Chiquita Slips, but Does Not Fall

The inside story of a problem-plagued financial system overhaul that just might work.

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Those first two projects Singh had been involved with had failed, and over the summer of 2009, as the September go-live deadline of Chiquita's initiative loomed, he worried that this one might go the same way. "The industry really suffers from overambitious vendors, the ones that paint the rosy picture and can't deliver," he says. Oracle declined to comment for this story.

By the time Singh got involved in the project in 2008, the finance group had selected Hyperion software and integrator Pinnacle Group Worldwide. Hyperion was already in transition, having been bought out by Oracle in 2007. And Pinnacle was subsequently acquired by Titan Technology in July 2009, just two months before the new system's go-live date.

Singh immediately suspected that the expectations both vendors had set with FP&A were unrealistic -- and he fretted that IT would get the blame.

One of the first decisions IT faced was whether to support the BPM infrastructure of about 40 servers internally or have Pinnacle host it. Singh worried about giving Pinnacle too much control, since it had missed deadlines during earlier phases of the project. He did agree to have Pinnacle host and maintain the system, but Chiquita purchased all of the hardware and software.

It also set up a secure MPLS connection between Pinnacle and Chiquita's data center and deployed the client software in its Citrix thin-client environment. "It's our hardware. We own all of the licenses and products. It's part of our network and domain," says Jack Ortman, director of technical support and architecture at Chiquita. "The way we did the implementation, it would not be tremendously difficult to move it back."

While Titan handled design, setup, integration, training and hosting, Chiquita's FP&A group retained control over some operational aspects of the Hyperion application, including ongoing configuration, design changes and application security. The complexity of the contract created confusion at times over who was responsible for what and required strong coordination among Titan, FP&A and IT to succeed.

IT also assigned a project manager, Julie Glick, to assist Shannon Burket, the hands-on manager at FP&A, who worked with the business units, Oracle, the IT team and the integrator to develop the system and manage resources on the project. "This is the only thing I've lived and breathed for the last two years," Burket said last fall when the system went live.

Burket's involvement started back in 2006, when she led a global review of finance processes. Her goal: Improve accuracy and reduce the timing window for forecasting. At the time, the company used Excel spreadsheets, a few Microsoft Access databases and an old Hyperion Essbase system that IT was no longer actively managing. "We really needed a new tool set," she says.

Chiquita's situation isn't unusual, says Nigel Raynor, an analyst at Gartner Inc. Most finance departments still rely on spreadsheets, and each business unit has its own "shadow" planning system that it uses internally. The business units forward spreadsheets to corporate finance, which must aggregate everything into "the mother of all spreadsheets," he says. As part of that process, the finance group must reconcile a mishmash of data, with no view into the assumptions underlying the numbers provided. "That's a terrible practice," Raynor says.

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