After steering clear of an upgrade of its ERP software for almost five years, Toyota Financial Services has become the first Australasian user of SAP's R/3 Enterprise, the latest version of the company's core offering.
"For our current needs there has been no need to upgrade until now," says Glen Armishaw, finance chief of the car maker's local financial services arm. The company has until now stayed with R/3 version 3.1h, seeing an upgrade to 4.0, as "costly and of little benefit". R/3 Enterprise is the latest version of the software, which had reached R/3 4.6.
One motive for finally shifting is that support for 3.1h was about to expire, Armishaw says. To continue would have been a risk to business continuity. But Enterprise also has some attractive features, such as an interface to Excel spreadsheets and links allowing easy upload of the company's budget models. The new version also has an easier GUI, says Arminshaw.
The initial exercise has been purely a "functional upgrade", he says. The aim was to produce identical functions to the 3.1h release and to make sure this had been "bedded in" before turning the old system off.
The upgrade necessitated taking 3.1h up to a higher version of the original SAP first, "because the data structures are different". The original system was based on Microsoft Sequel 7 and this had to be upgraded to Sequel 2000 for the SAP enterprise implementation.
The essentials were all done over a long weekend, Armishaw says.
"There were no real snags, and the upgrade was finished on time and within budget."
He acknowledges, however, that a number of issues arose "that we weren't prepared to tick off and had no time to resolve" in the main upgrade timeframe. But these weren't "dealbreakers" and have since been resolved, he says.
In the near future Toyota Financial Services will explore some of the additional facilties in the software. It would be good to have one solution from one vendor for all major systems, he says, but he does not see some business processes being brought under SAP for the foreseeable future. Customer relationship management, for example, will continue to be run using Microsoft OLAP tools.
The system runs on HP (formerly Compaq) Pentium hardware.
SAP in Australasia now has a valuable reference site for R/3 Enterprise, but Armishaw says he has not had other local SAP users coming through to see the system yet. There have been a few phone calls about it, he says, and SAP has invited Toyota FS representatives to address its Australian user group and the next regional SAPphire conference.