Better Together Customer Conversation with Watco, financial systems overhaul with SAP BTP

In the latest episode of SAP Better Together: Customer Conversations, Sylvie Otton Sollod hosted a discussion of a project to overhaul the financial systems at Watco, a transportation solutions provider headquartered in Pittsburg, Kansas.

The company owns and operates a diverse network of short line railroads, terminals, ports, and repair terminals. It has grown through lots of mergers and acquisitions, has around 5,000 employees, and is planning for further rapid growth.

a train in Kansas

But to support this, they needed to rethink their core systems, with a move from on-premise SAP ECC to S/4HANA in the cloud with RISE with SAP. They turned to the integration capabilities of SAP Business Technology Platform to plug in other applications and provide a foundation for future changes.

And one of the key goals of the project was providing more timely, accurate information directly into the hands of the people implementing business strategy. To support this, the company took the opportunity to move from BusinessObjects WebIntelligence to SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP HANA for high-performance reporting and planning,

Andy Nielsen, Senior Vice President of Finance and Accounting at Watco explained that the company wants to grow and improve customer services, but “you have to have plan in place. You can’t wake up and just decide ‘I want to be great today’!”

The company has a strategic plan, a business plan, and a financial plan. And they wanted to make sure that financial plan was in the hands of everybody across the business so they could adjust and adapt when (inevitably) things do go as planned.

Like all finance departments, they loved Excel. But with growth things started slowing down: they couldn’t use Excel for financial planning across 400 different locations and quickly get data back in the hands of people who needed it.

For example, historically, they may have decided to adjust diesel fuel costs, but that meant going into a hundred different files to make the changes, and could take a week to roll up all those changes and see the overall result. Now the company can do the same thing in thirty minutes or less.

Corey Corrick, VP of Applications at Watco, explained some of the lessons learned along the way, including working closely with the users to understand and support their needs, for example letting them combine analytics with the ability to drill down into individual transactions using SAP Fiori interfaces.

Other lessons learned covered in the interview include:

  • Making sure that people had time to do the project right: “we all have day jobs!”. Crucially, this included deciding what wasn’t going to get done, in order to create capacity for project success.
  • How to ensure the company didn’t get locked into the “this is how we’ve always done it” syndrome.
  • How the company ensured communications at every phase of the project, including very frequent check-ins: “It surprised me how often we had been going in the wrong direction!”
  • The use of agile principles, rolling out smaller changes as quickly as possible, and letting people engage and give feedback, especially with reporting and planning. “We made sure users were included in the blueprinting, design and testing”
  • The importance of internal and external partnerships — partners included Nimbl (now Avvale)Analysis Prime, and Platinum DB. They turned to experts because “we know we don’t know what we don’t know!”

To read more, check out my post on