January 2004

Market-based Organizations Share Lessons Learned on Lawson Software


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Significant savings from operational efficiencies, better information for decision-making and fewer transaction errors have been achieved by Catholic Health Initiatives market-based organizations that have used Lawson software to implement systems such as CHI Connect.

Executives with those market-based organizations acknowledge that the implementation of such as a system takes considerable time and resources, but is well worth the effort for staff who use the software daily and managers who now have access to richer information for strategic business plans. According to Clay Johnson, vice president of materiel management at Centura Health in Colorado, implementing a centralized operating system like CHI Connect provided tremendous efficiencies. “The largest advantage of using a centralized database (for materials management) is that it helped us prioritize our contracting and reach price parity points across our facilities,” Johnson said. “In addition, we have been able to reduce costs through automated processes like online requisitioning. We can now see our dollars spent by vendor or by category across the enterprise.” Johnson believes that standardizing operational processes is the key to successful implementation of a system like CHI Connect, because without centralization, market-based organizations will not realize potential improvements in efficiency. Benefits to human resources and payroll functions became apparent soon after Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, began using Lawson software in 2001. The medical center had used manual and paper processes to manage timecards and benefits for more than 6,000 employees, and discovered efficiencies from using Lawson almost immediately. “Our payroll error rate dropped dramatically once we began using the system,” said Robyn Wilkinson, senior vice president of human resources at Mercy. “Employees can access and update their own personnel and benefits information through the Web or our intranet, and we have held two open enrollments online without any problems. We have access to not only more, but more comprehensive personnel data than ever before.” Kelly Benable, financial services manager for St. Vincent Health System in Little Rock, Ark., said Lawson software allows her finance department to generate reports more efficiently. “It has a good set of built-in reports, but I can tell it what to run,” she said. “On a mainframe system, this process used to take a few hours. Now, it’s real-time.” Despite their success, all three market-based organizations advise others to take as much time as needed — which they estimate at a minimum of 12 months — to learn about, prepare for and train users on CHI Connect. “Take it slow and do it right,” Johnson advised. “Upfront preparation is critical. Assessing the existing functionality of proprietary systems with the new functionality of CHI Connect will help us develop proper training, education and rollout programs.” This advice is built into the CHI Connect implementation plan, which has 18 months dedicated to developing the operating model design. Teams of market-based representatives and national staff are meeting by function (finance, human resources, supplychain and payroll) and in multi-disciplinary teams, said Lu Sims, Catholic Health Initiatives’ vice president for financial and administrative systems and project lead. Lessons learned in the development and implementation of CHI Connect at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the national offices will be incorporated into the project, and individual market-based organizations will become involved well in advance of their implementation dates. Wilkinson said Lawson uses a scripting process to adjust, add to or update existing features of the software. She suggests limiting the amount of customization to avoid potential issues. “Our goal was to keep our interaction with Lawson as ‘vanilla’ as possible and not customize it too much,” she said. “That meant rethinking the way we do things from a policy and procedure perspective. Sometimes the ‘vanillaness’ of the system was a better way to do it, which can be hard for managers who instituted previous policies to accept. We learned not to take that as defeat. The entire point of the new system is to generate a better way of operating.” Despite the enormity of implementing a standardized system, those interviewed believed it was well worth the effort and provided a strong return on investment for their organizations. “Those who use the system every day absolutely love it,” Wilkinson said. “We can’t imagine our life without it now. Change is always hard, but the experience was much more positive than we ever anticipated.” “I commend Catholic Health Initiatives for the vision of pulling this together,” Johnson said. “For Centura, it’s been truly beneficial.”