Michael and I founded gsquare in 2010 just after completing some remediation work for one of the big engineering firms. They had just gone live with SAP across the business and needed help adjusting to the new world.
But before we go too far, the story started much earlier for all of us.
I always found technology fascinating and the potential it held for businesses to do well if used wisely. For most of my early career I had worked for businesses that were 'stable' from a technology point of view and I had little appreciation for the challenges involved in getting them to this state.
Papua New Guinea and the Ellipse Issues List
Back in 2004 I have moved to Papua New Guinea to help a mine site become independent from one of the major operators. As part of this transition, the entire IT landscape was subject to an overhaul including the upgrade from Mincom MIMS to Ellipse. This is also where I met Daryl for the first time. He was the Finance Manager and a major stakeholder of the implementation.
I arrived towards the back end of the project when everything was handed over to the operations team. Part of the handover was the Excel spreadsheet with 'unresolved issues' from the Ellipse implementation. There was a strong sentiment in the business that the implementation didn't meet expectations and there was an ever-growing list of demands and changes. It was a bit bewildering to me considering that the project was a success from an IT perspective - on time and on budget and the system went live with few challenges. I dug deeper to understand where the dissatisfaction came from, and it didn't take long to understand. The business was sold a reimplementation of the old system including some process reengineering in areas where the old system fell short. What was actually being implemented was a technical upgrade with like-for-like functionality.
The two key lessons learnt were that:
you must set the right expectations across the entire business; and
ERP implementations are never a 'set and forget' exercise. The software creates the foundations for a platform of continuous improvement. Delivering incremental improvement can be a good thing as it allows focus on specific areas without the massive burn rate of having a full team on standby.
Malaysia - System Selection with Michael
Fast forward a couple of years and the journey continues to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I was responsible for delivering IT Services to a rapidly growing construction and engineering business. The pace at which the business grew was astounding and presented a number of challenges. The rapid geographical expansion meant a diminishing span of control of the Executives. Legacy systems couldn't keep up and Executives were 'living on a plane' jetting from country to country. The company needed a new system to control business risk. This is where I met Michael who interestingly enough also had an accounting background like Daryl. Michael was part of an implementation of Deltek for another large engineering firm before moving to the UAE to take up the role of Financial Systems Manager.
Michael and I paired up along with an external Consultant to work out the options available to us. Cut a long story short, we rapidly arrived at the conclusion that we needed new ERP System and we started to work closely with SAP.
The Consultant helped us a great deal in cutting through all of the hubris and he had a way of communicating complex issues in an easily digestible format. He was also blunt and brutally honest with the Executives which was not only needed but it should form one of the core principles of our future company. Michael and I learned a lot from him in the process.
The business was wary of this step, not only what this meant from a cost and resources commitment perspective but there were also a lot of horror stories about failed implementations and SAP wasn't exactly seen as the first choice for engineering and construction businesses. Most of the following months were spent on scoping the project and talking to as many of the existing customers in this industry vertical as we could. One thing that we emphasised the entire time with Management was the profound change the company needed to undergo in order to make this work. I won't say this was taken lightly but it wasn't really understood what this meant. It only sank in when Michael and I took a key Executive to another customer to see for himselve how they operated. The look on his face and the expression of 'This much [******] change!' stuck with us to this day.
Keeping a tab on Daryl
In the midst of all of this I received an email from Daryl who had moved on to another Mining Company in Turkey to manage the commercial side of the business. Daryl, a man of few words just told me that they needed a new system and whether I could help in some way. Michael and I were fully engaged so we recommended to Daryl to use the same Consultant to help him get this moving.
Interestingly enough, Daryl managed to not only get this project off the ground but he also ran the implementation of SAP wall-to-wall in 11 months at a cost of USD1.5m for a medium sized mining operations in the middle of nowhere.
Daryl being cost conscious by nature decided to project manage the implementation himself and only used a sprinkling of external consulting time to keep things on track.
Not only did this prove the viability of SAP for medium sized businesses, but it became a showcase for SAP in Europe to tell customers what is possible.
Back in Australia and the start of gsquare
Michael and I moved back to Australia after the project in Kuala Lumpur did not go ahead. We both learned so much about SAP in engineering and construction, an industry we both were passionate about that we were determined to see this in action and learn some more.
I was lucky enough to secure an IT Managers role with an engineering firm back in Perth that was about to go-live with SAP. My remit was on Service Delivery and getting value out of the Shared Services function and less so on the implementation itself. This was OK, I helped where I could with go live preparation.
The implementation was run very well with the company deciding not to go with one of the larger Partners but to stand up their own team to deliver it in house. The company accepted that the risk of the implementation always rested with them and hence they wanted to be in control. So, this should have all been easy, right?
The business division I was working for was partially engaged in the project. This is, the typical support functions were all over this like a rash (finance, supply chain, HR, etc) but the functions that created the revenue were not. It was broadly seen as another 'accounting software' that didn't concern them much and in the end, they have had their own set of tools. I knew how far this solution could reach into the sharp end of the business, so I watched and learned a bit more.
Go live came and went and everything was quiet for about three months. Sentiment had turned after this when numbers made little sense and people struggled to come to terms with the new system. I go tapped on the shoulder (probably for no other reason that I was German and so was the software and after all, this is an IT problem) to 'help sort this out'. This led to some conversations about the need to bring people, process and system together and that this needed a much broader remit and authority. My role was changed and a scope and budget was agreed. I couldn't think of anyone better but Michael to help so I quickly whisked him from Melbourne to Perth and we started 'Project Plant' which was the remediation.
I must stress again, this wasn't a failed implementation but a clear underestimation of the impact. Frankly, fixing this was tough and arduous but it was also very rewarding. I still consider this implementation the best I have seen and this is not for the remediation but the way it was run and what it delivered to the business. This by the way was the first time we met our now Chief Technologist, Jimmy Shi. Jimmy is a Grandmaster of SAP and there is nothing he doesn't know about the software.
To new beginnings
At the end of this project Michael and I sat down and talked a lot about the projects, what we had learned and that there must be a better way of doing this. There should be a way where there is no 'unresolved issues' list and where the business understands what they are getting into.
We decided to 'go out on our own' to try and help organisations with the transformation journeys. We founded gsquare to try exactly this back in 2010. Michael and I both were side-tracked for a little while, but this is a story for another day. Suffice it to say, Daryl and I caught up again in Panama for another SAP experience.
We all found ourselves back on Australian shores in late 2018. Daryl returned to Melbourne after a long stint overseas and the three of us teamed up to bolster gsquare. It was a natural fit and we have moved on to deliver some good work for our clients. We always apply the lessons learnt and we stick to our mantra of being brutally honest with our clients to get the best outcome we possibly can for them.