ERP and You
After perusing a delightful play, written by our very own Michel Avital, I got to thinking about my own experiences with SAP. As mentioned previously, I worked over the summer in the automotive department of Nordson Corp. based in Amherst here in Ohio. Of course, Nordson is a fairly large company with several other branches in places such as Georgia, Alabama, and even Germany and China. At the level Nordson Corp. is performing, there is no room for outdated inventories, inaccessible information, or any sort of blind management of these "value chains."
When I first started work at Nordson I only had experience in jobs with smaller companies, including a grocery store, a family owned business supply and repair shop, and a sales distributor for a construction supply company. Here are some of the encounters with Information Systems I had before Nordson.
At Royal Business Equipment, I worked as a computer technician, troubleshooting and repairing PC's brought into the shop. The service slips were done mostly by hand, where a triplicate was given to the customer, and the original and duplicate were kept for records. Additionally, an invoicing database was stored on a local server machine accessed through some budget software ( I can't specifically remember it's name right now but I believe it was through Quicken ). As far as my time card went, my boss relied on my honesty to simply put in the correct number of hours to a manually created Excel spreadsheet at the end of the week.
Working at a grocery store, Heinen's Inc. I spent most of my time under the direct authority of a supervisor. Again, paper time slips were turned into an office; though this time they were typically routinely checked against your schedule. Though I did not ever use it, the inventory was scanned using RFID's which linked up directly to the store's inventory, ordering the items that were low on-the-fly.
Working at Mitchell Sales Inc. under the parent company Diamond Products LLC, I used a Microsoft Access database. The database involved the inventory in the warehouse, the invoicing information for several of the popular customers, as well as the ability to automatically order replacement parts for the warehouse when stock ran low.
Finally, this summer I worked at Nordson Corp. This is by far the largest company that has employed me. Nordson Corp. implemented the SAP solution about 7 or 8 years ago. My father, who works in purchasing there, played a large role in the implementation of SAP. Though I didn't really understand what it entailed, he traveled often, ran several "classes" and attended regular meetings. Now that I have had the privilege of utilizing SAP, I am beginning to understand some of the issues he must have dealt with.
My experience with SAP was of an all-purpose integrated business solution. At the beginning of the day, I clocked in using an SAP applet. Next, I would go through a set of SAP generated planned-production orders, direct work orders, or reported directly to my supervisor. After looking through the routing information (generated through SAP), I would complete the specified task. When the task was complete, I would "clock-off" on the job, which entailed bringing the PPO to a computer, scanning it into an SAP applet, and entering my badge number (employee ID). Another thing I found interesting was the request to clock off on all activities. Even if I had only swept or scraped tape off the floors (it was a slow summer), I was asked to clock off on something called "lean labor." I found this curious, though I suppose from an efficiency standpoint it was very important. To refer back to these "value-chains," it is important to know exactly what every employee, piece of inventory, and work order are doing at any given time. Whether it is benig worked on, working on something, or finished, this real-time updating system allows everyone company-wide to see which projects are in progress, which are complete, and which have not been touched. Also from a managerial standpoint, it is important to see how much work each individual employee is doing and how well they are performing, not to mention that employee's ID will always be attached to that job if future concerns arise.
Now from a business standpoint this is all well and good. But what about the employee? A lot of days, clocking and clocking out I felt as though it did not matter whether or not I was even there. There were simply no jobs to be done for entire weeks at a time, but that did not change that I had to "clock out" for certain jobs. Of course, a business wants to make sure that all of its employees are being as productive as possible, but clocking out on cleaning out the same area 3 times during a week seemed redundant and absurd. Not to mention clocking out on an activity such as "material handling" or "lean labor" is fairly arbitrary. This of course necessitated a manager to scold me when my productivity levels fell (ie playing Frisbee with a cardboard box in the back). It is important to note that I was simply summer-hired as well. Working full time at a job as a number would eventually get fairly tedious. As one of my co-workers noted to me, they had simply clocked in and clocked out for a couple of weeks and clocked off on none of the jobs they were doing. No one said anything to him. So who's checking these jobs? Of course it can be argued that these things are being indelible in the company database, but if there's virtually no monitoring of the human side of data entry, how reliable is it? Included in this flaw is the loss of employee-employer relationship. I happened upon a union survey in a desk drawer one day and the number one complaint workers had with the company was lack of care for its employees. By creating a statistical, numeric database in favor of incalculable efficiency gains, businesses lose a part of the human element. While I am entirely in favor of pushing as hard as possible to drive efficiency gains, it is important that a company's employees are not sacrificed.