An Interview with Warren Underwood: Transformation Programme Director
Welcome to the second installment of our new interview series, where we talk to senior finance transformation leaders to discuss their roles, hot topics and changes within the industry.
This week, we sat down with Transformation Programme Director, Warren Underwood. With over 25 years of senior finance experience across a broad range of industries, including oil & gas, power, utilities, construction and Aviation. His experience has involved leading finance and driving fundamental change within those organisations.
In this week’s blog, Warren shares his views on programme assurance and the recent trend of ERP vendors to moving towards the Cloud. Discover what he had to say:
Can you give us a brief explanation of your role?
Over the last ten years, I have led a number of high-profile transformation programmes within FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 organisations. My roles have typically focused on transforming the back office functions of these companies, in areas such as finance, commercial, HR and procurement. They have usually been technology-enabled transformations involving ERP systems to support new target operating models and process re-engineering.
A key part of my role, as a Transformation Director, is to manage the full programme lifecycle through concept, design, build, test and eventual deployment.
On top of these basics, my roles have been heavily focused on stakeholder management and communication, which are a key ingredient for success in any change programme. As well as managing the various interfaces across these businesses, I have managed relationships with a range of stakeholders including external vendors, outsourcing companies, system integrators and lawyers, ensuring that the programmes are suitably set-up for success right from the start.
Can you tell us about your career path and how you have got to where you are now?
Throughout my career, virtually all of my roles have involved the three Ts; namely troubleshooting, turnaround or transformation. Frequently, I needed to deal with problems associated with systems, which meant that invariably I had to introduce and implement new ERP systems, structures and processes into those businesses. In the early part of my career, this involved overseeing such programmes in the capacity of Executive Sponsor / Finance Director.
My eventual move from Finance Director to Transformation Director happened more by chance. A new Chief Executive decided that he wanted to divest my business from the Group. The business involved had been making a loss and I had come in as part of a new turnaround team. At the time the decision was made to sell the business, we were midway through a difficult turnaround which has also meant significant cost reduction initiatives were needed. I ended up leading the disposal of the business with the Managing Director which was both challenging and a fantastic opportunity. We successfully sold the business and I then spent the next twelve months leading the integration for the acquiring company. When I eventually returned to Group, there wasn’t a suitable finance role for me in the restructured business. The CEO was keen to improve performance and drive growth and as a consequence, I was asked to lead a global transformation initiative across the business.
ERP implementation projects are far more than just system implementations. The new ERP system usually acts as an enabler for much broader and fundamental change within an organisation, frequently becoming part of a much wider transformation programme with lofty aspirations. Typically, the larger the organisation involved, the more complex and challenging the transformation becomes.
How would you describe Programme Assurance to an alien?
Well, I’ve met quite a few aliens in my time. To be honest, I think there are a few clear principles you need to bare in mind.
Programme assurance should be viewed in a positive way. It is also important to remember that assurance is not an audit. An audit can occasionally have negative connotations within projects and programmes as people can see it as a check on what they have done. Programme assurance, if structured correctly, is there to help you navigate a path to success.
It as an aide and is not out to try and trip you up or to point out where you have done something wrong. It should be more positive and forward-looking rather than a retrospective. It should also be seen as a collaborative process, rather than something that is sat alongside just watching and observing in order to make it work properly.
In your experience what are the pros and cons of programme assurance?
If done properly, it should be a forward outlook, searching and scanning for problems and issues that you may encounter along your transformation journey.
It’s also a pair of eyes that has vast expertise and knowledge to help you avoid making mistakes, highlighting weaknesses in what you are doing in order to strengthen these areas and improve the chances of success.
The collaborative aspect is a huge positive. You should work with it rather than in isolation from it. Assurance partners should be seen as exactly that; partners. Early involvement in a programme will always be beneficial.
It becomes problematic when programme assurance doesn’t necessarily work with you. It needs to understand activities and milestones within the programme to ensure that its work does not interfere with delivery or become a distraction for the programme team. Working collaboratively can avoid these issues.
Another issue that can occur with programme assurance is when one of their competitors are fulfilling one of the programme roles perhaps as system integrator. This situation is not unusual and in such cases it can be very easy for the assurance partner to become critical of the system integrators performance or weaknesses. In such cases, it is important to emphasise collaboration and ensure that the culture is one focused on shared goals and success.
Can you share your views on the recent move of ERP vendors to the cloud and how you feel this will impact upon the sector?
This is definitely impacting greatly on the transformation world. If you go back a few years, most ERP vendors were solely focused on selling their products and perhaps pushing the services of certain reliable system integrators (SIs).
There was little focus by these vendors on what happened post-sales as this became the concern of the SI. There might be opportunities to sell further products during or after the implementation but most vendors would look to sell as much product up-front as possible. They would also look to incentivise customers through extremely large discounts. Despite these discounts, the cost of software was still very large and somewhat prohibitive to smaller businesses.
Once the Software had been procured there was usually an equally hefty cost to be incurred with the SI – often an even bigger cost.
This would be a people based cost and would be determined by the length of time and complexity of the implementation. Complexity would be a factor of the business itself, as would the degree of customisation required.
Times, however, are definitely changing. Software vendors have embraced the Cloud and most are now focusing their strategies there.
This change has reduced their costs and as such changed their markets and increased their customer potential. Rather than buying the software, you are effectively leasing it.
This keeps overall costs down and the initial outlay required. It also massively reduces the customer’s ability and propensity to customise the software through changes to the underlying code.
This simplifies the implementation and as such reduces time and cost. Although customers are less able to customise code, the latest products are highly configurable which means they can often achieve their goals but in a more manageable and affordable manner. What used to take market years to implement can now be deployed rapidly in a matter of months.
Business models are consequently changing. Vendors are now looking at long-term, value-adding relationships. SIs are also faced with the need to change their focus. No longer will they be spending years on a customer site deploying a software product that is likely to be due an upgrade by the time it is deployed. Instead, rapid deployment will be the norm with a future focus on enhancements and continual improvements.
Due to the relative infancy of this strategy, it is extremely important that vendors and SIs achieve a number of real successful implementations. If this is achieved, then adoption of the Cloud should lead to an explosion in this new market offerings potential.
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