Profile: Maricel Cabahug, CIO, Yaskawa Electric America

“To top that off, we now have engaged, highly-motivated IT professionals who have great relationships with their customers,” she beams.

Bridging the Gap

Once people issues were resolved and the gulf between IT and business was bridged, Cabahug and her team began a forklift upgrade of the company’s infrastructure—specifically, LANs at ten locations, WLANs at three locations, and WAN (from Frame Relay to MPLS). The upgrade included moving from a hybrid VoIP solution to pure IPT, adding video over IP and setting up teleworker infrastructure, and new rationalization and renegotiations of all contracts with telecommunication companies. In a nutshell, they moved from separate voice, data and video networks to a converged network.

“The biggest challenge was, I came from the systems and applications side of IT and I had a total of three people in my infrastructure group, none of us were experts on data networking much less had any experience on voice,” she said.

Initially, Cabahug had a three-year plan to complete the project, plus a “pretty good proposal” from her chosen vendor and an implementation partner. The CEO, however, had other ideas and Cabahug’s plan accelerated in the middle of its presentation.

“When I made the presentation to my CEO, he said, try to negotiate for an additional discount and I want all of this done by February 2006,” she recounts. “To make a long story short, we were able to deliver on all fronts: A vendor discount that’s three percent better than my CEO’s requirement and more importantly, we went live on time, within budget with no disruptions to business operations.”

“Additionally, as a result of putting in an end-to-end solution, we were able to cut our annual infrastructure-related consulting expenses to zero, without increasing headcount,” she added.

Also in 2005, Cabahug’s team replaced the call center applications with an IP call center solution, upgraded the SAP R/3 systems from 4.6C to 4.7, did a Unicode conversion and platform migration in three months, and implemented SAP CRM Interaction Center and Order Management in five months.

It was an incredibly productive showing for a “lean and mean” 12-person (including Cabahug) IT organization.

“It’s an excellent example of quality over quantity; each one an asset to any organization, collectively, every CIO’s dream team,” she said. Since then, “we’ve been busy working with the business to enable business processes with IT systems and tools.”

Before Cabahug became CIO, the company had SAP R/3 and BW (one cube) in its SAP landscape. Since then they have added SAP CRM—specifically the Interaction Center, Service, Order Management and Marketing components – SAP SCM, SAP Enterprise Portal, and the Solution Manager. Now they are working on adding sales force automation and partner channel management.

“Then there’s the websites and portals and manufacturing execution systems,” she adds.

Economic Affects

The stumbling U.S. economy is giving companies worldwide reason to pause, including Yasawa, but it isn’t slowing Cabahug’s projects.

“We definitely are more cautious with our investments, but we have not slowed down on projects,” she confirms. “With the devaluation of the dollar, offshore consulting in general has become more expensive, but we have great relationships with our partners, and this does not have an impact on us right now.

“We learned our lesson the hard way in 2001 when we had to reduce our headcount by 35%,” she explained. “Since then we as an organization have been proactively controlling headcount and expenses and have been quite successful at it.”

Cabahug’s top priority right now is high availability and disaster recovery. As the company becomes more and more reliant on IT infrastructure and systems, reliability and availability are “main concerns.”

Like other CIOs, Cabahug is also keeping one eye on the horizon. “Web services and mobility applications are all very exciting technologies that have real benefit to the business.” In this regard, she is not merely proactive, she is a stimulus.

A year or so ago, Cabahug pushed SAP leaders for an integrated Blackberry application. This year, just before SAP’s annual Sapphire meeting, SAP and RIM announced SAP applications would be native on Blackberry handhelds—a potential “market changer” that can conceivably save SAP using enterprises like Yaskawa millions.

“Excellent!” beams the petite powerhouse as she moves on to the next project without missing a beat.