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Rod Clarke from Edson Consulting recalls Sapphire in Madrid 1998

As we walked out of the third session we’d attended that first morning of Sapphire in Madrid 1998, I turned to my colleague and asked her the question, “So, remind me again why we aren’t doing this?”

I‘d recently been appointed as CIO for Manufacturing & Supply for a global manufacturing organisation. We had 40+ sites around the world, each of which seemed to operate a unique blend of home grown and packaged ERP solutions to plan and control operations and meet the expectations of our regulators. There was certainly no strategy or standardisation to enable us to achieve process consistency or demonstrate a single control model to the regulators. Oh, and all the sites were increasingly concerned about the “Y2000” effect – and looking for ways to ensure continuous operation after the end of 1999.

Within days of my appointment came the bombshell that our regulator was demanding significant changes to the systems being used in our largest sites.

Attending Sapphire in Madrid was possibly an avoidance tactic on my part – a chance to step back from the chaos that was descending and try to think through how we might plan our way forward. It made sense to take my newly appointed Head of IT Strategy. Perhaps we would find some inspiration at Sapphire?

Listening to case studies from organisations of a similar size gave me hope that implementing on the scale that we needed had been done before. The increasing credibility of fast track implementation methodologies started to make me believe that achieving the incredibly short timescales to meet the Y2000 and regulatory requirements wasn’t quite as impossible as I’d initially thought.

More conference sessions seemed, if anything, to confuse the picture building in my mind. So, mid-morning on day two, I suggested that we go into Madrid to the Prado. Despite having shown no previous interest in museums and galleries, my colleague was over-enthusiastic in her agreement. We took a taxi and were soon wandering around the cool rooms of one of the world’s finest art galleries. After a general tour of the highlights, I led the way to the section where I could look at another masterpiece by one of my favourite artists – Hieronymus Bosch. The peace and calm of the galleries enabled us to think through what we should do.

Over the next few weeks, we agreed a strategy to implement SAP as a single standard process and system model across all our manufacturing sites. We identified a truly inspirational programme director, gained buy in from the Manufacturing Executive team and signed an agreement with SAP. Well before the Y2000 clock ticked over, we’d implemented a single solution across eight manufacturing sites, exceeding the expectations of our regulators on the way.

It was a few weeks later when I was chatting with my colleague that I discovered her real enthusiasm for the visit to Prado.  A mishearing on her part meant that she thought I’d suggested a shopping trip to Prada!

Rod Clarke is an executive coach who helps Businesses Succeed with IT

Edson Consulting delivers SAP projects and programmes, both across the UK and internationally. We focus on Project and Programme Management to ensure success. We also provide functional and technical services to realise these initiatives.

We’re different to our competitors in that we have a dedicated project delivery focus. This is reflected in our pricing, delivery methods and most importantly our delivery ethos.

We manage some of the most complex and challenging projects for some of the UKs most successful companies.

If you would like to discuss your approach to SAP Projects or learn more about the transformation that Rod inspired please contact us at or visit us at