Chiquita Slips, but Does Not Fall

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

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But there's a good reason why things get to that point, says Singh: BPM implementations are complex and expensive. As most companies grow, they develop a series of disjointed and disparate systems, putting off the expense of a full-blown BPM deployment until they're large enough -- and the pain is great enough -- to force change. "By the time you invest in the tool set, you have a very complicated financial structure," Singh says. For its part, Chiquita had to unwind and redesign 120 years of deeply ingrained business processes.

With just one other full-time person working on the project in FP&A, Burket needed part-time commitments from 40 people outside of the finance community, in the business units worldwide, to help with the transition. FP&A needed people who understood finance, systems and data -- a combination of skills that's not easy to find. Those who did commit had other work to do; the finance project was not always the priority.

And while top management had approved a part-time commitment, not everyone was on board. "Because business units weren't as bought-into the benefits [as FP&A was], they weren't as eager to make those resources available," Singh says.

Training was another issue. Hyperion is a complex tool that requires extensive training -- and retraining. "The first time you go [for training], you don't even know the questions to ask," Burket says. She strongly recommends holding multiple training sessions for users.

On the Bleeding Edge

Hyperion was acquired by Oracle during the early phases of the project, and a major upgrade to the Hyperion tool set -- the first under Oracle -- launched in June 2008. Chiquita decided to go with the new version, including the Hyperion Enterprise Performance Management Architect (EPMA) component.

It was a decision that would come back to haunt the team.

FP&A chose the EPMA release because new features in that module could potentially save Chiquita a lot of manual work. In essence, EPMA functioned as a central repository for financial metadata across all Hyperion applications and facilitated the sharing of data. It automated the process of bringing in data from a variety of other systems -- work that otherwise would have had to be done manually, says Ugrinsky.

But by using early-release software, FP&A was taking a risk. It didn't take long for Burket to realize that EPMA was very buggy. Delays ensued as the team struggled to work through the bugs -- and to get Oracle to help, Mullaney says. (Oracle had no comment.)

By June 2009, the relationship was improving and issues were being addressed. Did Chiquita end up spending more time dealing with the new version of the software than it would have if it had done the data integration work manually with a more stable version? "Quite possibly," Ugrinsky admits. But at the time, the benefits seemed worth the risk of possible bugs.

Software wasn't the only area where Chiquita faced challenges. Singh says IT's relationship with Titan was a "roller coaster" as the systems integrator missed multiple deadlines. Each time, Titan would scramble to add resources to the project, as the contract required, but then it would miss the next deadline.

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