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MerchantAg and MFA: A new computer and software system is on its way to a location near you

MFA executives have set a goal for the MerchantAg project to finish its work in 1.5 to 2.5 years. The project plan is not yet finalized, and it evolves as new facts are discovered. It looks as if that deadline can be met, but challenges face the project team on several fronts.

A major challenge facing the team during hardware deployment and field staff training is the stores’ busy schedules. MFA’s retail stores are busiest during the planting and harvesting seasons, which are influenced greatly by weather. During those periods of high activity it will be difficult if not impossible for field staff to attend training. And the weather could impose unforeseen delays into the schedule.

Another scheduling challenge is the seasonal variance between northern and southern regions. There can be weeks of difference in the beginning and ending of the seasons, and any deployment schedule must take this into account. Also a challenge in the home office is fiscal year-end when the close-out activities are too great to allow any deployment work.

All these factors must be considered when scheduling training and conversion to the new system.

Challenges exist with regard to converting retail location data as well. Retail locations have set up many customers, product numbers, addresses, etc. on their own servers. That data will now be shared on central servers. What will the rules be for sharing this data? How can this data be easily maintained? These recommendations are underway and part of the process.

Product numbers set up by individual stores for non-MFA items pose a particular challenge. These product numbers differ by location, resulting in many different numbers for the same or very similar items. The project team must find a way to convert all this data uniformly so all retail stores can easily maintain their inventory of non-MFA items.

A further complication is that the project has limited conversion and training staff. This means that the deployment can only be done a few stores at a time. As a result, for a period of time, some retail locations will use the existing system while others will be running the new system. How will that impact reports that need to show a consistent line of business activity? How will summary reports aggregate data across both systems? The team must put together an operational plan to handle the difficulties this transitional time frame will present.

As you can see, the MerchantAg team has its work cut out for it. But the team is determined to rise to the challenge and make this project a success. From time to time additional articles will update you on the progress of the MerchantAg project. And as the time grows near for the deployment of MerchantAg in your area, information will be provided on the training plans and deployment schedules.

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