Fast, Easy ERP: Here's How to Get It

How one drug company managed to roll out a new SAP-based ERP system in 120 days by using a pre-fab solution and forgoing customization

"ERP" and "rapid implementation" were once rarely uttered in the same sentence. But smaller enterprises in particular need affordable, reliable software that can still be rolled out quickly.

Gallus BioPharmaceuticals is one ERP customer that took a faster, cheaper approach. The nascent contract manufacturer of biopharmaceuticals acquired an existing, FDA-approved biologics plant from Johnson & Johnson last year and had 120 days to wean itself off the corporate giant's IT infrastructure--including desktops, networks, phone systems and software.

Migrating from highly customized, well-supported SAP software to its own ERP system, however, was a big challenge. Gallus uses living cells to make medications that treat conditions such as arthritis and psoriasis. It's a highly regulated industry, so the transition really had to be seamless.

"We have to track everything from preventative maintenance to cell-performance data," explains Gallus CFO Steven Kasok. That needed to continue from the day Gallus signed the Johnson & Johnson deal right through the day after SAP access was shut off. After all, says Kasok, "the cells didn't know they were sold."

The CFO, who began his career in IT at GE and oversees Gallus's technology function, knew the 17-week implementation schedule was tight, particularly given the company's bare-bones IT staff. The key? "You go with a simple, non-customized implementation," says Kasok.

Kasok chose EzPharma, a pre-configured ERP package built on SAP, based solely on the viability of the vendor. "We have the same regulatory and quality framework as large pharmaceutical clients, so it only makes sense to run on the same system background," says Kasok. "The real question is, Can you afford it?"

There is no cut-rate ERP suitable for the drug industry, so Kasok bit the bullet on EzPharma's "couple million dollar" price tag, shaving costs on the implementation itself. He hired consultants from Answerthink, an SAP consultancy, to manage the rollout, but used internal staff on the project as much as possible and vetoed customization in almost all cases. "You can make modest changes in your own operating systems to meet the standards of the off-the-shelf software," Kasok says.

Because Gallus manufactures products for the commercial market, the regulatory bar is set higher than it is for other manufacturers. To meet its complex tracking and documentation requirements, the company required one bespoke element of software to support its maintenance and calibration tracking procedures. Other than that, what it rolled out last year was what came in the box.

"It's a big cultural shift to say, 'We're going with a standard system,'" says Kasok. "The consultants would talk about [making changes in] the next phase. But I always said, 'This is the only phase.'"

Master data migration proved tougher than expected, says Kasok, who is more familiar with the straightforward flat files of his IT days. "Intense data cleaning added stress--and about 30 days--to the project."

"In an ideal world, we would have implemented just what we needed instead of what [Johnson & Johnson] already had," Kasok says. For example, Gallus will now manage multiple customer inventories. "We weren't able to do as much up-front planning as we would have liked."

"The reality is, there will be more," which Kasok admits sounds suspiciously like a phase two. "We did this as cost effectively as possible, and the return is a business that continues to run."

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