A Project in Jeopardy

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is typically considered a dress rehearsal for Go-Live and should result in minimal change requests.  But this was not your typical UAT. During the final weeks of the project a major gap in critical-to-customer data was discovered that jeopardized this steel mill’s entire Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation.

User Acceptance

As the name suggests, a successful UAT depends on the end users accepting the results of the conversion test cycle.  To guarantee a successful go-live, each subsequent test cycle includes more end users and experts than the one that preceded it.  For this final round of testing, the expert resource on steel certifications discovered that many Customer Specifications were missing and could not be entered manually.  This surprise finding altered the course of our Dynamics 365 implementation, and all resources resolved to find a solution.

Customer Specifications

In a nutshell, Customer Specifications (specs) include the chemical, physical, and mechanical properties that customers need displayed on the steel certification when they receive the product.  Customer specifications are applied to materials that will eventually find their way into products where failure would be disastrous.  For example, if a steel bar does not meet straightness requirements, then hydraulic cylinder applications (as with those on heavy construction equipment) would fail and endanger workers.  We have faith in the structural integrity of skyscrapers and the reliability of cars and heavy equipment because manufacturers strive to meet strict industry standards (like ASTM) and additional customer specifications for critical applications.

Commitment to Customers

By meeting customer specifications, the steel mill demonstrates their commitment to customer needs and delivers on a promise to provide the highest quality steel needed for each application.  When UAT began, we were already migrating 5,000 such specifications.  Weeks after the UAT loads, our client, one of the largest steel manufacturers in the US, informed us that there was something odd with the data.

Piecewise Uncovering of New Information

This had become a recurring theme – a gradual, piecewise uncovering of new information revealing how their heavily customized legacy AS/400 (mainframe) system operates. The client’s homegrown system afforded countless operational benefits over several decades of use but created challenges for today’s implementation.  The downside with non-standard systems like this is that data management is incredibly difficult.  Executing a successful conversion required Premier’s project management methodology and the technical capability, data profiling, and rapid application development available through Applaud® software.

Enhanced Conversion Program Delivered

The total count of converted Customer Specifications jumped from 5,000 to over 25,000 just weeks before go-live. Given the short timeframe and quick turnaround, our herculean efforts to expand conversion scope were met with praise from both our client and our partners. A combination of end user due-diligence, expert project management, technical consulting, and the Applaud software streamlined development of the Customer Specification conversion program enhancements.  We celebrated this victory and continued loads to Dynamics 365 for testing and validation. Little did we know that an even more daunting task awaited us.

Recreating Custom Backend Code

We were told, yet again, that certain specs were missing. This time, even after extensive data spelunking, no information about the specs could be retrieved in the presumed Customer Product Master table or any other master data tables in the mainframe database. We were at an impasse – how could customer specs exist while no information about them is present in the database? The client revealed that they implemented backend COBOL logic in the AS/400 mainframe that dynamically creates specs directly from sales orders.  To close this gap Premier was asked to mimic the backend logic and create item-level specs from transactional data.  Since this master data did not exist in the mainframe, we needed to dynamically create it through conversion code.

Rising to the Challenge

The challenge of dynamically creating master data from transactions did not discourage us.  Because of Premier’s commitment to client success, this challenge could not phase us. It is exactly moments like this where we rise to the occasion and leverage the power of Applaud to make the impossible a reality. Premier’s experience in complex situations like this empowered us to gather the necessary requirements and turn around a new Customer Specs load file in a single weeks' time. The final record count had skyrocketed to roughly 62,000 – an 1100% increase from the UAT record count.

Reflecting on Our Success

This is one of the many stories from this Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation where Applaud enabled us to make complex conversion changes quickly and keep the project timeline on track.  In ambitious projects like this, requirements are expected to evolve over time. But when complex changes are requested late into an implementation, it introduces risk into the conversion process.  I credit our success on this implementation to Applaud and its unique ability to rise to even the most complex technical challenges and minimize data migration risk.