It’s smart to take a thoughtful approach as you implement ERP. But in spite of the implementation horror stories you may have heard, moving to an ERP system doesn’t have to be a headache. In fact, most implementation failures are the result of inadequate planning, unrealistic expectations, and poor communication among team members.
By spending some time now to learn how ERP is implemented and craft your go-live plan, you can not only avoid disaster but also maximize the benefits you derive from your new system.
First Things First: Assemble Your TeamOne key consideration in ensuring a successful ERP implementation is to choose the best solution for your organization’s needs. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re still looking for the right system, we encourage you to use one of the many helpful online resources available.
During your solution evaluation process, start assembling the project team that will help you implement ERP in a way that meets your organization’s unique business needs. Your project team may, in fact, end up including exactly the same people as your product evaluation team.
Here are some tips for assembling an effective project management team:
- Include the right people: the users. You should strive to assemble a project team made up of stakeholders from across your organization. But don’t make the common mistake of including only executives, department heads, and IT staff. In the end, if your users don’t use the ERP system, then your ERP implementation will be a failure.
Any discussion of how ERP is implemented should revolve around the needs of your end-users. Give them a voice in how you proceed at all stages of the project.
- Evaluate your business challenges. It’s great that you want to implement ERP to address your biggest business challenges. But what are those issues? Can every member of your project team state them clearly and concisely? For example, rather than saying, “We waste too much time,” you should be able to say, “Our invoicing process involves too much paperwork, and our accounting staff is spending too much time contacting customers about billing errors and late payments.”
No company should implement ERP without having a clear picture of why they’re doing it. Take the time to identify the specific problems your new software will solve. In particular, be sure to note the much-needed features your current solutions don’t provide. By configuring these features in your new solution, you can score quick wins with your end-users.
- Set clear goals. Once you’ve stated your biggest business challenges in clear language, your goals will naturally flow from those challenges. In fact, the best way to set goals for your project is to turn each challenge into a goal.
In the invoicing example above, you might set a goal such as, “Digitize and automate the invoicing process.” Then it will be clear to everyone that your software should eliminate paperwork and human intervention from invoicing. Anything less than that will be an unsuccessful project.
- Communicate. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But this tip is in a similar vein to the first one. There’s no sense in including end-users in your project team if the real discussion and decisions will only involve a handful of high-level personnel.
Strive for project communication that’s clear and transparent. Keep centralized, online records of progress. Be open about challenges and delays. Solicit feedback from all team members at all stages of implementation. Seek to eliminate surprises—good or bad—from the process. The entire project team, and all stakeholders throughout your organization, should be able to get a view of your progress at any time.
- Get executive sponsorship. Any ERP implementation project team that hesitates to ask executives for funding and approvals is a team that’s doomed to failure. Be sure your team includes an executive sponsor. This executive will oversee your project in a part-time capacity. He or she will set expectations, monitor progress, and, perhaps most importantly, ensure you have the financial and technical resources you need to bring the project to completion.
Four Key Traits of a Good Implementation PartnerOnce you’ve assembled your project team, you’ll need to select an implementation partner for your ERP solution. Your partner will provide the deep technical know-how you need to bring your solution online. Just as importantly, they should have the business savvy to configure the solution in a way that meets the business challenges you laid out in the previous step.
Here’s what to look for in an ERP implementation partner:
- A realistic outlook. Their timeline and cost estimates should be reasonable—no big promises and no hype. They should be able to propose workable solutions for all the business challenges you’ve laid out. They should get on board with your goals—or be able to tell you why these goals are unrealistic. In short, any potential partner must understand more than ERP technology; they must also strive to understand your business.
- Deep experience with your platform. In most cases, the consultants who best understand your ERP will be the on team provided by your ERP vendor. But this isn’t always the case. As you interview potential implementation partners, be sure to interview them on their qualifications. Ask them for references from other companies they’ve worked with in your industry and at approximately your size and scale.
- The right people. Think you’ve found the right consulting firm to help you launch your project? You may be right—but keep in mind that that firm may employ dozens of consultants. While all of these people may have the technical savvy to help you go live, not all of them may be a good fit for your company culture and mode of working. These things matter.
A highly qualified consultant who’s difficult to work with can slow your project considerably—or even derail it. Ask your potential partner which specific consultants will be working with you and be sure to interview them carefully before you make your final decision.
- The right size. There’s a definite sweet spot for small or midsized businesses as you look for a partner to help you implement ERP. If you choose too small a partner, they may not have the experience or expertise to nail your project. And if they’re too large, they may treat you as just another customer. Be sure you’re choosing a partner that can give you the attention you deserve.
Breaking Ground on Your New ERP SolutionNow we’ll focus more closely on how ERP is implemented in terms of the technical process you follow. The exact details will vary depending on whether your implementation is:
- A basic implementation that mostly uses out-of-the-box functionality. This approach is most appropriate for single-entity businesses with straightforward business processes and no add-on solutions to integrate.
- A standard implementation that requires some customization as well as some add-on solutions. This approach is most appropriate for single or multiple entities that operate in a single currency or language and have moderately complex business processes.
- An advanced implementation that requires a complex roll-out with multiple phases. This approach is most appropriate for single or multiple entities that run in various locations, currencies, and languages and have moderate to complex business processes.
Your ERP implementation partner will know which approach is best for your needs. They’ll guide you through the typical stages to implement ERP:
- Discovery. Define the need, vision, and scope of your project at a high level.
- Analyzing. Gather more detailed requirements and analyze your business needs.
- Building. Begin executing the technical tasks outlined in your earlier stages. This is where you actually begin installing the software.
- Stabilizing. Ensure your solution meets your initial requirements and is ready for full deployment to your live production environment. You’ll also want to take steps to ensure your users are ready to adopt the solution.
- Deployment. Actually bring the system up and running in the production environment.
- Post go-live. Support end-users and IT staff as they fully adopt your new ERP platform.
One Final Consideration in How ERP Is ImplementedWe haven’t discussed one of the hottest topics in ERP implementation: the cloud. Cloud ERP solutions give you flexibility as to where you implement. Whereas in the past, you had to install ERP on your company’s servers, cloud ERP allows you to choose between installing locally or letting your vendor (or a third party) host your solution on their own servers.
One of the advantages of the hosted model is that you can typically pay a subscription fee to use the software, rather than making a large up-front investment to purchase software licenses and maintain hardware. This is often an appealing option for growing companies.
The cloud doesn’t really change how ERP is implemented so much as where ERP is implemented—and by whom. Before you make your final decision on an ERP platform, take some time to research cloud ERP.