Part Three Key System Applications for the Digital Age
Border States Industries Fuels Rapid Growth with ERP
order States Industries Inc., also known as Border States Electric (BSE), is a wholesale distributor for the construction, industrial, utility, and data communications markets. The company is headquartered in Fargo, North Dakota, and has 57 sales offices in states along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico as well as in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. BSE has 1,400 employees and is wholly employee-owned through its employee stock ownership plan. For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008, BSE earned revenues of over US $880 million. BSE’s goal is to provide customers with what they need whenever they need it, including providing custom services beyond delivery of products. Thus, the company is not only a wholesale distributor but also a provider of supply chain solutions, with extensive service operations such as logistics, job-site trailers, and kitting (packaging individually separate but related items together as one unit). BSE has distribution agreements with more than 9,000 product vendors. BSE had relied on its own legacy ERP system called Rigel since 1988 to support its core business processes. However, Rigel had been designed exclusively for electrical wholesalers, and by the mid-1990s, the system could not support BSE’s new lines of business and extensive growth. At that point, BSE’s management decided to implement a new ERP system and selected the enterprise software from SAP AG. The ERP solution included SAP’s modules for sales and distribution, materials management, financials and controlling, and human resources. BSE initially budgeted $6 million for the new system, with a start date of November 1, 1998. Senior management worked with IBM and SAP consulting to implement the system. Although close involvement of management was one key ingredient in the systems’ success, day-to-day operations suffered while managers were working on the project. BSE also decided to customize the system extensively. It wrote its own software to enable the ERP system to interface automatically with systems from other vendors, including Taxware Systems, Inc., Innovis Inc., and TOPCALL International GmbH. The Taxware system enabled BSE to comply with the sales tax requirements of all the states and munici-
palities where it conducts business. The Innovis system supported electronic data interchange (EDI) so that BSE could electronically exchange purchase and payment transactions with its suppliers. The TOPCALL system enabled BSE to fax customers and vendors directly from the SAP system. At the time of this implementation, BSE had no experience with SAP software, and few consultants familiar with the version of the SAP software that BSE was using. Instead of adopting the best-practice business processes embedded in the SAP software, BSE hired consultants to further customize the SAP software to make its new SAP system look like its old Rigel system in certain areas. For example, it tried to make customer invoices resemble the invoices produced by the old Rigel system. Implementing these changes required so much customization of the SAP software that BSE had to delay the launch date for the new ERP system until February 1, 1999. By that time, continued customization and tuning raised total implementation costs to $9 million (an increase of 50 percent). Converting and cleansing data from BSE’s legacy system took far longer than management had anticipated. The first group of “expert users” were trained too early in the project and had to be retrained when the new system finally went live. BSE never fully tested the system as it would be used in a working production environment before the system actually went live. For the next five years, BSE continued to use its SAP ERP system successfully as it acquired several small companies and expanded its branch office infrastructure to 24...