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Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

How Royal Vopak kept their finance transformation on schedule during a pandemic

Guest Author

By Marc Veul, Royal Vopak, and Sachin Jain, Cognizant

Royal Vopak is the world’s leading independent tank storage company and a global leader in storing vital products with care. Recently, Vopak embarked on a global finance transformation program to help create value, improve business insights and strengthen key controls.

Vopak chose to partner with Cognizant to implement Oracle Cloud ERP. But deep into the program execution, COVID hit. The timing was terrible: the implementation was at its most critical phase, with imminent go-lives in two countries, user acceptance testing in a third, and system integration testing in a fourth country. As with most things COVID, the disruption was unforeseen, immediate and significant.

The global lockdown tested our ability to effectively deliver projects and programs, particularly those in which seamless global mobility was at the heart of the delivery strategy. How did Vopak and Cognizant adjust our short- and medium-term strategy? How did we keep schedules intact, and what did we learn?

Key dilemmas

As we raced to adjust our strategy, we had to answer some critical questions:

  • Is there time to re-plan for this new situation, since cut-overs in the Netherlands and Belgium are in flight?
  • How do we replicate the experience of working together in person using a virtual setup?
  • How do we execute parallel phases of the project, in four different countries?
  • How do we maintain morale amongst the project team and users?
  • How do we work with suppliers and customers to address shared project challenges?
  • How do we rapidly adapt the program governance and implementation approach?

Changing the plan

The rapid and large-scale ban on travel caused significant disruption to ongoing projects that relied heavily on global mobility. Major adjustments were made to processes, deployment strategies and decision making in order to be effective, especially for regional centres in Asia.

We quickly transitioned to remote “virtual live rooms” to replace travel and in-person meetings. These virtual rooms always had subject matter experts for key areas and were used for daily “beginning of play / end of play” reviews, including key goal metrics for tracking.

Establishment of governance with clear, realigned roles and responsibility was at the core of our plan. With globally dispersed teams, reassignment of roles was performed wherever necessary due to time-zone differences and travel limitations. Further investment in online availability of all materials (e.g. training, testing) was made to support a more remote approach. Capability centres (global and/or regional) were set-up with experts for all time zones.

Key lessons

  • Put people first (the human element). Team members are the most valuable project resource. Empower them with decentralized decision making, the right tools, data, and platforms to enable agility.
  • Be transparent. When an unprecedented challenge strikes, discuss it immediately with clients and team members, so the issue can be addressed while it’s manageable.
  • Embrace change. External changes outside the direct control of the program leadership are inevitable. Keep your end goal in mind and do what’s necessary to achieve it. For example, COVID-19 required quick empowerment of local teams and decentralized decision making. This is not to be looked at as a loss of control. Limiting the control and trusting people with decision-making was absolutely vital.
  • Be analytical. Determine exactly how each change will affect your program, for good or bad, and identify workable solutions to adopt, mitigate or defuse problems. Reassessing the risk register may potentially be the right starting point.

As we return to a new normal, it’s likely many ways we work will be changed forever. The approach to project delivery will change, as well as the role of the program leader.

  • Programs with a clear delivery structure, typically led by experienced and professional program managers, will better adapt to the new operating environment; plans and governance regimes will need to more effectively withstand the impact of change.
  • Global programs will need to empower the local delivery organizations, with global leads becoming facilitators of success and removing bottlenecks and constraints.
  • Agile thinking will gain momentum as organisations recognise the importance of quickly pivoting and keeping focus on delivery benefits in achievable windows.
  • Emphasis and recognition of key program delivery frameworks will increase, along with disciplines like governance committee meetings accompanied by documented delivery plans, change management processes, risk and issues tools, etc.
  • The role of the sponsor is vital to provide guidance and assistance when dealing with significant external changes. Facilitation will be increasingly important in program managers’ skill sets, as they strive to coordinate outputs from across a globally dispersed team.

Royal Vopak’s global finance transformation program has achieved its goals despite unprecedented challenges. The lessons and adjustments proved effective for successful delivery in a world vastly different—and a manner completely unforeseen—at the project’s inception.

About Authors

Marc Veul is global program manager for the MOVES program at Royal Vopak. MOVES is an umbrella program aiming to replace Vopak’s current ERP solution with a combination of self-built and cloud solutions, enabling a further digitizing of frontline execution and optimizing back end processes.

Sachin Jain is global program manager at Cognizant responsible for the delivery of the finance transformation program. With over 21 years’ industry experience, Sachin specializes in IT consulting primarily focusing on management and delivery of large global IT led business transformation programs.

Cognizant is a world leader in consulting, technology and outsourcing services. Cognizant partners with global organizations to engineer modern business to improve everyday lives.

To hear more about this story, listen to the Partner Perspectives podcast, Royal Vopak Optimizes Operations and Improves Services with Cognizant and Oracle ERP Cloud.

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