Research into ERP implementation projects often paints a picture of underwhelming performance, protracted timescales and dissatisfied users. In a global survey published by Epicor last September, roughly 50% of respondents described the performance of their current ERP system as merely ‘adequate’ or ‘basic’.
However, 80% of respondents in the same survey agreed that ERP is critical to their business. When discussing the challenges that typically face new ERP implementations, founder of Panorama Consulting Eric Kimberling said: “The problem isn’t in the software; it’s in the way companies implement the software and get their organisations to adapt to it.”
The following seven tips on best practice for ERP implementation are based on Kimberling’s research and consulting experience, as well as my own experience of best-in-class deployments. Although they previously formed the basis of an Epicor implementation white paper, the principles apply to the deployment of any ERP system.
1. Understand business processes and key requirements
The first stage is actually a three-part process: understand, define and prioritise.
Gaining a thorough understanding of all business processes is essential because your ERP will be the core management system for company operations. Next, define your requirements and then prioritise them – think about what you need to satisfy immediate business needs, support normal business processes and meet longer-term strategic objectives. This will provide a solid basis for evaluating and selecting ERP software.
2. Build an ERP business case with a positive ROI
Your business case for ERP needs to present tangible benefits based on the specific requirements you’ve defined. Try to involve key stakeholders at this stage – the typical scope and complexity of an ERP project means many people across the organisation will be affected, so this is a good way to start gathering support.
3. Ensure project management and resource commitment
Almost every successful ERP implementation is overseen by a project manager involved in both planning and ongoing management. However, the dedication of one individual is not enough – the company must be willing to commit sufficient resources for the duration of the project.
A combination of internal and external support often produces the best results. In Kimberling’s words: “Don’t rely only on internal resources because you need people who are experts in ERP and who know how to do business process reengineering.”
4. Gain executive and organisational commitment
Any ERP implementation that proceeds without the full support of the boardroom is destined to fail. This is arguably the most important piece of advice given by ERP consultants because if senior decision-makers do not buy into the implementation, your project will be starved of funding and resources.
Establishing regular project reviews with the executive team is one way to ensure the CEO, CFO and other C-level figures remain engaged.
5. Recognise the value of early planning
Poor planning is usually the reason ERP implementations take longer than expected and not prioritising your business requirements runs a close second. There is a tendency for companies to ‘dive in’ because they’re excited about the benefits of deploying the system. However, there is no substitute for a comprehensive project plan that builds in time for crucial activities like testing, data migration and dealing with the unforeseen events that tend to occur in every implementation. The project plan should also be phased so that your immediate priorities can be accomplished quickly.
6. Tackle data migration early in the process
This one is simple – don’t put off data migration. It’s not the most appealing task, but it must be integrated into your project plan as early as possible. Any unforeseen issues with moving data from your legacy systems to the ERP system could have a major impact on business operations, so it’s important to identify problems sooner rather than later.
You also need to make a decision about how much historical data is migrated to the new system. It is best practice to establish a data retention and storage strategy, and ensure that all migrated data is put through a de-duplication process to remove redundancies.
7. Invest in training and change management
Ongoing change management is vital for a successful implementation, but too often this function is reduced to basic end-user training at the completion of the project. Employees need time to learn and accept the new processes and job roles that your ERP is likely to create, so you must start managing change from day one of the project. Putting it off is likely to result in substantial resistance from employees when the new system goes live.
A remodelling of business processes and a good ERP implementation means that people’s roles will change and they will be doing different things – they need more than end-user ERP training.
My last piece of best practice is the mantra of ERP consultants around the world: know why you’re implementing ERP. This doesn’t have its own number in the list because it informs each of the points above and should be applied at every stage of the process. Good ERP consultants will ask ‘what does your company need to achieve?’, rather than ‘what do you want the software to do?’.
Every successful Epicor implementation (and those that select other software vendors) is based on a clear vision. Make sure your company carefully defines its requirements, establishes key metrics and clearly articulates the benefits it expects to receive from the implementation. This will make them much easier to achieve.