ERP Implementation at Nestle







Derek S. Dieringer

Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

June 24, 2004



At first glance, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems seem to be the silver bullet for every company’s problems.  In one fell swoop, implementation of an ERP system offers a company the chance to re-engineer business processes, coordinate the systems of geographically dispersed locations, consolidate data, and empower users by giving them access to all the company’s data in real time.  Of course, these opportunities come at a high price in terms of financial cost, implementation nightmares, and human issues.  Often these implementations fail miserably as they run behind schedule and over budget; other times they are successful.  Regardless of the outcome, each ERP implementation holds valuable lessons to be learned for companies considering their own ERP implementation.



The Business Case for an ERP


The business case for implementing an ERP system can be seen by examining any one of three Nestle stories.  Nestle SA is the parent company of the candy-making giant and is headquartered in Switzerland (Konicki, pg 185).  In 2000 Nestle SA decided that it wanted to leverage its size and begin acting like the giant it is.  To do so, it signed a $200 million contract with SAP to roll out an ERP system to its 230,000 employees in 80 countries around the world (Olson, pg. 53).  In addition to this sum, Nestle SA also committed to an additional $80 million to be spent on consulting, maintenance, and upgrades (Konicki, pg. 185).  Executives at Nestle SA realized that the company needed to standardize its business processes if it wanted to be competitive.  The rollout was scheduled to take three years for Nestle SA’s largest sites with the others to follow.  Included in the implementation were the financials, accounts payable, accounts receivable, planning, production management, procurement, direct procurement, supply-chain, demand planning, fulfillment, and business-intelligence modules (Konicki, pg. 185).


Prior to the Nestle SA ERP decision, Nestle UK had already implemented an ERP system.  The British subsidiary of Nestle SA implemented SAP R/3 over a period of five years in 18 UK manufacturing sites (Glick, 7 Days, pg. 4).  This implementation wrapped up in 1999 and was the one of the UK’s largest ERP systems with over 6,000 users (Glick, Enterprise, pg. 24).  As with the Nestle SA deployment, the goals of the Nestle UK implementation were centered on leveraging the size of the organization as well as tightening up the supply chain and re-engineering work practices and processes (Glick, 7 Days, pg. 4).


The third Nestle ERP implementation story involves Nestle USA.  Nestle USA is the $8.1 billion U.S. subsidiary of Nestle SA.  In 1997, Nestle USA began its own ERP project known as Best (Business Excellence through Systems Technology) (Worthen, pg. 1).  Scheduled to run over the course of six years ending in the first quarter of 2003, this project was budgeted at well over $200 million and would implement five SAP modules:  purchasing, financials, sales and distribution, accounts payable, and accounts receivable (Worthen, pg. 1-3).  Similar to the other two Nestle divisions, the goal behind this ERP implementation was unification.  Additionally, the project would solve Nestle USA’s Y2K woes (Worthen, pg. 3).  In the case of Nestle USA, the ERP was part of the vision Nestle USA Chairman and CEO Joe Weller referred to as “One Nestle” that would be responsible for “transforming the separate brands into one highly integrated company” (Worthen, pg. 2).  Prior to the implementation, Nestle USA had nine different general ledgers and 28 points of customer entry (Worthen, pg. 2).  The goal of the ERP project was to bring these numbers down to one.  One of the most interesting views on the Nestle USA problem is the story of vanilla.  Prior to the ERP implementation, Nestle USA did not act as one company.  Instead, each location acted on its own behalf and was free to make its own business decisions.  “In 1997, a team examining the various systems across the company found, among many other troubling redundancies, that Nestle USA’s brands were paying 29 different prices for vanilla – to the same vendor” (Worthen, pg. 2).  This situation arose from the fact that each factory negotiated their own deals with the vendor and the vendor adjusted the price per factory based on what they thought the factory would pay.  The situation was only worsened by the fact that each factory referred to vanilla in a different way.  While one factory might have referred to vanilla as 1234, another factory referred to it as 7890.  This made it nearly impossible for individuals at the corporate headquarters to do comparisons across plants to see manufacturing costs (Worthen, pg. 2). 


Regardless which Nestle case is examined, the goals behind all three ERP implementations were similar for all the divisions.  That is, in each instance, there was a driving goal to consolidate the operations of the different locations so that Nestle could truly leverage their size and buying power.  Additionally, there was a need to centralize and control data so that the financial, reporting, and forecasting numbers were more consistent and accurate.  As each factory acted as an autonomous unit, Nestle was at a severe competitive disadvantage and realized that it needed one system used by all in order to be more efficient and survive in the global economy.



Implementation Strategy


The term ‘ERP implementation’ has become synonymous with ‘nightmare’ in recent years.  High profile failures dot the headlines and companies are often intimidated not only by the high price but also the negative effect implementations can have on their business.  Vendors such as SAP are working diligently on shaking this reputation and have made great strides in meeting their goals.  “In 1996, a user could expect to pay six to 10 times the license cost in consulting charges.  These days the external consulting cost has dropped to typically one to two-and-a-half times the software costs, depending on how much process re-engineering the user does” (Adshead, pg. 26).   Fortunately for companies considering an ERP implementation there have been enough done in the past that there are opportunities to learn from the successes and failures of others.  One of the key factors of a successful implementation is “don’t try to make the product fit exactly the way you would ideally like to work or on the other hand assume that people will completely change their processes to meet the package.  The first takes many years and costs loads, the second meets big resistance” (Adshead, pg. 26).  For most businesses there needs to be a middle-of-the-road approach where individuals realize that the software will not solve every organizational problem and not every process in the company can be re-engineered to fit the software.  Regardless, savvy project leaders with prior ERP implementation experience will tell you that there are several pitfalls to avoid during ERP projects.  The first is not to select an ERP package based on a demo.  Choose your package wisely, ask questions, get references, and do your homework.  An ERP package is a costly investment and you need to be sure you are choosing the package that best fits the needs of your organization.  The second is get management commitment.  Not securing top management buy-in results in an automatic project failure.  Management commitment is often high at the beginning of a project but begins to wane as the project wears on.  It is vital to keep management interested, involved, and positioned squarely behind the project.  The third is to avoid heavy customization.  It is both easy and tempting to customize ERP packages to fit your exact needs.  Unfortunately excessive customization will haunt you by lengthening the project timeline and by driving up maintenance costs in the future.  The final pitfall to avoid in ERP implementations is not to underestimate the importance of training.  It is not uncommon that users receive several days of training on the new system and then do not see the system again for months.  Users need in-depth and on-going training and should even be involved with system testing if at all possible (Adshead, pg. 27).


Unfortunately for Nestle USA, they did not heed the failures of others.  Throughout the implementation, Nestle USA made several large mistakes that almost doomed the project.  When the project began a team of 50 top executives and 10 senior IT professionals was assembled to develop a set of best practices for all Nestle USA divisions.  The goal was to develop these best practices for all functions of the organization.  Each function from manufacturing to sales would eventually be forced to retire their old approaches and adopt the new best practice that had been developed.  Concurrently, a technical team was charged with the task of implementing a common data structure across the company (Worthen, pg. 2).  By the time the implementation began in 1999 Nestle already had problems with its employees’ acceptance of the system.  Most of the resistance met by the project team was traced back to the fact that “none of the groups that were going to be directly affected by the new processes and systems were represented on the key stakeholders team” (Worthen, pg. 3).  This was only the start of Nestle USA’s problems.  By early 2000, the implementation had turned into a disaster.  Employees did not understand how to use the new system and did not understand the new work processes they were being forced to adopt.  Divisional executives were just as confused as their employees as they had been left out of the planning and development of the new system and were less than willing to assist in straightening out the mess that had developed (Worthen, pg. 3).  The result of this was that morale plummeted and turnover skyrocketed.  In fact, “turnover among the employees who forecast demand for Nestle products reached 77 percent” (Worthen, pg. 3). 


Nestle USA’s implementation problems did not stop with employee issues.  Technical difficulties began to emerge as well during the rollout.  In the rush to beat the Y2K deadline the project team had overlooked the integration points between the modules.  This meant that the different modules could not talk to each other.  So if a salesperson gave a discount to a customer and entered it in the system, the accounts receivable portion of the system did not know of the discount.  The result was that the customer would pay their bill but invoice appeared as though it were only partially paid (Worthen, pg. 3). 


By June 2000, Nestle USA was forced to halt the rollout and the project manager was removed from the project and reassigned to Switzerland (Worthen, pg. 3).  Nestle USA gathered 19 key stakeholders and executives went on a three-day offsite retreat to discuss the future of the project.  Out of this meeting came the revelation that they would need to redefine the business requirements of the project and then shape the project timeline around the requirements rather than to shape the timeline around a predetermined end date (Worthen, pg. 3-4).  This process took until April 2001 and resulted in a detailed blueprint for the project team to follow.  A director of process change was hired to act as a liaison between the project team and the different functional divisions (Worthen, pg. 4).  With all of these items finally resolved, the project was able to continue.  The last rollouts were scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2003 (Worthen, pg. 1).





Although there were bumps in the road for Nestle USA’s ERP implementation, it certainly seems to be paying for itself.  As of 2002, Nestle USA claimed they had already realized a savings of over $325 million (Worthen, pg. 1).  Most of these savings came in the area of supply chain improvements, specifically demand forecasting.  “The old process involved a sales guy giving a number to the demand planner, who says, ‘Those guys don’t know what the hell they are talking about; I’m going to give them this number’.  The demand planner turns [that number] over to factory, and the factory says the demand planner doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.  Then the factory changes the number again.  With SAP in place, common databases and business processes lead to more trustworthy demand forecasts for the various Nestle products.  Furthermore, because all of Nestle USA is using the same data, Nestle can forecast down to the distribution center level” (Worthen, pg. 4). 


In addition to saving money, Nestle USA has also been able to come together as one organization.  The problem of 29 different brands of vanilla has been solved and now with common databases each factory refers to vanilla in the same manner.  They also use common processes that simplify operating procedures and allow for the centralization of functions such as developing training procedures.  Training no longer needs to be customized for each factory.  Since each location follows the same procedures, training materials only need to be developed once.  Additionally, any Nestle USA employee could relocate to another factory and not have to adjust to local processes.


Nestle UK experienced similar successes with their ERP implementation.  They were able to recoup the money spent on the system in only two years (Glick, 7 Days, pg. 4).  Further, like their American counterpart, Nestle UK has experienced reduced inventory levels, tighter control on inventory, and a more disciplined attitude toward business processes (Glick, 7 Days, pg. 4).  Most importantly, the ERP implementation at Nestle UK helped to foster a “culture of continuous improvement” (Glick, Enterprise, pg. 24).  “Improvement priorities are clear:  first, the internal opportunities; second, business-to-business; and third, business to consumer” (Glick, Enterprise, pg. 24).  This attitude is embodied by the fact that following the ERP rollout they hired a process development manager.  This person’s sole responsibility is to act as a bridge between business and the Information Technology department and to make sure that employees stay focused on continuous improvement rather than simply trying to maintain existing systems (Glick, Enterprise, pg. 24).





The Nestle USA case is an excellent case study for ERP implementations because it contains both successes and failures.  There were obviously breakdowns during the planning phases of the project yet the overall result can be considered successful due to the consolidated system they now have in place and the amount of money that they are saving due to the ERP rollout.  By examining the experiences of Nestle USA other companies can learn valuable lessons that can be applied to their own rollouts.  Some of these lessons come straight from the mouths of Nestle USA executives while others are observations made from studying the case. 


The first lesson that can be learned from the Nestle USA scenario is that in order for an ERP implementation to be successful the right individuals need to be involved in the process from the beginning.  Nestle learned this lesson the hard way and eventually was forced to halt their rollout.  It is simply impossible to redesign work processes without involving some of the people that actually do the work.  While an argument could be made for “too many cooks in the kitchen” regarding ERP implementations, it is certainly better to have more people than needed rather then not enough when the future of the company is on the line.  It is easier on the project schedule to trim the project team during the project than it is to bring new people into the fold and then have to spend time bringing them up to speed on all of the intricacies of the project.


Another lesson that can be gleaned from the Nestle USA case is that an ERP implementation is not the project that companies should attempt to force into a specific timeline.  There is no better way to miss things and have components completed shoddily than to force the project timeline to fit a specified end date.  Again, with the future of the company on the line, it is important to completely define the business goals of the project and then create a timeline that will accomplish those goals.


A third recommendation for companies considering an ERP implementation is to place a large focus on training.  Training is one of the key elements of any ERP implementation because without it employees that will be using the system and the new business processes on a day-to-day basis will not be prepared to do so.  As with most software projects, training is often an afterthought and typically one of the first items to be cut or reduced when the project timeline begins slipping.  Organizations must resist the urge to do this on ERP projects.  It is crucial that employees receive training early and often throughout the project.  If at all possible, end-users should also be involved in the testing of the new system.


Fourth, organizations should spend time evaluating the business process re-engineering that will be done in conjunction with an ERP implementation.  Companies often take the opportunity presented by an ERP rollout to either redesign business processes or adopt best practices throughout the organization.  Caution should be exercised during this phase as re-engineering processes just for the sake of re-engineer the process is often not necessarily a wise business decision.  There are times where processes should be left alone.  There are also instances where best practices may vary from location to location.  Attempting to force a new or revised process on every facility in the organization is an excellent way to breed contempt and resistance within the organization.  ERP implementations do offer a great opportunity to re-engineer processes but great care should be taken when selecting which processes are actually modified.


The fifth general recommendation for ERP projects is to limit the number of customizations that are done to the system.  As the number of customizations requested increase so does the cost, timeline, and likelihood of bugs in the system.  Since ERP systems are sold by vendors rather than developed in-house, they need to be generic enough to be resold to multiple organizations.  This means that either the software needs to be customized to fit an organization’s needs or the organization’s processes need to be redesigned to fit the software.  As mentioned earlier, it is important to choose which processes are re-designed wisely.  Combined with this recommendation, it becomes clear that making the determination as to which processes are re-engineered and which pieces of software are customized is a balancing act.


The final recommendation for ERP implementations is to obtain universal buy-in for the project.  Traditionally, much emphasis has been placed on securing buy-in for the project by top level executives.  Unfortunately this is only half the battle.  Everyone in the organization needs to support the project if it is to be successful.  In the case of Nestle, if they “were to do it over again, [they’d] focus first on changing business processes and achieving universal buy-in, and then and only then on installing the software.  If you try to do it with a system first, you will have an installation, not an implementation.  And there is a big difference between installing software and implementing a solution” (Worthen, pg. 4).  The end-users are the ones that will be using the system and the processes.  If they are not behind the system there will be morale and turnover issues.





In summary, ERP implementations are unlike any other system implementation that a company will ever experience.  Despite the bad press that ERP systems and their corresponding rollouts receive, it is possible to experience a successful rollout.  Often, as in the case of Nestle USA, organizations will encounter major setbacks and difficulties during the implementation yet still be able to salvage a successful project.  The important point to take away is that the plans must be flexible enough to change mid-stream to overcome obstacles that appear during the project and organizations must do their homework prior to beginning an ERP project.  Enough companies have gone through implementations that there are plenty of lessons to be learned if organizations are willing to accept the advice of others.  ERP implementations combine disparate data sources, re-engineer processes, and involve large numbers of users and locations.  It is nearly impossible to plan for every contingency in projects of this size.  The difference between success and failure is an organization’s ability to rally and work together during difficult times to reach an end goal that will eventually make everyone’s job easier and the company more competitive.




  1. Adshead, Antony.  SAP:  The Climb Gets Easier.  Computer Weekly,  Dec 12, 2002; pg. 26-27.


  1. Glick, Bryan.  7 Days:  SAP Software Gives Nestle Sweet Returns.  Computing,  Apr 12, 2001; pg. 4.


  1. Glick, Bryan.  Enterprise: Nestle Points the Way Forward from ERP.  Computing,  Apr 12, 2001; pg. 24.


  1. Konicki, Steve.  Nestle Taps SAP for E-Business.  InformationWeek,  Jun 26, 2000; pg. 185.


  1. Olson, David L.  Managerial Issues of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems.  McGraw Hill/Irwin, New York, 2004.


  1. Worthen, Ben.  Nestle’s ERP Odyssey.  CIO,  May 15, 2002.  [Online].  Available: (Jun 18, 2004).