Monday, October 08, 2007

AXUG Summit 2007

As our post-implementation deployment is wrapping up, I am going to make a point of posting more to this blog now that my time is freeing up to do other things. On October 15-17, I will be attending the AXUG Summit in Orlando, FL. There appears to be some great tracks to attend. I will be attending the performance track to see if I can't return with some knowledge on how to speed up some slowness in our invoicing process. If any of you will be attending, let me know and I'll be looking to speak to you.

Just to fill you in now that things have calmed down, here's our implementation story:

My lack of posts for the last four months have not been because I was too lazy but rather because of being overwhelmed with work. Our implementation was rocky but we made it work and persevered as a result. We have a VP who in my opinion is always a stellar performer. He's the sort of guy that even if everyone is looking at doom and gloom, his head is still held very high. If you ever see this guy looking down you better cover your head because the sky is surely falling. In my opinion he had a lot to do with the project's success. When all seemed as if it were about to fall apart, he was there to encourage all of us on the project and cheer us towards success.

My shop is pretty small, less than eight regular IT employees and due to some recent departures is even smaller now. I was and am the only full-time developer for AX in our company during our implementation. I also have been the only person to become technically fluent with AX from installation to configuration to troubleshooting, etc. Why was our implementation this way? To some extent I can blame it on a lean budget but I can also point to our partner.

Hind sight is always 20-20, of course.

We were new to AX. I had just been hired in February 2006 and had the VPC of AX 4.0 Pre-Release given to me in June, no manuals, no documentation, just a job of learning it. Our Project Team was a who's who of the shining stars in the company, one from each functional area of the company. Not one of them had ever heard of AX, and only two or three had ever worked with or knew what an ERP system was. I was the black sheep being from a technical environment and actually having a two month head start on learning it.

Our partner rolled in and immediately setup a project timeline and a go-live date, which we ultimately missed and had to reschedule three times. All seemed as if it were going well until we began official software modification in October. Developer resources from the partner were not cutting it. Each of the three guys who all in total spent less than two weeks with us seemed to have no real idea what was going on. These guys were asking me questions about AX... a scary thought. But the more scary thought was that I actually had the answers. As a result we determined very quickly that either the seasoned resources were tied up (as we were being told, although each of the three guys we received were 'Senior Developers', or seasoned developers did not exist - my personal belief). Before long into the development/modification phase, we hired a previous contractor of another in-house developed system and cut a lower hourly wage for me to teach him AX and X++ and have him at our disposal as needed. This turned out to be a better decision than the partner's own developers.

In the end, we were still allowing our partner to make architectural decisions since they were the experts. They made decisions that I even knew were terrible although my experience in AX was lacking. At the time those design decisions were made, we accepted them and moved forward. Now looking back we all wished we had challenged their solutions.

I share a glimpse into our implementation to convey a notion to you if you are the customer: Know AX.

While I'm sure most implementations are packaged deals (like ours) where a team arrives and educates you first and then immediately begins the project, I suggest a different approach. If you can work it out, install the product first, allow your technical people and key functional people access to it and all of the training manuals for no less than a month. They need to understand what the product is, how it works in its pure state. Then and only then start the implementation project. If you as the customer rely on your partner 100% you, too, will experience modifications/business processes that were implemented but not fully thought out. The ramifications can be from as simple as a quick rewrite of a function to a complete overhaul in the next major AX release.

If you are a partner, I encourage you to encourage your client to learn what AX has to offer and how it works from the beginning. Even if the Sales Order process looks nothing like what your customer will expect in the end, still encourage them to create an Item that they sell, create a customer, create the ledger accounts, execute a sales order. Make them understand how AX works before you begin consulting them on Architectural changes. In the end you will profit from a long-lasting business relationship rather than a continous finger-pointing who-did-what-wrong conflict.

And in the end, isn't your goal a happy customer and continuous reference?

Hope this helps those of you either in or preparing to enter an AX implementation, or for that matter any ERP or large-scale software implementation project.


P.S. Are we happy with AX? Of course we are, but we weren't there on July 1st, the day we went live. Much massaging, cleanup, multiple phone calls to Fargo, several 36 hour+ days, and six weeks of no weekends or weekdays off had to be experienced before happiness was achieved but all in all we have learned from our mistakes and it has made us a better shop in the end.