the data model and how information in the Oracle ERP Cloud maps to your information," she said.

With more modules and business units eyed for migration to Oracle ERP Cloud during 2019, Textron should have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

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