The Gamble

By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

A manufacturer of scientific instruments forced a troubled British subsidiary to do things its way.

The Gamble

The July meeting kicked off the makeover of Micromass. Part of the plan: Fix the business in the summer months, when the impact would be lessened. The gamble: Launching the new Micromass in one big bang, at the end of October. No state-by-state, country-by-country, or region-by-region rollout. All systems would have to work, at once, without the loss of a single order or customer.

The only way to make that happen—on time—would be to use existing software, with almost no alteration. Waters previously had spent over $8 million to convert its operations and customer service to SAP's R/3 and other enterprise-planning software. Micromass would just have to fall in line.

Newton had led Waters to install SAP back in 1994, when Waters itself was sold off to an investor group by Millipore, a biosciences company, and had to operate on its own.

The software now gave Waters a single view of each customer in most areas of the world, unifying records of orders, payments, and purchasing history across many brands. By adding Micromass products and customers into the mix, Waters could also sell and service systems that combined chromatography and spectrometry, one of its reasons for buying Micromass in the first place.

In consultation with Newton, executives picked 99 as a reasonable number of days to accomplish the changeover. The managers who assembled on July 22 would figure out how much of Micromass' operations the SAP system could handle without alteration; what "gaps'' in functionality existed; and how those gaps could be bridged—either by using SAP's existing functions, or, as a last resort, writing new code.

People who work with Newton describe him as tough, charismatic and fair, but not always easy to work with. He is a man skilled at "painting a Nirvana scenario," as Ornell puts it.

Newton persuaded Waters to transfer its entire information infrastructure—which included systems ranging from 3x5 file cards to Wang word processors to IBM AS/400 minicomputers—onto SAP, based on a Xerox copy inherited from Millipore. The software was first installed in Europe, where the absence of a major factory simplified distribution and limited the possibility for error. Then, Newton went back to executive management again and again to get each new region of the world approved.

Even SAP noted his thoroughness in preparing projects. "[SAP] consultants know that when Waters calls about something, [the company knows] as much about a particular product as we do," says SAP's Stephen Brewer, who handles the Waters account.

Newton's also not afraid to make a subsidiary eat the cake he bakes. His eyes twinkle as he remembers that week in July. "We had been through [rapid deployments] many times, but a lot of new folks...didn't think it could be done," he recalls. The finance department, for one, had never been through the process.

By the end of that first day, employees had been presented with the business case for integrating Micromass, and the roles they would play. Divided into teams—selling, operations, service, financials and human resources—they were told that by the end of the week, they had to find, document and rank the differences in critical business processes between Waters and Micromass. They would have to analyze the gaps.

This article was originally published on 2003-10-01
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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