Our recent post about successful ERP implementation tactics touched on the importance of end user involvement. To avoid ERP project failure and support greater buy-in, Software Advice research associate Forrest Burnson recommended presenting the business case for selecting the new system to end users.
“Management expects their employees to make a business case for any change they are proposing; so too should management make a business case to their employees when implementing a new ERP system,” he explained.
Thinking about the challenges of introducing users to a new business system – and the reasons many ERP project managers still struggle to get this right – led me to an article published earlier this year on the excellent blog by US ERP specialist and author Brett Beaubouef.
He discussed the limitations of the traditional user involvement model for ERP. One of the biggest problems is that throughout the process of an ERP implementation, end users are not really involved at all until the latter stages of the testing phase and then the actual deployment. This is despite end users being by far the largest stakeholder group in any ERP project.
In Beaubouef’s words, the conventional approach to implementation views end users as “an audience versus an active participant to leverage during the entire implementation”. When they do finally get involved, they are trained ‘Just in Time’ before the go-live. This “big bang approach” is frequently problematic because users have a very small window of time to learn and gain confidence with a completely new system.
Cloud ERP and increasing end user involvement
The emergence of ERP in the cloud has shaken up the industry in many ways, but one of the less frequently discussed consequences of cloud ERP is its impact on training and user involvement.
As Beaubouef points out, the idea that users cannot be involved until the latter phases of the implementation is based on the premise that a working system will not be available until that stage. This is not the case with ERP in the cloud. Working technology can be provisioned earlier on in the project life-cycle, which means there is an opportunity to bring users on board sooner.
A cloud ERP platform makes it possible for project leaders to pursue a more incremental approach to end user involvement, as illustrated in the graphic above. This kind of ‘hands-on’ training should ensure that users contribute to the project throughout, gaining knowledge and experience as the implementation progresses. In Beaubouef words, the aim is to “make the end user an active partner, not a passive customer”.
Our ERP implementation approach
There are two key themes we always return to in discussions about ERP on this blog and with CBO clients: firstly, any implementation must reflect the business goals of the organisation and secondly, it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of robust business processes that are closely mapped by the system.
Experienced ERP consultants know that acquiring all of the information needed for a successful implementation is dependent on the participation of people across the business. The goals of the organisation come from the directors. The ‘what’ of the business processes comes from senior managers, and the ‘how we do things’ is provided by people who actually perform the tasks that make up the business processes. In other words, the end users.
On every ERP implementation, we establish goals with the directors and senior management and then start business process modelling workshops that include the end users. Once agreed, we configure a ‘proof of concept’ system to support those processes and then start to walk-through/train the end users.
Crucially, at this time the users are involved in identifying the automation and streamlining activities required to make the system effective. We almost always find that users who have been involved at this level become champions because they have actually designed the end product: they will evangelise rather than detract from the new system.
There are many other crucial issues to consider when looking to implement an ERP system. We deal with Epicor ERP software, which we find to be the most extensive and flexible for our manufacturing, distribution and retail clients, but the principles of implementation should be the same whatever the software.