How do you ensure that your systems are ready for the euro? Unisys Corp., an international supplier of computer hardware and technology services, is taking a two-phase approach, getting some systems ready this month and scheduling others to be adapted by January 2002. Mick Coppard, EMU (European Monetary Union) project director and IT director for the Blue Bell, Pa.-based manufacturer, says the reason for this approach is that EMU members are themselves phasing in their move to the euro. Unisys wants to be able to continue serving clients during the interim. Coppard's first priority was to convert Unisys' pricing, billing, collections, and purchase-order features to the euro by this month. He plans to use the period between now and January 2002 to tackle non-mission-critical systems. He also will replace an existing enterprise-resource-planning system with some euro-compliant software from Oracle Corp. and a human-resources system from PeopleSoft Inc. "Using the full three-year transition period means we can spend time on those noncore projects without being diverted into creating temporary fixes for the euro," says Coppard, who is based in Uxbridge, England. But careful planning is essential, Unisys executives contend. "You need to do a lot of strategic planning and prepare the ground thoroughly for euro conversion," says Mark Wrightsman, vice president-Europe support services at Unisys. And support from top management is crucial because "it's a business issue rather than a question of conversion," Coppard adds. Wrightsman and Coppard -- backed by Chairman, President and CEO Lawrence A. Weinbach and CFO Robert H. Brust -- mapped out the strategic direction Unisys would take for the euro conversion more than a year ago. Then Coppard's team spent about a year laying the groundwork for the euro conversion. As soon as the EMU set out specifics of the conversion, Coppard's team implemented the plan. The team went through Unisys' processes to see what changes were needed, scoped out the new processes, and set up a schedule to ensure that the projects would be completed by this month. Coppard's team identified every application where monetary amounts are used and certified that the amounts are clearly denominated in the appropriate currency, whether local or the euro. It will then implement checkpoints in the processes to help ensure that the amounts converted are correct. Meanwhile, Unisys has begun training staff to cope with the conversion. This is crucial for euro-conversion projects, Coppard says. For example, when sales representatives negotiate pricing during sales calls, "one side may be talking about euros and the other about French francs," he explains. Unisys uses various means to train staff including short classroom training sessions of a couple of hours each. The corporate intranet also carries training courses, as well as ample information on the euro. And Coppard's team is sending newsletters, information leaflets, and flyers to employees. Corporations should give priority to training and "anything to do with customers and suppliers," Coppard says. Based on Unisys' experience, he recommends the following stages:
- First, companies should understand the extent of their exposure by doing an assessment of payroll, human resources, and other systems. They must not forget the PCs, which may have applications and spreadsheets on them.
- Next, they should build a detailed inventory of applications and other things that have to do with amounts and put the plan in place to convert them. Companies that take a phased approach must make sure that both sides in any transaction know what currency each is using for the transaction.
- Then, a company should contact every one of its customers and suppliers to find out when and how they're going to make their conversions.