15 June 2024, 09:35
By Steve Pickering Jun 03, 2024

F*** the system!

It’s been a tough few months for Steve Pickering, the ‘unorthodox’ CEO of fast-growing South East independent bed retail chain Sussex Beds, as his team finally made the switch to a new IT platform. And, as you can tell by his language, he’s still coming to terms with the ordeal …

F***, this has been the toughest thing we have ever done! Up there with going bust, up there with Covid lockdowns.

On April 1st, after two-and-a-half years of planning, preparation, stress, fear and worry, we moved our entire business onto a new IT platform.

Since 2014, we have been building and growing our business utilising a myriad of various software, spreadsheets and manual processes. These have served us well and allowed us to scale the business to the heights we have achieved.

However, in recent years, these systems have begun to creak and groan as we reach their limits. Additionally, as the business grows, so does the need for deeper information and more advanced controls for both efficiency and finance.

After a period of research, review and analysis, it became apparent that a complete overhaul would be required. This would entail moving the entire business away from all the different systems, software and spreadsheets onto one singular ERP business system, connecting sales and HR to fulfilment, marketing and finance, to create one singular source of data.

Sounds great! Brilliant, perfect, let’s do it.

Fast-forward to August 2023, following months of in-depth requirement analysis, scoping, costing, preparation, delays and building, and we gained access to the first sandbox testing platform.

Upon gaining access, the enormity of the task ahead sank in. Testing, adapting and changing processes, solving problems, mapping scenarios, planning data migration.Every week, more and more of our back-office team were being pulled away from their normal day-to-day tasks to work on various areas of preparation, testing and training.

Deadlines passed – October, December, January, February, March, with costs mounting with every slippage. Finally, April 1st was set as the go-live date, a hard switch from old systems to new.

The weeks leading up to the live launch required long days and weekends as we finalised data migration and a full cut-over test to a clean sandbox as a final preparation before transitioning to the live system. Full team training ramped up 10 gears – sales, warehousing, delivery, finance, everybody needed to learn the new systems and processes in preparation for launch.

Setbacks, issues and delays meant this would go to the wire. It was tense.

The launch weekend arrived, the team working solidly every day, uploading, entering and preparing data ready for Monday, April 1st.

Then came the night before launch. F***, what if it doesn’t all work? What if we’ve screwed up our business? Let customers down? How would we reverse it if there is a catastrophic error? I didn’t sleep much.

Launch day arrived. Early start, the team frantically cleaning up loose ends as we approach the opening of stores. Within 20 minutes of opening, the first sale appeared, followed by another and another. It works. The back-office team are responding to questions, sales continue to come through, and the day ends on a high.

I’d love to say that, from this point, everything clicked into place and it all went swimmingly. The truth is, the following day was chaos – phone calls, issues, glitches – resulting in emergency fixes, workarounds and mends.

Crisis management kicks in, with start-of-day and end-of-day meetings to report progress, raise issues, prioritise and assign resources to work the problems.

But, each day, progress is made, and the rate of new reported issues and challenges decreases. As we enter week three, the crisis meetings have come down to two a week, which focus less on issues and challenges and more on building new features, reports and management tools.

We’ve done it. The system works. Over the coming months, we will refine, improve, and begin to utilise all the new features and benefits the system provides.

But f***, it has been tough. The reason I say this has been the toughest thing we have ever done is because it has affected, caused stress and anxiety for every member of our team, whereas the pressures of going bust or the Covid lockdowns were more limited to the leadership team.

What are the toughest challenges you’ve encountered during your business journey?

Discover more of Steve’s thoughts on his blog.


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