Insulating Idelco, or the challenge of non-existent challenges


Veerle Van Waes, SAP S/4HANA and CX delivery leader at Expertum, explains how the seemingly ideal scenario of starting a RISE with SAP (S/4HANA) project with a completely clean slate requires flexibility, and deep business and technical experience.

When Expertum won the contract to do a SAP S/4HANA implementation for Idelco Insulation in late 2021 my entire team were incredibly excited.

Idelco Insulation was a brand-new business with a focus on construction panels. While the company was still in start-up mode, the business initiative came from an established source: Bremhove Group—owned by the renowned entrepreneur, Joris Ide.

Whatever challenges we met, it was sure to be an interesting and rewarding project.

Beginner’s Mind – An Unusual Scope

The initial requirement was an SAP S/4HANA implementation for: Finance, Controlling, Purchasing, Sales and Distribution, Inventory Management, and Production.

But the project was also very intriguing. The solution would be built from scratch, and with no pre-existing data structures or business logic to honor.

It’s very rare for businesses to implement SAP during their start-up phase. And it’s equally rare for Expertum, as experienced SAP integrators, to be faced with a completely new company where there are no legacy systems or data to migrate. In fact, in 25 years of implementing SAP, I had never come across this before.

Was I at last encountering the integrator’s nirvana of a completely clean slate to work with? We’d be able to follow SAP Best Practices to the letter without needing to accommodate existing business logic and data. And there would be no challenging migrations. It seemed beyond ideal!

Obviously, this prospect had made us even more keen to win this project, and we were delighted when our proposal of an agile and highly solutions-driven way of working was accepted.

The scope did have one caveat: a five-month timeframe, including one month of preparation and planning for the greenfield SAP S/4HANA implementation. To say that is short for a SAP implementation is definitely an understatement!

RISE to the Challenge

The clean slate at Idelco Insulation was a reason we agreed early on that RISE with SAP would provide the ideal implementation infrastructure.

RISE with SAP, launched in 2021, is delivered as a cloud service, and is intended to remove some of the headaches of on-premises installations—perfect then for a company without fixed IT systems.

This was also Expertum’s first full project built on RISE. It was exciting to be offering this simplified and modernized SAP infrastructure to our latest customer.

But, of course, business is about a great deal more than ideal technology… as we learned.

A Clean Slate… but Where’s the Chalk?

At Idelco Insulation, everything was completely new! That included employees, products, plants, management, tools, customers, processes, logo, branding, and everything else you can think of.

One of our first “implementations” was helping unpack brand new flip-boards for a meeting in a room where the paint was still drying on the walls.

Thankfully, the coffee machine was already fully functional and seeing good use by the time we arrived.

Challenging Contexts

We soon realized the SAP S/4HANA implementation ahead of us would require a lot of flexibility and a sense of humor. Thankfully, the coffee machine remained steadfast and provided some continuity. But much else was in flux.

We encountered many challenging contexts during the four months:

  • Company Structure: On day one, neither the company name nor the business structure in relation to the Bremhove Group was established.
  • Facilities: There was on-going construction of facilities, which made both working on-premises and establishing production processes “interesting”.
  • Structural Changes: A major acquisition was undertaken with the purchase of Monopanel, a company in France. The goal of implementing the French plant was dropped one month before go-live.
  • Users: There were only temporary managers as we began, and no users to enter into the SAP system. One week before go-live, four major users arrived.

Plus, two of the biggest challenges of all:

  • None of the business flows at the company had been defined on the day we arrived.
  • During the four months, the production plan, desired outcomes, and production capacity were not only established from scratch but saw several major revisions.

And, of course, we were trying to wrangle this constant change into a well structured SAP implementation.

SAP Best Practices

Implementing an SAP solution where business processes are still being defined requires a very flexible approach.

Traditionally, when building a SAP solution, many business processes and data sources will already exist and you must incorporate these.

The promise of Best Practices is, where possible, to have many SAP-related components already available as you begin work. No need to start with nuts and bolts: it’s as if you’re building an automobile where the chassis and body arrive pre-assembled. Time and complexity are reduced, and you can focus on other tasks in your automobile blueprint.

But with Idelco Insulation, there were no established ways of working at the business. Processes were being defined as we worked.

So, in short, we were able to fully use Best Practices in SAP “out-of-the-box”.

Planting Green Fields with Flexible Shoots

At this point, we’ll leave automobile metaphors behind and take a tandem (bicycle) ride through some very green fields instead.

More prosaically, with no business processes defined at the start, Expertum had to get involved in defining those processes from scratch.

As SAP consultants, we often provide guidance on how to frame business processes for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integration. But at Idelco Insulation, we played an active part in defining those business processes with them.

Thankfully, Expertum has a wealth of experience from working with other customers, and we could propose solutions on logistics, processes, labelling, product portfolio definition, and roles and responsibilities.

Filip Vandenweghe, CEO at Idelco Insulation put it succinctly:

Expertum is an organization with experienced project leaders and consultants with industrial experience, entrepreneurship, and a no-nonsense approach.

Filip Vandenweghe, CEO at Idelco Insulation

This shared involvement made for a very positive sense of a common mission during the entire project.

The Result?

When May 2022 came, the paint was dry in the meeting rooms, the pictures were on the walls, and the coffee machine needed a long holiday but was still turning up for work every day.

We’d encountered organization changes, staff changes, evolving internal and inter-company flows, plant changes, new last minute company alterations, and even new logos and branding arriving.

But we were ready! We had a Core RISE with SAP S/4HANA implementation, built from scratch, that managed Finance, Controlling, Purchasing, Sales and Distribution, Inventory Management, and Production. The exact goals we’d set out to achieve.

What we learned

If I had to summarize what we learned from the project in one sentence, it would be:

If you’re building SAP ERP systems for a start-up, you’d better be flexible and ready for everything.

Veerle Van Waes, SAP S/4HANA & CX delivery leader at Expertum

Flexibility was unquestionably the key to this project. Yes, best practices were a great help, but with so many major shifts happening, the most important thing to do is adapt. You “flex”. And you come up with a solution.

Next Steps

Based on this positive collaboration, we are happy to report that we’re now back helping at Idelco Insulation. For this extended phase of the project, we’ve moved from the meeting room to the warehouse, where we’re facing plenty of exciting challenges that we look forward to reporting on soon.

Learn More

Watch a short video where Filip Vandenweghe, CEO Idelco Insulation, describes how the right ERP choice for Idelco Insulation required both RISE with SAP and the deep business knowledge of Expertum integrators. Watch the video here.

Intrigued by what you’ve read? If your organization could benefit from talking to SAP integrators that bring deep logistics experience and a flexible approach to their work, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us!

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