What It Took for Me, as a CIO, to Consider Rimini Street

BrandPost By Dan Barth
Aug 31, 2018
Technology Industry

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Credit: istock

Having spent most of my work life as a Chief Information Officer, I can’t help seeing the irony in now being in the position of trying to get past all the barriers CIOs erect to avoid having to listen to sales pitches.

You see, I’m a former Rimini Street customer who made a late career change to work as a sales executive. And I know too well that having a system of filters and gatekeepers is a CIO survival skill. I always understood that if I spent all day listening to someone tell me how they were going to solve all my problems, I would never have time to solve the important problems.

So I never took sales calls when I could help it. Ignored email from outside the company, as much as I could. Put an assistant in charge of letting me know when there was something I really needed to pay attention to. Otherwise, it was, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Yet in retrospect, I wish I had been more proactive in rethinking some of the conventional wisdom I had been following about how to manage an ERP implementation – rather than waiting for the budget crisis that forced me to rethink absolutely everything.

As I say, I spent most of my career as a CIO. That includes 16 years at ClubCorp in Dallas (late 1970s to mid-90s) and 14 years at The Oklahoman Media Company, which oversees the largest newspaper in Oklahoma plus a bunch of other media properties (2001 to 2015). In between, I did shorter stints at other companies, including some turnarounds.

The other day someone asked me if I had any sales experience, prior to Rimini Street, and I laughed because that’s a big part of the job of the CIO. You’re always selling: selling up to management about why they should fund projects, selling down and sideways to peers and worker bees about why they should use the systems you’ve provided to them, and selling outward to vendors about why they should give you a good deal.

I had also filled a few roles where I had business development responsibilities, including an Executive Relationship Management gig at Computer Associates. As a CIO, I also served as a happy reference customer for a bunch of software companies, and I’m sure I opened doors and helped them close some sales.

Serving as a reference customer and speaker at Sapphire is something I did for SAP after we implemented their ERP system at The Oklahoman Media Company. I was happy to do it. They provided us with great software that made us more efficient. Not everything worked out perfectly. We originally tried having SAP host the software on our behalf and wound up switching to another data center provider that worked better for us. Overall, though, it was a good experience.

As a result, my SAP contacts were shocked when we dropped our software maintenance contract in favor of support services from Rimini Street. For me personally, it was a radical pivot. When we first decided to implement SAP, one of the commitments I secured from the board was that we would put an annual upgrade of the software on our corporate calendar. I was determined to make sure we would always be on the latest version, marching forward in partnership with SAP.

That might never have changed if not for a budget crisis. But as you may have heard, the newspaper industry is in trouble, and has been for years. I am proud of the work my team did shifting our business and our media brands toward digital products. Still, in total revenues, it wasn’t enough to make up for the collapse in print ad revenue and subscriptions.

As we struggled to cut our way to profitability, I found myself putting my own salary in as one of the line items that might have to be cut. That’s about what it took for me to let down my defenses enough to hear the Rimini Street pitch about supporting my SAP environment.

We had done business with Rimini Street once before, with PeopleSoft HCM environment, but in a more limited and tactical way. When we first brought in SAP, Rimini Street engineers helped us sustain our PeopleSoft implementation for human resources and payroll until we were ready to convert to SAP. But because of those gatekeeper defenses I had erected to protect myself from vendor sales pitches, I wasn’t aware Rimini now offered support for SAP in addition to Peoplesoft and other Oracle products. That meant I could get support for my ERP system for half the cost of an SAP maintenance contract, just for starters. Just as important, I could get myself off the upgrade treadmill. Just dropping a provision in our hosting contract also contributed significant savings. I estimated we saved between 65%-70% of our SAP support costs.

Then I had to sell the idea internally, a challenge complicated by the fact that I was contradicting everything I had said previously about the importance of staying current with SAP’s latest release.

Department heads were understandably skeptical, worrying that they would miss out on important enhancements and new capabilities. In response, I asked a simple question: “Can you tell me one thing you have done differently, one business process you have changed as a result of one of the SAP upgrades we’ve implemented in the past few years?”

They couldn’t name a single one.

In reality, the software already had hundreds of capabilities we had never taken advantage of – either they weren’t relevant to our business or we simply hadn’t gotten around to them. The truth was, few of the changes we needed to make in our business had much to do with our ERP. We needed our SAP implementation to be solid and reliable – and we did want to have someone to turn to for support if it broke down – but we didn’t need to upgrade it just to upgrade it.

Shortly after I decided the company didn’t need a maintenance contract from SAP, I decided it didn’t need a CIO either. With the newspaper struggling, and our efforts to diversify paying limited dividends, the Oklahoman needed to manage for operational efficiency, not the kind of strategic innovation I brought to the table. And when I couldn’t find another CIO position I wanted, the opportunity to join Rimini Street and tell my story proved to be the best way for me to make my exit.

Sadly, it’s a whole lot easier to get people to listen to our pitch when they are in trouble and they know it. That was me when the decline of the Oklahoman forced me to put my own salary on the list of things to cut. Yet I wish we could get people to listen when business is on the upswing and their interest in saving money is driven, not by desperation, but by the desire to keep their core operations as lean and cost effective as possible, leaving room to invest in growth, innovation, and new business.

If you have read this far, I hope you will give that some thought – and maybe even take a call from me or one of my colleagues at Rimini Street.


About Dan Barth

dan barth

Dan Barth served as a CIO and executive consultant for over 30 years at ClubCorp International, Honeywell Aerospace, Oklahoma Publishing Company, Oracle Corporation and Computer Associates before joining Rimini Street. He served on several industry and technology councils including SAP ASUG for Media Industry, President of the Media Technology Group, Advisory Board for the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University (SMU), and Executive Advisory Board of Computer Associates. He taught graduate students information technology and business strategy courses for six years at Cox School of Business at SMU, and was awarded the National Smithsonian Innovator Award in 1995.