Almac uses ERP migration to get distributed team 'working as one'

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When Selwyn McElveen started work as program manager at drug development company Almac Group in July 2010, he was pitched head first into an ambitious project to migrate three separate enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems into one for the company’s Clinical Services division.

It was a project that had been some years in the planning and McElveen joined just as the design phase was wrapping up, giving him a critical role in the onward implementation and testing of the new system.

IP EXPO Online recently caught up with McElveen for a sneak preview of his presentation at this year’s IP EXPO: Three ERP Systems to One: How did Almac Do It?

The Clinical Services division at Almac, McElveen explains, works on behalf of large, global companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Biogen, taking quotes for drug products from them and then manufacturing, packaging and distributing those products on their behalf. The company is based in Craigavon in Northern Ireland but, as a result of acquisitions, the Clinical Services division operates across this site and two others, both in the US: Souderton, close to Philadephia; and Durham, in North Carolina.

As a result, the need for this ERP migration project was pretty straightforward: to get all three sites using the same data and the same business processes. Before the project, each site had its own ERP system. Three systems, from two different vendors, across three sites just didn’t support the standardised approach that Almac and its global customers needed.

As a result, the key to this project was getting the three sites - and all the staff based on them - working as one team. That involved not just the implementation of a new ERP system from Oracle, but also a reengineering of key processes. That business-process effort, says McElveen, “was as big a challenge, if not more so, than implementing the technology itself.”

That’s where Almac’s implementation partner NTT Data comes in, says McElveen. “We felt that NTT Data wanted to learn about us and the way we do business and understand where we wanted to go in future. They listened to us, where other implementation partners that responded to our RFP [request for proposal] wanted us to fit into the ways that they did things.”

Also critical to the choice of NTT Data was its domain expertise in pharmaceuticals. Almac works in a highly regulated industry and is expected to comply with the requirements of regulators in both the UK and the US.

“We must always work with the requirements of regulators in mind - but that added to the complexity of the project, because when everything we do has to be ‘by the book’, there’s a lot of documentation and sign-off required in a project of this kind,” says McElveen. “Part of our RFP was to ensure that the implementation partner we chose had experience in this kind of project and, more importantly, could prove that to us. Our selection process had to be really stringent in this respect.”

Despite these challenges, the implementation was a success: the new ERP system, COSMOS (which stands for Clinical Services Ordering and Supply Chain Management Operating System) went live in early October 2012. The result is that staff at Craigavon, Souderton and Durham can now work together, using the same data and following the same business processes. As a result, a project manager in Craigavon can lead a team working across all three sites and a global customer will get a consolidated invoice that itemises all work done on its behalf, regardless of where that work took place.

A year on from ‘go live’, Selwyn McElveen will provide attendees at IP EXPO 2013 an in-depth view of that implementation: its challenges, its milestones, its highs and lows and its ultimate success. The presentation will take place in the Simplifying IT - The Innovations Showcase Theatre at IP EXPO at 12.30pm on Thursday 17 October.

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