Selecting and successfully implementing ERP software
The challenge and likely cost of implementing a new ERP platform should not be underestimated! Emerging technologies together with corporate growth have fuelled demand for ERP solutions that automate business processes leading to reduced headcount and supporting corporate growth. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software has progressed a long way in recent years with digital, cloud and artificial intelligence solutions entering the market and competing with traditional on-premise offerings. As more and more business technologies are developed to streamline workflows and day to day tasks, the question a business must ask itself is less “Can this software increase my business’ productivity?” and more “Which ERP software will best increase my business’ productivity?”
Introducing new ERP is a considerable challenge requiring strong, effective project sponsorship from either the CFO, CTO or another member of senior management. The sponsor will provide the link between the delivery team and the Board of Directors and will oversee project governance. They will need the authority to promote change, ensure the delivery team has the resources needed and that the necessary controls are in place which will guarantee the project is successfully delivered within the planned timescales and budget.
Large change programs are likely to encounter resistance and a key role of the sponsor is to secure buy-in and support from the impacted parts of the organisation. Strong influencing skills are needed as even with the best business case, resistance to change can risk project failure. The sponsor supports the project manager overcoming political and resourcing challenges, provide high level backing, communicates project closure and the results to the wider organisation. They will also act as an escalation route if needed and arbitrate/resolve any areas of disagreement.
The Project Team
Project teams is typically a mix of software vendor consultants, third party systems integrators and internal personnel. The software vendor will provide in-depth software applications expertise whilst the systems integrator will focus on wider change management issues, new business processes and interfacing with third-party applications. The internal project team will be familiar with the organisation and the legacy business processes and will be able to contribute from an operational/ business perspective.
Having agreed upon the need for a new ERP platform, sufficient time should be given to specifying and selecting the most appropriate software product. In most cases external support will be needed as internal staff are unlikely to have the necessary experience and time available and may not objectively view the available options.
Initially a period of analysis and requirements gathering is needed leading to the production of the Request for Proposal (RFP). A list of potential vendors with products meeting business specifications will be sent the RFP and a short list chosen and vendors requested to demonstrate their products. A proof of concept (POC) may take place to evaluate the software under realistic conditions with authentic dummy data.
Vendors should be assessed not only on the suitability of their software but also on their long-term product road map, financial strength and future viability. Selecting the wrong product can be costly particularly if the vendor is acquired by a third party and their software deemed surplus to requirements and decommissioned.
The cost of implementing new ERP will include new computer hardware, software licences, external consulting fees and time devoted to the project by the internal team.
Existing hardware may be retained but may not have sufficient processing power to operate the new software. Overall implementation costs can be as much as 5 times the software licence fees depending upon configuration and hardware required. Other costs to consider include the effects of disrupting existing business processes and reduced management information whilst the deployment is in progress.
Effective project management is essential to determine the scope, quality, budget and timing of the program and may involve the use of Prince, Agile or Waterfall project methodologies. Software vendors and consultancies may prefer their own internally developed project management methodology which will incorporate resource planning and milestone definition to ensure deadlines are achieved and bottle necks avoided.
Target Operating Model
The new ERP solution will be developed in line with a new Target Operating Model (TOM) and a prototype built and tested before the final design is agreed. It is essential that finance employees are involved with the systems design as their buy-in and involvement will contribute to the ultimate success of the project. The system can be built adopting either a standard out of the box approach or with customisation although this will depend upon the complexity of the business requirements and the amount of flexibility needed. Extensive customisation can lead to additional implementation costs and may provide challenges with long term support and future upgrade. User training is needed to ensure the operational knowledge is in place so the system operates effectively. Following the system build process, User Acceptance Training (UAT) and user training will be needed. Once the design is agreed and finalised then data conversion and migration will take place.
A parallel run with the old system may be performed however this can be costly and a Big Bang approach may be preferred in the interests of cost saving. Following “Go live”, support will be needed and a post “Go-live” review carried out to ensure users operate the system correctly and any outstanding performance issues are resolved.
The challenge and likely cost of implementing a new ERP platform should not be underestimated. Successful delivery involves three key areas; People, Processes and Technology. Projects can sometimes focus excessively on technology whilst human aspects of the change program may not be given the attention they deserve. A Change Management strategy and the availability of appropriate skills will help ensure the implementation is accepted and judged a success.
Key issues include; selecting appropriate software; ensuing there is a strong project sponsor and sufficient project governance; engaging delivery focussed project management; ensuring internal staff are fully involved and accept the new system; using the new system to improve business processes rather than simply replicating historic ways of doing things; assembling the most appropriate project team – normally a mix of internal personnel and external consultants and ensuring there is sufficient post go-live support to deal with outstanding issues.
Adopting these strategies will lead to; streamlined business processes; reduced employment cost; enhanced management information; ensuring that the organisation is committed to embracing technology to improve overall corporate performance.