When implementing an ERP package we find that whilst businesses that have been in operation for just a few years usually can implement relatively straightforwardly. On the other hand businesses that have been around for many years are likely to experience a number of challenges.
From our experience I think businesses need to be able to consider the following four key questions in order to maximise their chance of a successful ERP implementation, regardless of which ERP package they have chosen.
Are you clear how you want your business to run?
When implementing an ERP package there are many choices to make so that it is important to have clear how you want to run your business. Most decisions can be adjusted later but such adjustments often have implications regarding historical data and many businesses are reluctant to change a system once it is in operation.
Are you (and your staff) really clear what sort of business you are in?
Are your main customers businesses, government or non-profit making bodies or consumers? Maybe a combination of all three? If so, which type of customer is most profitable?
Maybe you are moving from one type of customer to another. Are your customers mainly UK based?
Do you sell directly to customer or through partners, distributors, retailers or other third parties?
Are you services or product led? If services led, do you sell predefined packaged services or design a service for each customer? Do you know which services are most profitable?
If you are product led – do you design, develop, manufacture or source products from third parties? Do you determine your product set and sell them or do you design or customise a product to meet a customer need?
Do you have many suppliers or a few key ones? How close is your relationship with suppliers and how close do you want it to be?
How ready are you for a new system?
You may feel certain that you want a new packaged solution and that you know what you want from such a system but have you considered the impact on the organisation of a new system.
What happened with earlier systems (bespoke or packaged)?
How successful were the implementations – think about both the project and the experience of running live. What problems did you have? Have all problems been ironed out?
Consider whether you have had problems with multiple solutions – if so, what mistakes could you be making in terms of selection (software and Service Company)?
If you have experience many problems, consider the possibility that the issues lie within your organization rather than the solutions chosen or the IT company who implemented them for you.
Is your business inclined to abdicate responsibility for implementing and using software solutions? Do you tend to expect the software and external service provider to resolve all issues?
Such an approach is unlikely to result in a satisfactory implementation regardless of the competence of the external service provider or the quality of the ERP package. The success of any ERP (or indeed any complex software solution) implementation is dependent more on the organisation using the system than the system itself or third parties.
How receptive is your staff to a new system?
In any organization that has existed for a number of years, the staff are likely to be used to certain software systems. They will probably have ‘developed’ their own work arounds for any short comings including the use of spreadsheets and complicated manual processes.
If the software is mainly bespoke, especially with an in-house team or friendly local small software house, some of the staff will feel ownership and affection for the software.
These attitudes and feelings can be very deeply ingrained and make it hard to introduce a new packaged ERP solution that will impact all staff in the business. It is essential that a business recognize such a situation and address it at the earliest occasion. Involving as many staff as practical in the selection of the software and third party service provider can help as this could move a sense of loyalty to the new solution.
Staff may also be concerned about the impact of the new system on their jobs: what will change? will their job still exist? what other changes is the business planning?
It is natural for people to feel concern at a time of change and particularly if they do not know what is planned or why the changes are happening. Sometimes it is impossible to keep the staff fully abreast with the plans, but business managers should accept that a vacuum in information from management will create rumours and gossip that will at the very least impact on staff morale and staff effectiveness.
Finally remember that you need to release time especially from key staff to be involved in the implementation.
How good is your current data?
The final question we have found to be an issue, especially with more established businesses, is the quality of the data being imported from the current systems.
Implementing a new system is a good opportunity to ‘clean up’ your data, but this is a job that needs to be done (or at least managed) by staff in the business with good knowledge of what the data should be. It might be that the adjustments and ‘work arounds’ discussed above under How receptive is your staff to a new system? have hidden problems in the data that have been generated for years.