The Bottom Line Per...Jean Holley

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2002-11-01 Print this article Print

Think setting tech strategy is hard at your company? Try it at one that's in Chapter 11.

Imagine setting tech strategy at a company in bankruptcy. USG, a 100-year-old building products company—makers of Sheetrock-brand wallboard—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2001, under the weight of massive asbestos litigation. But Jean Holley isn't a typical USG executive. Hired in 1998, Holley was USG's first CIO, one of the first officers from outside the usually insular company, and the first woman ever ranked so high at USG. PDF Download

Q. Even under Chapter 11, technology projects continue?

A. Yes. We are going live with Oracle Financials [accounting software], and we're on budget and on time. Overlay an economic downturn and then three months ago we changed auditors, going from Andersen to Deloitte & Touche. Ever see Monty Python and the Holy Grail—the "Knights of Ni" part? All my arms and legs are cut off but we're still doing it. Our [technology] folks are saying, 'Now we're going to change general ledger and all financial systems at the same time? Bring it on.' It's not like we can pour enormous sums of money into things. Any investment we make has to work.

Q. What's the toughest part about managing all of this?

A. Making sure that things stay on track—in cost, calendar, and scope. Our Oracle Financials project, we have not customized. It's out of the box. What we did was put a modest amount of money aside for customization and kept track of any request to customize. All of those business owners need to approve any changes to the software. We were trying to make it a little difficult to customize and make sure that everyone understood the ramifications if we did customize: adding additional modules and doing upgrades in the future will be more difficult. Training will be more difficult. Troubleshooting will be more difficult. As a result, no one has approved any customizations. It's not worth it.

Q. Why was changing auditors a monkey wrench?

A. We announced we were working with Deloitte eight weeks before our go-live date on Oracle Financials. We had to bring them on board and get them up to speed on this project quickly. I said, "Here's my goal and I want you to work with us over two weeks and tell us if you think there's a reason to change our go-live date." They said no. They had to understand our procedures and how we do our books. It's not easy; in Chapter 11, every time we close books, we have to report to the courts.

Q. I'm sure Deloitte & Touche understands Chapter 11.

A. They do and they have experience on Oracle. They are here to make sure our house is in order and they keep us good and honest. I absolutely welcome them. Some of our internal people thought they would slow us down. But no; They will make us stronger.

Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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