Morrison submerges itself in an integrated solution and learns some surprising lessons. By Charles Wardell

Atlanta-based Morrison Homes recently discovered two truths about Internet- enabling a company's business practices. First, doing so is more than a technology project. Second, the benefits of doing so go way beyond technology.

In August, Morrison started implementing SAP, a Web-enabled enterprise solution used by many Fortune 500 companies, but which is just now being offered to home builders. According to project manager Greg Goldenberg, SAP will integrate Morrison's finance, purchasing and estimating, scheduling and vendor communications, sales, and warranty processes. (The new system goes live in various markets later this year.)

Morrison Homes' Greg Goldenberg says that Internet-enabling the company will transform more than the back office.
Stuart Bradford Morrison Homes' Greg Goldenberg says that Internet-enabling the company will transform more than the back office.

Goldenberg already has some advice for builders contemplating such an effort. "Anyone who wants to pursue this has to take it on as a business project and not as an IT project," he emphasizes. For instance, Morrison's various divisions had different ways of handling the series of steps that happen between when a home is sold and when the builder breaks ground; SAP's system will demand more standardization. Getting there has required the company to take a thorough inventory of its business practices, decide which ones work best, implement them company-wide, and discard the rest. Goldenberg summoned 75 of the company's top people to Atlanta in the fall. "They had workshop after workshop on defining processes," he recalls.

He now believes that such self examination could make any company more efficient. "When someone from Phoenix and someone from Atlanta start talking about how they do things, it's surprising how quickly they agree on the best practices in each area," he says. But he adds that the new software gave the discussions an urgency they might have otherwise lacked. "If you don't follow up with a system to implement them, then they become a report that people put on their shelves." The software makes sure the discussions are more than just talk.

The new system will change a lot of employees' daily work. "Our builders don't use computers. In the SAP world, they will have to," says Goldenberg. "Even people who use computers every day will be using them differently." To help with training, he sends monthly updates to the entire company. He also invited a manager from Delta Airlines to talk about how Delta implemented SAP's system. He videotaped the talk and sent it to all of Morrison's divisions. Goldenberg says the project has led to "constant communication about expectations." That in itself is a plus.