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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 25, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 38
SAP Veteran John Tikka Takes On HopkinsOne This Week

John Tikka will serve as senior director for Johns Hopkins business systems.
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS

By Glenn Small

He may not wear a cape, but John Tikka has a habit of coming to the rescue, particularly on large complex software implementations facing challenges. A seasoned information technology project manager and consultant with more than 20 years of experience, including academic and health care implementations, Tikka this week assumes leadership of the HopkinsOne project.

His official title is senior director for Johns Hopkins business systems, and he will also be in charge of the support organization that lives on after the HopkinsOne project ends.

HopkinsOne went live Jan. 1 with new business software systems and processes for human resources and payroll, finance and budget, supply chain and sponsored research. According to a recent user satisfaction survey, faculty and staff have found the system challenging and difficult to use and are, overall, not satisfied with it. The issues they cited include inadequate training, new processes that take more staff time to complete than previous ones, and system issues and glitches — all of which sound very familiar to Tikka.

Until recently a client relationship executive with Cerner Corp., a provider of academic and health system software and technology solutions, Tikka has several times assumed leadership of struggling information technology projects and turned them around.

He did it for Memorial Medical Health System in Springfield, Ill., when he assumed leadership of a project to implement an electronic medication-ordering system for the pharmacy.

"It was a difficult implementation," said Alisa Groesch, director of pharmacy for Memorial Medical Center. "John came in the middle of it to get us back on track. He was really able to assess the issues quickly, get us the key contacts and get us moving forward."

He also did it when he took over SAP implementation for Tetra Pak, the world's leading manufacturer of liquid food packaging solutions (such as juice boxes), which had implemented SAP in two countries and planned to implement it in 18 more. SAP is the integrated business software being used by Johns Hopkins.

"He's an impressive guy," said search committee member Greg Finnegan, director of organizational development and training for the Johns Hopkins Health System. "He had a very similar experience with a company in Europe, coming in after SAP went live and helping to make improvements."

At Tetra Pak, Tikka, who was then a principal consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, found a difficult situation. "They had already gone live in Italy and Switzerland," Tikka recalled. "Both of those projects had gone over budget, and the end users didn't feel they had received the functionality they were looking for."

Faced with implementing SAP for Tetra Pak in the United States, France and England, Tikka initiated better communication with the customers, revamped the structure of the project team to take better advantage of SAP's integration and systematically worked to ensure employees learned how to run the system for themselves.

"Ultimately, within SAP, people build things in silos," Tikka said. "Even though it's integrated, it's still 'architected' in specific functionalities. It's like when you build a house: You have a plumber, you have an electrician, you have carpenters, and the plumber doesn't necessarily know what the electrician does and vice versa. But there's got to be somebody who has to know how it's all going to come together."

Steve Golding, who has directed HopkinsOne since the project began five years ago, announced in March that he would be returning full time to the School of Medicine's Finance Office.

"Steve Golding has done an amazing job under the most challenging of circumstances, and we will miss his leadership on the project," said James McGill, senior vice president for finance and administration for the university. "With John Tikka, we have found a focused and serious IT project manager who can pick up where Steve left off and take us forward."

Ron Werthman, vice president of finance for the health system, said he likes Tikka's ability to identify and prioritize issues, and to systematically work to resolve them. "He really has the best of both worlds, a keen insight into the technical aspects and an appreciation for serving the users."

Stephanie Reel, chief information officer for the university and health system, initiated the search for a senior director to lead both the HopkinsOne project and the ongoing support organization, which will now fall under IT@Hopkins.

"John has a balanced view of the world," she said. "He's an optimist, and a realist. He appreciates the complexity and sophistication of SAP, and he understands customer service. I feel fortunate that our paths crossed when they did."

While he says he knows it will take some time to get to know the project, and Johns Hopkins, Tikka says he already thinks some of the improvements he made at Tetra Pak — better communication with users, a more cohesive project structure and systematic approaches to issue resolution and knowledge transfer — could benefit HopkinsOne.

"I think that those are the kinds of things we're going need to do at HopkinsOne," Tikka said. "It may not be exactly that, but it's going to be similar."

Kevin England, vice president for clinical services at Memorial Medical, where Tikka ran the pharmacy implementation, said of Tikka, "He's the type of person who will be open with his customers. "He's an individual with a high amount of charac ter and integrity. He's going to be honest and forthright, and lay his cards on the table."

"The gist of it with John was issue resolution," said Memorial Medical's Groesch. "He understands timelines and goals, setting expectations and really holding people accountable."

For Tikka, who holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from Michigan State and an MBA in finance from the University of Georgia, the fit at Johns Hopkins felt right as he made his way through the interview process.

"It felt like I could fit in, and it also felt like the work that needs to be done is something that is very familiar to me. I felt I could make a contribution relatively quickly," Tikka said.

Tikka is already familiar with the angst users are feeling over the project and, having been through these kinds of projects before, he said, "I'm very impressed with what's been accomplished so far. There's been a lot of success. It may not feel that way to a lot of people, particularly the end users who've had their world turned upside down overnight, but for a project of this magnitude, it's amazing what's been accomplished.

"Ultimately," he said, "HopkinsOne needs to be a system that enables Hopkins employees and staff out in the field to do a better job than they could before."


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