#125. In this episode of Amazing Applications, Emil Hovgaard and Sheelan Bhana of EY Nordic Tech Hub share the story behind EY's PowerPost application and how it has made the General Ledger posting process easier and faster for the EY organization.
[00:00:00] Emil Hovgaard: If you think about the applications you use in your daily life, on your iPhone, you know, it has beautiful user interfaces, the user experience is superb, you're really enjoying using those applications. And I think we need to apply the same level of quality into the business applications we deploy as an enterprise.
[00:00:20] Neil Benson: Welcome to the Amazing Application show. I've got Emil and Sheelan with me. Welcome, guys, all the way from Denmark. A very special welcome to you.
[00:00:31] Emil Hovgaard: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
[00:00:32] Neil Benson: We're here to chat about the project that you had within the Nordic Tech Hub at EY to build an application called PowerPost. Before we get into that story, which I think is gonna be a fascinating story for our audience, I wonder if you could give us a quick introduction. Let us know a little bit more about yourself and your role at EY. Emil, do you wanna go first?
[00:00:53] Emil Hovgaard: Sure. Thank you. My name is Emil Hovgaard. I'm the Nordic Digital Transformation Lead for EY. I'm also the creator and leader of Nordic Tech Hub, which is a team now of about 25 people in the Nordics who creates business applications for EY internally. And for breakfast, I had havregryn, it's called in Danish. It's a type of oatmeal with milk on it and a bit of sugar. Very delicious.
[00:01:20] Neil Benson: Yeah. I have that every morning with my Danish parents-in-law. Very cool. Sheelan, welcome. I'll give you an opportunity to introduce yourself.
[00:01:27] Sheelan Bhana: Perfect. Thanks. So, I'm Sheelan Bhana. I am a developer in the Nordic Tech Hub. Joined here last year and have been working on the PowerPost application and building it out through the different features. For my breakfast this morning, it was a protein shake and a banana because that's what I do after gym, so that's usually my breakfast. That's the bit about me.
[00:01:52] Neil Benson: Emil, what's your favorite Microsoft application?
[00:01:54] Emil Hovgaard: It's hard to choose. I think I'm gonna go with something very simple, which is their to-do list. I've been through a lot of different providers of to-do list in my time, but I really like the integration features of Microsoft To Do, and it just helps me stay in control and prioritized.
[00:02:13] Neil Benson: Cool. Did you ever use Wunderlist before it became Microsoft To Do?
[00:02:17] Emil Hovgaard: I have.
[00:02:18] Neil Benson: Yeah. Me too. Yeah. It's great to see that being integrated now into Office and things. And Sheelan, what's your favorite Microsoft app at the moment?
[00:02:26] Sheelan Bhana: I would say Power Automate would probably be one of them. I think the ability that you can get from simple flows and the output that you can get is amazing. So, I had come from a robotics process automation background, so having the simplicity of a Power Automate function is miles ahead of what we can do. So, quite happy about that.
[00:02:49] Neil Benson: And Emil, I can't let you get away without telling us a little bit about your time spent in Australia. Was that with EY as well?
[00:02:55] Emil Hovgaard: It was. It was in a client-facing role in the EY strategy team down there. So, worked in Sydney on corporate strategy projects, business transformation projects. I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time in Sydney, but also many of the smaller cities, such as Port Macquarie and whatnot. So, yeah, I had a really great time there.
[00:03:18] Neil Benson: Yeah, great. Yeah, cool. Sheelan, have you ever been down to Australia?
[00:03:22] Sheelan Bhana: No, I have not. I'm originally South African, so, for me, it's one of the places to go to watch good cricket. But maybe one day, to the MCG, hopefully.
[00:03:33] Neil Benson: Yeah, cool. Alright. So, I was fascinated to read the recent case study Microsoft published about EY’s PowerPost application. But I was just curious because I think of EY as a massive client-facing organization, and you have digital transformation services that could help your clients embrace Microsoft technology and achieve their business goals. But the Nordic Tech Hub builds applications for internal use. Is that right?
[00:03:59] Emil Hovgaard: That's correct. US’s purpose is to build a better working world. And we say in our team, our purpose is to build a better working EY because internally EY needs to be as good as it can be operational to deliver the best services to our clients possibly.
[00:04:16] Neil Benson: Yeah. I maybe have a parallel experience. I spent three years working at KPMG Australia. And when I was reading through the case study, some of the stories about the challenges using SAP, for example. Oh, brought me back. I remember filling in timesheets in SAP and it's not the most usable application ever. But, you know, it's certainly very popular in large global organizations.
[00:04:38] Neil Benson: So, I can understand you have to keep that at the core of the business. But tell me about the business challenge that your team was asked to solve with the Power Platform that led to the PowerPost application being created.
[00:04:49] Emil Hovgaard: The scope of the PowerPost is around the business process of General Ledger. So, posting of journals into EY's General Ledger, so really at the heart of the EY business. And the challenge EY faced was to figure out how to reduce the lead time of that process and how to make it more efficient and faster, simply put. So that was really the outcome we were after.
[00:05:19] Neil Benson: All right. And you're doing this on top of SAP. Does SAP not have a low-code/no-code platform that helps SAP customers build applications like this? Or is Power Platform the best solution you could pick?
[00:05:33] Emil Hovgaard: There were definitely a few different options and our team specialized in Power Platform so maybe we were slightly biased. But we found the tools and building blocks available to us from that platform, you know, a really good match for what we were trying to do.
[00:05:48] Neil Benson: Great. Tell me a little bit about the approach that you took. I'm a big fan of taking an Agile approach. You might already know that. And I noticed in your story that you took a similar kind of approach in building this application. What did that look like?
[00:06:02] Emil Hovgaard: So, we had a POC in the spring of last year, and it was about two or three months where we wanted to prove that we could actually create a posting in an SAP sandbox. And, I mean, to be honest with you, we found no bottlenecks or barriers with the technology. It was working very smoothly and we're then able to sort of like take to leadership and say, you know, we can do this and we believe that we can deliver these outcomes here. Why don't we go ahead and do it?
[00:06:32] Neil Benson: Cool. Sheelan, was it really that easy to connect to SAP from a Power Platform application?
[00:06:37] Sheelan Bhana: There were challenges, obviously. For the POC, it was pretty simple to do. But as we were going out into production, there were different environments and gateways that needed to be set up. But we were able to overcome those challenges pretty easily. I think getting all of the functionality across from Power Apps into the SAP connectors definitely helped a lot of the lead time being reduced.
[00:07:05] Neil Benson: Is your SAP instance on-premise? So you had to have some kind of gateway to go from a Microsoft cloud to an on-premise SAP instance?
[00:07:13] Sheelan Bhana: So, there's multiple gateways that are actually set up. And for each of the environments for SAP, we have individual ones set up for that. So that's how we were able to do that.
[00:07:22] Neil Benson: And was that a challenge working with the internal IT team to expose those gateways and punch a hole through firewalls and all that kind of stuff?
[00:07:29] Sheelan Bhana: I wouldn't call it a challenge. I think it was more the process that set up at EY, you know. There's obviously policies that we need to have in place and documentation that needs to be filled out for us to obviously go through those hurdles. Luckily, we had a good project team and we're able to handle those cases for us and basically able to get the solution running.
[00:07:53] Neil Benson: Emil, tell me a little bit more about the project team. How many people were on the PowerPost project and what kind of roles did they have?
[00:08:00] Emil Hovgaard: It was actually quite small. So we set up, you know, after the POC. And we decided to set up a core team that were to actually develop this and put it into production. We arranged the Fusion team with representatives from Global Finance. So the process owner, our ERP support team, so like the technical specialists behind our ERP system, and then the Nordic Tech Hub. And I'd say between those three stakeholders, the core team was four or five people. It's actually quite nimble.
[00:08:33] Neil Benson: Right. Well, that's where it should be, right? I like working with small teams. You can get a lot done. You've described it as a Fusion team in the case study. What's your definition of a Fusion team? Is it just a, you know, having some business stakeholders in your project as subject matter experts or is there more to it than that?
[00:08:51] Emil Hovgaard: I think not only are they subject matter experts, but they are also a part of like the development team, right? So, they're down there and getting their hands dirty. They are on the daily standup calls. You know, they are removing bottlenecks. They're providing feedback. They're providing, you know, their expertise and reviews on things. So they're really part of the entire development process.
[00:09:13] Neil Benson: Shelaan, did you have Fusion developers in there helping you with building flows or was their contribution a little less technical than that?
[00:09:21] Sheelan Bhana: A little less technical. So, I think from my side, I was building out the flows and actual application. But it was good to see the feedback, you know, and that they were excited about the way the technology worked and the response time. So, I think that was probably the main benefit of having such a Fusion team. The idea of what we can do with the type of technology and to get the results that they wanted is probably what made this quite the success that it is.
[00:09:50] Neil Benson: How did you manage to get the buy-in from those Fusion team members and the Global Finance team? They obviously have to carve some time out of their schedule to participate in your project. Was that a challenge or were they really eager to see this application come to life?
[00:10:04] Emil Hovgaard: I think they were really eager after the POC. So, sort of like used the POC as that carrot that we were sort of like chasing, right? And through the POC, we were able to validate that we could reduce the end-to-end lead time of a journal posting with 95%, which is like insane. That's crazy, right? That's such a high reduction. So that was really, you know, what drove everyone across the line.
[00:10:32] Neil Benson: So they had come to you with a problem and were very eager to see it fixed.
[00:10:35] Emil Hovgaard: Yeah, exactly.
[00:10:36] Neil Benson: What kind of process did you use for gathering requirements? Did you have a dedicated business analyst who was documenting things? What did that look like?
[00:10:44] Sheelan Bhana: So the requirements were set out from the process owner. We then started using feature world DevOps, having user stories, et cetera. I think you've gone through some of those in your shows as well. Having user stories, mapping out what needed to be done over the sprint periods. And as the project went on, we prioritized what items needed to be done first and then put them into the various sprint plans. So that's how we managed that.
[00:11:14] Neil Benson: Were there any other tools that you used during the project that were novel or interesting?
[00:11:19] Sheelan Bhana: Yeah, I would say so within the DevOps platform, the pipeline is actually a really good feature for us that allowed us to push to various environments like a UAT environment, as well as our production ones, helping us get there a lot quicker instead of manually exporting and importing solutions. We use tables with the Dataverse, which is kind of the back-end of our solution. And obviously your Power Platform features like Power Apps and Power Automate, which plug into the SAP connector and Power Platform as the actual front end for the users to use.
[00:11:57] Neil Benson: So, I'm an old school Dynamics CRM guy. So obviously Dataverse is the storage choice that always springs to my mind. Was that ever a debate for you? Did you ever consider using a different storage mechanism behind your Power App?
[00:12:11] Sheelan Bhana: There was, actually. I think there was some points where we thought about whoever we needed to think about using a SQL database or plugging in. But I think at the end of the day, it made more sense to use Dataverse as the way forward. I think they have auditing tools, which also helps us keep track of items. So I think at the end of the day it was the best choice for us.
[00:12:36] Neil Benson: Yeah. Good. What kind of testing approach did you take? Did you have your Fusion team members doing acceptance testing within the sprint or do they test later or do you have any automated testing along the way for your features?
[00:12:49] Sheelan Bhana: In the sprint plan, we had delivery targets. So we would try and meet those weekly or biweekly measurements. We would push that version to UAT and the Fusion team, like mentioned, would then test those features, check that they're up to standard. If there was any bugs, they would then report that back. And that will feed back into our DevOps board. And then we would check them off one by one if there was anything that needed to be fixed.
[00:13:17] Neil Benson: Personally, I think it's not a bug unless it was discovered in production. If it was discovered in UAT, then it's just an unfinished user story. But, yeah, different people take it different ways. I'm curious, how long did the project take overall? You mentioned there was a proof of concept for two or three months to make sure there's a viable application here. Once you got the green light, how long did it take before you were in production?
[00:13:40] Emil Hovgaard: Pretty much only six months. So, again, you know, that very fast speed to market, in my opinion, thinking about the complexity and the logic required for this application and the production environment it needs to go into. So, yeah, only six months.
[00:13:54] Neil Benson: Did you know that before you started, you know, did you have a good estimate or good method of estimating how long it was going to take? Or did you kind of explore the timeline as you started to build the application?
[00:14:04] Emil Hovgaard: I think we estimated that it would take about six months. But to be frank with you, we didn't have experience with a project at this scale and also deploying to production at a global level. So there were a lot of unknowns that wasn't really clear to us.
[00:14:22] Neil Benson: Think about that process of going into production then. Once you've begun to wrap up all the features that you needed to deliver, did you have an extensive testing period after that? Or were you really ready to go by the end of the last sprint?
[00:14:34] Emil Hovgaard: I think so. So, from the go ahead to development until deploying into production, that was really the MVP version of PowerPost. And then, you know, we're still iterating on it. So Sheelan and the team are still adding features to the production application.
[00:14:51] Neil Benson: I always like to say that just because the application's in production doesn't mean the backlog is empty. There's always more features and enhancements that we can make even after we've done our major release. Good. Any particular challenges you faced during the course of the project that were difficult to overcome that you're thankful are behind you now?
[00:15:10] Sheelan Bhana: Yeah. Maybe some issues around finding the right, I would say, feature that we wanna prioritize, I would say. Sometimes, we, in the beginning, it was difficult to say that this is what should be in the MVP. And then obviously scaling back to say that this is actually what we can deliver as a project team. I think, like Emil mentioned, we didn't have an idea of such a big global scale project and what we could deliver from these aspects. So finding that out as we went along, I think we got a better grasp on what we could deliver as a team. And over time it made it a lot easier to prioritize our tasks and get the right delivery to our stakeholders.
[00:15:54] Neil Benson: The user interface that you built was a canvas app. Is that right?
[00:15:57] Sheelan Bhana: That's correct. Yeah. We had a canvas app.
[00:16:00] Neil Benson: I'm always curious as to what approach you take with user interface design where you're building a canvas app because there's a lot more flexibility and a lot more options compared to a model-driven app where you're fairly well constrained as to what it's gonna look like. Did that present any particular problems in terms of different opinions about what the app should look like? Did you have a designer, for example, on your team to assist you with that?
[00:16:23] Emil Hovgaard: We do have a UX/UI designer in the team and EY being, you know, a big global corporation, it has, you know, a design system. You know, there are certain, you know, defined color palettes. There are defined buttons, ratios, that kind of thing. So, we had a very good foundation to go on.
[00:16:43] Neil Benson: Do you think our business applications, teams need to have UX and UI people? Because from my point of view, they traditionally haven't. Microsoft Dynamics, CRM, 365, all the customer engagement apps, thinking of the ERP applications. There really wasn't a lot a developer could mess up in the user interface, but now we've got a beautiful canvas to build upon. Are we going to see more and more demand from our Microsoft business applications, teams for those skills? And how's your Nordic Tech Hub responding to that possibility?
[00:17:17] Emil Hovgaard : I think you have to. I think if you think about the applications you use in your daily life, on your iPhone, you know, it has beautiful user interfaces, the user experience is superb, you're really enjoying using those applications. And I think we need to apply the same level of quality into the business applications we deploy as an enterprise because we wanna provide a similar high-quality experience to our users so that they are happy and excited about using our applications as well. And that's why, you know, within our relatively small team of 25 people, we have two UX/UI designers.
[00:17:56] Neil Benson: How much do you think they need to know about constraints that Power Apps might place upon a user interface? Are they learning as much about Power Apps as your developers are learning about UI design?
[00:18:07] Emil Hovgaard: I think they're definitely pushing the Power Apps application to its limit. Luckily, we have a good relationship with Microsoft and we are in dialogue about, you know, what can it do? What can it not do? You know, what are the workarounds? When is new UI features coming up so we can, like, heighten the experience as well?
[00:18:28] Neil Benson: Is there anything specific in the Power Platform roadmap that you're excited about that will benefit PowerPost users?
[00:18:34] Sheelan Bhana: I haven't really thought about what else can be added. Nothing comes to mind, actually.
[00:18:39] Neil Benson: Emil, tell me more about the results that EY has managed to achieve using this application. You mentioned reduction in journal posting times by 95%. What has that meant for the business users?
[00:18:50] Emil Hovgaard: So, the business user here is Global Finance and it means for our Global Finance practitioners, that they are gonna have a much more pleasant experience, you know, during their day-to-day job. They are gonna be able to create and edit and submit their journals. And that's gonna be quickly reflected into EY's Global Ledger. So, you could say that we provide a much better experience and because of that, the satisfaction of Global Finance practitioners is hopefully gonna improve. And on top of that, we're actually providing better financial data to our corporation, you know, the data is gonna be reflected quicker in the systems.
[00:19:39] Neil Benson: I guess you're not a public company, but we're all under pressure to have accurate data at the end of the month, end of the period, end of the year. And those reports available to executives as soon as possible.
[00:19:48] Emil Hovgaard: Yeah, and I mean, the accuracy has never been an issue, but it's just, you know, the amount of time it takes for it to be reflected in the system.
[00:19:55] Neil Benson: Good. So you've reduced all the need for so many checks and balances and corrections and all those kinds of things as well. Awesome. So what's next for Nordic Tech Hub? You mentioned that the PowerPost application is still in development, so I see that you're still busy with a few enhancements. What are you looking forward to next?
[00:20:10] Emil Hovgaard: So I think we definitely need to bring PowerPost to a close. So, Sheelan, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe right now it's deployed to 45 countries and we need to bring that up to 150, so it's completely at a global rollout. And then we do have another few applications in the pipeline. We wanna continue to explore this SAP ERP connector space because you can certainly do and achieve a lot of digital transformation utilizing that module.
[00:20:41] Neil Benson: Well, if you can build a timesheet application in Power Apps, you could sell it to my friends at KPMG.
[00:20:47] Emil Hovgaard: Yeah, I think if we can crack that, you know, we'll be flying.
[00:20:50] Neil Benson: Yeah. You know, I'm sure there's many thousands of SAP customers out there and we're surrounding them with great Power Platform applications to make that experience even better. So, yeah, I look forward to hearing more about your continued success.
[00:21:02] Emil Hovgaard: Thank you.
[00:21:03] Neil Benson: Well, guys, thanks so much for joining us on the Amazing Applications podcast. It's been a pleasure having you on and hearing more about the Project Zilla to build the PowerPost application within the Nordic Tech Hub. So, yeah, thanks for joining us.
[00:21:14] Emil Hovgaard: Thank you, Neil. It's a pleasure.
[00:21:15] Sheelan Bhana: Thanks Neil.