Change agents: Leaders in information management technology
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Wade Lewis breeds quarter horses as a hobby, but his career as an Oracle professional has been more like a thoroughbred -- longer, steadier and filled with a few more turns.
Lewis has been in IT since the 1970s. He was in a department tracking high-accident locations for the Oklahoma Highway Department, and the application he ran was on a mainframe. After spending the next 15 years working on big iron as an employee and consultant, an insurance company in Texas asked him to implement Oracle Financials. And thus his Oracle career began. Now, more than 30 years later, the 56-year-old is the chief information officer for Georg Fischer Central Plastics LLC, an Oklahoma-based manufacturer for the piping industry, and a big Oracle user.
Back in the day, the mantra was that "you'd never get fired for picking IBM." Lewis says, in some regards, that is how it is with Oracle today. He sees Oracle and SAP as being the only two big players in the enterprise applications game, at least for now. Most of the smaller applications players can't support features like multilingual and multicurrency, which Lewis says are necessary for a global company like Georg Fischer.
And, according to Lewis, it's all about software now. That wasn't always the case.
"When I first started implementing Oracle, the biggest decision was the hardware you would choose," he said. "Now software is the big choice, and hardware is a commodity."
ERP upgrades and horse breeding
Lewis is deliberate and patient in his approach to technology. He has a five-year plan for everything in his IT organization, and he doesn't tend to be an early adopter. The company is now embracing server and desktop virtualization, and hadn't upgraded its ERP system for five years before recently moving to E-Business Suite R12.
His approach to IT has been similar to his hobby business, where he breeds quarter horses for racing. Good breeding takes a lot of time, patience and planning. Lewis grew up in a rural environment and has been around horses his entire life. Back in the 1980s, Oklahoma legalized pari-mutuel betting for horse racing, and the sport took off. Lewis became interested and, soon after, started breeding and selling horses and their offspring.
Quarter horses are like the sprinters of the horse-racing world. Their races are shorter, and the horses run faster -- upwards of 50 miles per hour (mph), compared to about 30 mph for thoroughbreds.
"I treat it like a business," Lewis says. "We try to make a profit."
While he breeds the quarter horses that run sprints, Lewis tends to be more of a thoroughbred when it comes to running his IT organization. That was the case when he decided that Georg Fischer needed to upgrade its EBS system. EBS R11 was no longer under Oracle Premier Support, meaning if you found a bug you wouldn't be able to get a patch for it. That was one of the main factors in the Georg Fischer decision to upgrade to R12, but it still wasn't an easy decision.
"All of our previous upgrades were within the same release," he said. "This is our first upgrade where we went to another major version, and we probably won't have to do that again for another five years, or maybe more."
According to Lewis, planning and implementing the EBS upgrade took almost three years. There was a lot of testing to make sure that, when the company did upgrade, it had minimal effect on business users. The company usually does maintenance on Saturday nights, when they have few manufacturing employees needing the system.
The actual upgrade itself, which happened in July, took 68 hours. It started on a Friday, and the new version was operational by Monday morning.
"A lot of times in IT it is all about the planning," Lewis says. "Execution is a second thought. It's all about whether you're ready to be there and are prepared for as many scenarios as possible."
Shunning ERP customizations
Lewis taking a deliberate approach to IT doesn't mean he's averse to change. His company is embracing virtualization, for example, and they've upgraded to EBS R12. The same goes for customization.
For as far back as Lewis can remember, IT organizations were used to employing staff to customize software for their company's purposes. But now, Lewis says that Oracle has implemented more personalizations -- and has its fingers in more industry vertical applications -- so customization isn't as necessary.
"We used to customize the hell out of stuff. We would do some hard-core coding," he says. "Those days are gone. Customizations are a thing of the past. Now you can take software off the shelf and have it behave the way you want."
Lewis adds that it all comes down to process improvement. The company has in-depth statistics tracking its manufacturing process -- the paths that pickers travel to pick up products in the warehouse, how long it takes to inspect a product, or to store it, and so on.
"I have several teams trying to identify what we can do to be more efficient with our ERP system," he said. "We're looking for any way to improve the business."