ERP Management

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld  |  Posted 2004-01-06 Print this article Print

Fixing the payroll problems fell to Silvera. She, after all, had gotten the company into the overhaul and consolidation of its disparate human-resources and payroll systems in the first place.

Within the ski industry, she was known as something of an ERP queen. She earned her stripes deploying enterprise-resource-planning systems at the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort of Booth Creek Ski Holdings, a company started in 1996 by former Vail Resorts chairman George Gillett. She eventually converted all of Booth Creek over to a J.D. Edwards system.

That caught the eye of Vail Resorts, where Daly and chairman Adam Aron, former chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Lines, were trying to instill business discipline after buying the Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin resorts in 1997 and taking the company public.

Quite a peak for a woman who had started out by applying for a job at the day-care center at Northstar-at-Tahoe in the early 1980s. She wound up as an administrative assistant instead. One job: acting as the backup switchboard administrator turned out to be her technical breakthrough.

When the resort put in its own switch, she also became the backup telecom administrator and had to learn how AT&T private exchanges worked. Later, when the leisure spot went from owning one personal computer to five, she became the support desk. After that, she learned not just how the IBM Personal System/1 worked, but IBMs AS/400 servers, as well. An information-systems career was born.

But, almost two decades later, that career looked like it might just come crashing down unless she could right the deployment of the PeopleSoft software that she had championed. Heading into the crucial Christmas season, "it felt really like flying blindfolded," Daly says now. There was no handle on the number of hours being worked each day and by whom; total payroll was basically guesswork.

Chief financial officer James Donahue convened a "come to Jesus" meeting in October, as Daly recalls it. And coming out of the meeting, Silvera set out to identify precisely where the problems in the system were. Instead of telling resort managers what to do, she listened.

She conducted a dozen focus groups, three at each of the four resorts the company owned at the time: Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek. In each, she heard from at least 10, and sometimes as many as 20, key managers and administrators.

One of the most visible problems was the easiest to fix. Computers running the PeopleSoft application werent actually crashing. Instead, they were having trouble with the Web-based system. Desktop machines running the Windows 95 operating system were "timing out" while trying to get information via the Internet Explorer browser.

That amounted to just 5 percent of the 2,000 desktops in place. But, naturally, those machines belonged to working managers—"the guys running the resorts," Silvera would find.

Replacing the hundred machines was easy. Fixing problems that mattered monetarily was more difficult.

Next Page: Consolidating labor hours at multiple pay rates.

Tom was editor-in-chief of Interactive Week, from 1995 to 2000, leading a team that created the Internet industry's first newspaper and won numerous awards for the publication. He also has been an award-winning technology journalist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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