Update, 22/11/2008: Thanks to Steve Mitchell for permission to reproduce his Powerpoint Presentation, SAP Go Live.
Cynics say that the light you think you can see at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train. With Christmas fast approaching I guess that’s an easy mistake to make as we wait for our deliveries from STL to come through. But my own experience of walking through a railway tunnel (a few years ago at Birmingham New Street Station, if you must know) tells me that an oncoming train doesn’t necessarily spell disaster: on that particular occasion, the train stopped and the driver gave me a lift in his cab. It’s the only time I’ve ever had the privilege of riding in a train driver’s cab and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
It was a bit like that at today’s meeting of the Booksellers Association’s Christian Booksellers Group: a sense of not quite despondency, but something fairly close, hung over us. Christmas is coming, our deliveries aren’t and our customers are going elsewhere; then Steve Mitchell (Director of Stores, Wesley Owen) stepped in with a presentation and explanation, an insider’s view of what had happened, what went wrong and how things are panning out. This was the view from the train driver’s cab: in the tunnel with the rest of us, but in a unique position to assess the situation.
Steve’s explanation was frank and straightforward, with no denials or excuses but with honest analysis, humble apologies and the assurance that everyone at STL is doing their utmost to bring things back up to speed. He was unable to offer a date for when that is likely to be but again emphasised the company’s commitment to resuming normal service a soon as possible.
He circulated a letter from Graham Sopp, STL’s Chief Executive (Europe), which has also been distributed to the trade by email:
Open Letter to the Trade
19 November 2008
I am writing to apologise for the problems caused to your businesses as we have gone live with a new software system at STL Distribution.
The decision to change systems was not taken lightly but our old system, which was 20 years old, was beginning to show distinct signs of age and we feared that it would become unstable. We had already found immense problems in trying to upgrade the system to provide functions required by today’s market.
We originally planned to implement the new system in August. However as the date approached, it became apparent that further testing of the new system was necessary before we could commence training people in how to use the system. We were faced with a choice of going live in late October or waiting until January 2009. Unfortunately, we would have faced immense difficulties in standing down our external project team of consultants for three months while we prepared to go live and then to re-assemble that team in January. After extensive testing of the system we were confident we could start with, at most, minor disruption. So we took the decision to go live in October.
Most of the problems we have encountered over recent weeks are related to business process bottlenecks and are not directly related to software and, in fairness to the system team, could not have been anticipated by the extensive testing we carried out.
We have now deployed our warehouse team in a different way which we are confident will optimise the flow of orders through the warehouse.
At today’s date we are picking orders from 13 November onwards and are working hard to catch up.
I am determined to resume same day despatch for the vast majority of orders as quickly as possible, but I need to be confident we can consistently provide this high level of service. I will write to you again soon when I am convinced we can commit to same day despatch.
I know the last few weeks have been difficult for you as our normal service levels have been disrupted and I apologise once again. We are working round the clock to resolve these issues. I would also like to thank those customers who have contacted us expressing their support and understanding for our team in this difficult time.
Chief Executive (Europe)