During ChannelCon, CompTIA’s annual conference, Workflow magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Ken Staker, Chief Implementation Officer at MWAi, and talk about ERP roll-outs, managing growth, good timing and the importance of preserving those elements that make a company unique.
The new product at hand is FORZA — a SAP Business One ERP solution being verticalized for the channel that offers dealerships and VARs a scalable software to power their business. Staker is in charge of the SAP Business One division at MWAi and oversees implementations of the program throughout the channel.
SAP has a market cap of almost $100 billion and is as well known for its complexity as for its size, so there is a lot of curiosity in the market about how such a sophisticated machine can be tailored to small and medium-sized businesses. We needn’t have wondered — according to Staker, the Business One solution is elegant, streamlined and scalable but with all the bells and whistles you might have expected from a software powerhouse.
And Staker would know. With a degree in materials science engineering, he started working with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) right out of college. He was immediately assigned to their SAP practice leading up to Y2K and has been working with the product ever since.
What did you learn in those days at Andersen?
It was such a great experience. The SAP practice was a very structured environment — they’re all about methodology. We were dealing with implementing change within very large companies that had thousands of employees. We dealt daily with the question of how to alter their systems and processes to make change happen. That was a great opportunity to learn the discipline around ERP and ERP implementations.
Coming from that background, a few years later I had the opportunity to work in a smaller company — about a $50 million dollar regional contracting company. I got to sit in the boardroom with the CEO and help direct the company. A decision would be made in the morning and by the afternoon you were affecting the business. This was a completely different environment.
That must have been very rewarding.
Yes. I really liked working in a small to medium-sized company, being able to take some of the technology and the methodology that helped big businesses run and apply that in a smaller business environment. It was a really rewarding experience. I liked the SAP environment, but we put full-blown SAP into that small company, which was really overkill, and the biggest problem they had was how to navigate the software. So when SAP bought Business One and began investing in the SMB space, that was really attractive to me, and I found a way to become a partner with SAP and began implementing Business One in smaller companies.
I’d been doing that for a number of years, and every company that we went to was a new industry, a new business, which was great. I loved learning about how all these businesses run, but could see pretty quickly that the way to be successful in this hyper environment is to find an industry that you can specialize in and verticalize. That’s about the time that I was introduced to MWAi and started discussing all the changes that are going on in the channel. It was very captivating to me — this was the perfect place to merge these worlds of ERP in the SMB space with a vertical solution that really taps a burning need in order to allow the businesses not only to run better, but be able to transform and become what they need to be.
Would you say that access to tools that give companies the visibility to make the right decisions in a dynamic environment are critical in this channel?
There is so much changing in the industry — there’s a need to be in managed IT and managed services, but still keep the legacy business going and be able to operate efficiently. That was the perfect situation for me to come in and try to help. The collision of technology and scalability allows real opportunity for SMBs to have access to incredibly robust, intricate, sophisticated solutions that only large companies used to be able to utilize.
How long has Business One been around as a product with SAP?
Business One was purchased by SAP in 2002. They’ve made huge investments into the product and it has become one of their three flagship offerings. I am in charge of making sure that Forza, the verticalized solution that MWAi has created, is properly built, tested and deployed as well as putting together all the methodology for how we deploy in the channel.
You’ve used the word “discipline” a few times. I have to imagine there are large differences in both size and culture within the various companies into which you will be deploying FORZA. This is not a cookie cutter process.
No, it is not, and that’s really one of the challenges. When you look at the SMB market, there are small companies where you could come in and say “this is the way you need to do it, change your business and let’s make this work.” Then on the other end you have the major Fortune 500 companies that say “we’re going to do business the way we do business and we have the resources to change the software to run the way we do business.” FORZA is kind of in the middle. We have to focus on best practices, we have to be able to take a holistic look at the industry and say “OK – based on what everybody is doing, here are the best practices. This is the way we need to implement.” But we have to be flexible enough for that one company that sells A/V equipment when the others don’t. It’s a balance of best-practice cookie cutter with also being flexible to accommodate unique value.
This is an interesting channel. Do you have any observations to share?
Yes — there are a couple of things that I think are really unique about the industry. In large part, the companies we are working with are wildly successful. So they have the resources to make change. A lot of times when you are working with a company that is trying to implement this kind of change, it is because they are dying and they have to make a change or they are going out of business. That’s not the case here. These are well-run companies with well-entrenched leadership that understand the market, and that have the funding to make wise choices. I think that’s something that is a real positive for this environment.
One of the other notable things is that there is such a driver for change out in the market. It is a perfect time for this kind of transformation because FORZA facilitates that. It allows them to still run their business, but more efficiently than they were before, enabling better margins to be earned on what they are doing. In addition, they now have the visibility and infrastructure to say “we need to strike out with this new technology” and they can do it.
What is the greatest challenge you are facing right now?
Growth. How do we keep up with the demand? We are growing our internal resources, we’re developing the product and the roadmap and trying to marry all that together and to deliver to a market that needs it NOW. That’s the hardest thing for us.
What is your greatest concern for this industry?
I guess the greatest concern that I have in bringing the technology in is being able to help the companies effect change. That’s always the hardest part, the biggest challenge with ERP implementations. Success comes when you help an organization change the way they do business, the way they process, enabling them to become successful with the new technology and I think that’s probably the biggest challenge that we face.
What are the key components that are absolutely necessary in order for an implementation to work?
The number one thing is having that executive sponsorship. You need to have the people at the top that have the vision to say “We’re doing this, it’s going to be painful, it’s going to hurt, but we’re doing it.” They can see beyond the immediate pain. They can say, “This is essential to our survival, not just to keep us going, but to allow us to become what we need to become.” If they have that vision, then it makes a big difference.
Training is also a big part of it, being able to help the companies to understand the new business flow. Most of these companies have 30 or 40-year track records of doing things a certain way and now we must go in and ask if there is a better way. Working through those questions and helping them let go leads to success.
Who does that part? Who’s having those conversations from your team?
We have an implementation team in our consulting division and that’s what we do. We have a methodology that we use; we go into the company and do a thorough blueprinting analysis where we identify the existing processes and guide the company to where they want to be. When we see processes that are not the norm, different than what we would consider to be a best practice, then we address those and ask the company why they are doing things in that particular way. Sometimes, that’s what makes them unique and we need to adapt to that because that’s what brings value to their customer. Other times it’s “Well, we’ve always done it that way.” In that case we talk about considering some new ways to do things that follow a standard model.
Those are some delicate conversations.
Right. And we are looking for a lot more in our consultants than just people that know the software. We want people that understand business. It certainly requires finesse. You have to give credit and understand that the people you are working with know this business and have been running it for years and there’s a lot we can learn from them. We can’t just go in with a template and say “This is the way it has got to run”. We have to go in and understand them. They may have some things that we need to change. We look at that as an investment. We’re trying to build a product to re-engineer this industry, so we are happy to learn those lessons.
Do you have a target number of deployments in mind?
In two years we expect to have 200 companies running FORZA.
So clearly you’re seeing resonance in the market?
Our sales meetings are all about how to pace this crazy growth. We are actively identifying and restructuring to be more verticalized inside the company so we can have those centers of expertise instead of requiring our people to know the product from A to Z. We want to allow for specialization.
What are the qualities you are looking for in these new hires?
Someone who is very familiar with large systems, who is totally comfortable with ERP and how it integrates, who has a great feel for business and what it means to an organization, and what it means to help an organization change. We can teach them FORZA, but we need that type of depth and experience.
Are there personality traits that are important?
We go in with a consulting type of approach when we work with these businesses. You have to have people that are great communicators, that interact well, that listen well, that are not trying to drive an agenda, that are willing to work with a customer. They have to be very bright, they have to be able to learn a business really quickly and see the nuances and determine how this business is different from the last one and what’s significant and what needs to change.
What words or phrases do you most overuse?
[Laughs] Probably “discipline.” We’ve been talking about that a lot but that’s important for us. “Skill sets,” “expertise” — I use those quite often. We need to build a center of expertise that our customers can come to for counsel, for advice and help. You can’t fake that.
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Workflow.
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