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Technology / Software

Implementing a new ERP in a pandemic: Amnesty International’s journey to Dynamics 365

Kevin Antao, CIO of human rights charity Amnesty International, shares his lessons from rolling out Microsoft’s ERP in challenging circumstances.

With only a few weeks to go before go-live on a major enterprise resource planning (ERP) transformation, this is a moment to reflect on a journey with an array of experiences.

Since the early 2010s, Amnesty has relied on Infor Sun Systems and Oracle HCM for its finance and human resource processes. While there was nothing wrong with these product choices, separate data architectures, ownership, vendor agreements, and the significant cost and effort for updates drove a need for change.

By the second quarter of 2019, with on-premises hosting solutions reaching end-of-life, and multiple unexpected organisational crises, the spotlight fell on the lack of basic and reliable people and financial information. A fundamental ERP change was needed to avert serious consequences and improve operational excellence for exhausted human rights defenders that needed a smoother, modern, and less onerous user experience.

Implementing Dynamics 365

CIO Kevin Antao’s first lesson from implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365 is “get the people right”. (Photo by Lalocracio/iStock)

So why turn to Dynamics 365 as our preferred ERP solution? A three-month strategic ERP system review in Q3 2019 outlined a set of stark choices: augment investment in the current product suite; consider alternative mixes (Netsuite, WorkDay, XLedger or PS Financials amongst others) or move to Microsoft Dynamics 365 F&SCM, Human Resources and the Power Suite, including PowerApps and Power BI.

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No single option neatly aligned to the cost, time, and quality parameters as set by the leadership steering group. But Dynamics 365 represented the closest match, aligning with the overall technology strategy and system simplification agenda. As a not-for-profit already operating and supporting Microsoft tools, it was a clear preference.

Converting this preference into a decision was no mean feat. With the Amnesty board and senior leaders dealing with the gravest organisational crisis in years, a suspension on all investment activity and a general suspicion of IT projects, the task of boldly endorsing the selection of Dynamics 365 was daunting. The secretary-general and executives were briefed, a formal decision support pack produced, governance executed and a decision to proceed was achieved.

With the Amnesty board and senior leaders dealing with the gravest organisational crisis in years, the task of boldly endorsing the selection of Dynamics 365 was daunting.

With that decision made, the project now needed delivery and a team. The procurement process was launched and Amnesty’s partnership with [Dynamics 365 specialist] Quantiq began. A plan was formulated, governance and team established, with a quick delivery planned for 2020.

Ah yes, 2020. The pandemic upset the original assumptions and project delivery. Finance, HR and I&T teams struggled to simultaneously operate day jobs and support the project delivery. Requirements capture and workshops were deferred; scope management became difficult as requirements doubled but change control could not easily find ways to simplify or cut down the project.

Personnel changes caused further disruption, with the project sponsors and executive leadership, including the CFO and two HR directors, all changing positions or leaving. The project team also saw three project managers, a business analyst, data engineer, HR analysts, and a finance analyst leave, alongside regular changes in the supplier staffing pool. Of the 50 or so stakeholders involved at project inception back in Q3 2019, including Amnesty staff and external project team, fewer than five are likely to see the journey through to its end.

Late 2020 saw the arrival of a new and energised CFO, an experienced Dynamics 365 project manager, refreshed priorities and documentation for the project, and, importantly, a pause for reflection. A more realistic budget was agreed, with a more considered delivery path plotted for 2021. Comprehensive solution design documents, refreshed governance and ways of working were established, and solution documents turned into configured software.

Then, the challenge moved swiftly onto data, with validation, transformation, loads, migration, and cleansing all requiring considerable effort as the final testing and cutover approach.

Lessons learned from implementing Dynamics 365

A formal ‘lessons learned’ exercise will take place after go-live, but here are my hard-fought learnings from the journey.

First, get the people right and don’t cut any corners. Experienced resources specific to the Dynamics 365 modules that you have purchased are key. If you are new to the world of Dynamics 365, expect multiple agencies to contact you stating their unique credentials. Research the Dynamics 365 contract market. A project manager that is familiar with the market and its players can provide significant insight to help avoid staffing mistakes.

Second, avoid the pitfalls of optimistic planning. The Dynamics 365 solution is both versatile and flexible, but you must be clear on your future operating model, business processes and ways of working. Using a system implementation to bolster, improve or even create processes does not work, even if the solution aligns to best practice. Dynamics 365 needs configuration – don’t start that until detailed, committed, and well-understood end-to-end processes are set.

On the people front, try to avoid combining Dynamics 365 project delivery with finance, HR, or IT staff operational delivery. Covid, Brexit, remote and hybrid working and myriad other changes have placed an exhausting burden. It is only these resources’ sheer dedication, industry, professionalism, and desire to get the project completed that has brought it to the point of final cutover. It is these teams that deserve the final word: you just need good people.

Kevin Antao is chief information officer at human rights campaign group Amnesty International.