The New Realm of the Coin

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Diehl's team decided to divide the Mint into three strategic business units (SBUs) that reflected its different customers. (Before, it wasn't really organised at all. It was just one inchoate mass.) The first SBU was circulation, which made coins for its one and only customer, the Federal Reserve Bank. Then there was the collectible coins division. Finally, there was The Office of Protection, responsible for safeguarding all the money and bullion of the Mint, as well as federal gold reserves at Fort Knox, Ky. Each SBU now has its own sales, marketing, procurement and accounting departments, and the two coin SBUs split the manufacturing facilities. The reorganisation allows Mint workers to build a deeper expertise in one particular line of business rather than having to know a little about many disparate projects. For example, the numismatics marketers need channel and brand management skills, something not as necessary to circulation employees.

"What this new org chart says is, 'You are in charge of this product,'" says Diehl. "It increases accountability all way down the chain of command." Sparing No Change Diehl and his managers were ready to start implementing the changes by 1998, but the plan was more than just a redrawn org chart. Among other things, it required some people to reapply for their jobs and others to be hired for new positions, like new product development and channel management. It also completely overhauled the lines of reporting. That would be enough change in a year for many companies, but it was just a quarter of what the Mint braved in 1998.

Giant project number two was a 10-year, US $40 million software installation, implemented in fast-forward speed. Diehl, along with several executives including CIO Jackie Fletcher, had - simultaneously with the reorganisation discussions - carried forward a plan to fix with the Mint's information systems to allow Mint employees to get at the data imprisoned in legacy mainframe systems and to ensure Y2K compliance. In late 1997 they decided that nothing short of a full-blown ERP installation would do the job. (ERP, or enterprise resource planning, is a monolithic type of software that is used by all departments, such as HR, finance and operations. Since the software is integrated, the departments can more easily share information. The Mint chose PeopleSoft Inc.'s ERP package.) But since the government-mandated deadline for Y2K compliance was October 1998, and the ERP project was, in large part, the Mint's compliance plan, the ERP group had 12 months to install its software. If it succeeded, it would hold a world speed record for ERP installation. The project, dubbed Coins (for consolidated information systems), would eventually eat up the time of nearly one-third of the staff at the Mint's D.C. headquarters.

Diehl admits that it was a stretch to launch those two projects simultaneously.

But on top of that, the Mint also shot off its two biggest product launches in decades. One was the 50-state quarter program, which will mint a coin in honour of each state. The Mint will release five quarters a year that feature reverses (tails) designed by each state.

The Mint was also in the heavy planning stages for the new dollar coin, slated to appear in January 2000. "The planning was a very tricky political process, and it's crucial to the success of the product," says Diehl, particularly since the coin replaces the Susan B. Anthony dollar, much maligned for its design.

"We laid those four projects on top of the everyday running of business," says Diehl. "By the end of the year, people had their tongues hanging out." Both product launches demanded that Diehl spend even more of his time on Capitol Hill, building consensus and making deals. Mitchell stepped forward.

"Wisely or not, I volunteered to head up Coins," says Mitchell, who, having implemented systems before, had an inkling of what lay before him. "It was a crazy process," he says. "I look back, and I'm still amazed by it." The ERP group, which comprised both technical and functional employees, moved to separate quarters down the street. Backed by Diehl, Mitchell chose the best and brightest from the Mint for Coins. They reported to the Coins project managers for the duration of the implementation. According to Michael Zuckerman, who was project leader for the functional group working on Coins, part of the complexity of the undertaking was that it really was four projects: ERP software modules for finance, manufacturing and distribution, with hooks to the new marketing system. Zuckerman, working with Fletcher, who led the technical part of Coins, set up "bull pens," or open spaces, for each of the module groups to gather in as a team and brainstorm ideas and solutions.

Replacing cube space with a large communal space helped get the work done, says Zuckerman. Since Coins project staff were working 70- to 80-hour weeks, they needed all the help they could get. Fletcher says that beyond giving her people the tools to do their jobs, and helping them to understand their role in the implementation, she functioned as a caterer. "I'd throw parties whenever stress levels got too high or when we'd met a deadline and were proud," she remembers.

"Pizza, ribs, whatever they wanted. I just bought it." Coins went live Oct. 1, 1998, hitting the original federal Y2K deadline. The three-business unit reorganisation is finished but for the mopping up, and the first five state quarters are in production. Zuckerman, along with many of his cohorts, finally had time for a vacation. He took two weeks around the holidays, but, he admits with a smile, "It took a whole week just to feel like a person again." It's been a wild five years at the Mint, and executives there are obviously proud of the job their employees have done, pointing out repeatedly that the credit for their minty fresh new organisation belongs to everybody. Diehl says he wishes he could take the credit for being a visionary, but that's just not the way it was. "In retrospect, it sounds like we had a grand scheme," he says.

"But nothing could be further from the truth. We just tackled one task, and it led to others. It was like pulling a thread on a brand-new tie; before long, you have it unravelled." Senior Editor Carol Hildebrand can be reached via e-mail at cjh@cio.com.

Copyright © 1999 IDG Communications, Inc.

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