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ERP Implementation: Plan to Succeed

Looking to set up an ERP system? See a successful ERP implementation with stronger ROI. Here's what to consider as part of your ERP implementation plan.

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of Inbal Steinberg from Convertworx – an independant cloud advisory and implementation consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia. Inbal and the Convertworx team take the time to understand client requirements and match the right cloud ERP software solution to individual business needs.

Planning Your ERP Implementation

Moving your business to a cloud ERP software solution? Congratulations! It’s a positive sign that your business is healthy, growing, and mature enough to be thinking strategically about its long-term efficiency.

Implementing an ERP system is a critical step in your business growth – one which you need to get right the first time. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and resources, and reduce the return on your investment.

Diving into an online trial of cloud ERP software can seem like a quick way to research different ERP systems. But take a moment to question the real value of a trial. With any ERP implementation, it’s not just about the system functionality. It’s also about improving processes and gaining business efficiency. The ERP consultants who will be helping you set up the system, their experience and ERP implementation methodology is what provides the real value. Will a 30-day trial account give this? Or will it see you spending time inputting data and trying to navigate an unfamiliar system?

“Implementing an ERP system is a critical step in your business growth – one which you need to get right the first time. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and resources, and reduce the return on your investment.”

There can also be a danger in starting with a trial account and transitioning it directly to a live account when you’re ready. Without professional advice and guidance on your ERP set up, you may end up with a structure that doesn’t meet your business needs and has to be re-implemented. Setting up cloud ERP software incorrectly can result in a lot of time and effort to fix. Your staff, who will be using the system daily, may also start off with a negative view of the system. The wrong setup can make everything more cumbersome, slow things down, and you’ll end up feeling like you’re working for the software instead of it working for you.

Set up your ERP software thoughtfully and well-planned, and you’ll be able to thrive on a fantastic, supportive engine that runs your business and allows you and your staff to focus on more strategic business priorities.

Make sure you get your ERP implementation plan right. Here are the top things to consider:

Engage a serious ERP implementation partner

20171016-ERP-Implementation-engage-a-serious-partner.jpgAll cloud ERP solutions have implementation partners. They configure the system, import your data, work with you to meet your business requirements from an ERP system, and train you and your staff in using the system effectively.

Implementation partners differ in their level of experience and the maturity of their ERP implementation methodology. In short, the good ones have done it many times, seen where it can go wrong, and know how to guide you through a safe implementation path.

So, how do you identify a serious implementation partner?

That’s easy – start asking questions. Their answers will demonstrate their expertise and professionalism. Some of the questions I encourage clients to ask an implementation partner include: 

  • Can they describe their implementation process in detail?
  • Can they intelligently answer questions like, “What could go wrong in this particular step?”
  • What potential issues have they seen in prior implementations and how were they able to steer the project towards a successful outcome?
  • Do their cost and time estimates sound reasonable and they can explain those estimates in detail?
  • Ask about the functionality that’s important to your business and its current processes. Listen for answers like “That can be done in a certain timeframe but let me tell you the considerations”, rather than a standard, “Yes, that can be done”.

Get an interpreter

During the implementation process, you’ll inevitably have conversations in various levels of technical detail.

You will need to make decisions about how to structure your products which will affect what reports can later be run.

You will need to make decisions about custom fields, custom records and form layouts which will affect how easily your team can use the system.

You will need to make decisions about whether to use certain plugins or add-ons or alternately customise functionality within your ERP software. 

Your decisions will influence the success of your ERP implementation and, in turn, the return on investment you’ll gain from it. That’s why it’s a good idea to get an adviser you trust to work through the ERP implementation plan with you.

I often see my role in this scenario as an interpreter. I help make sure that you fully understand what the implementation consultant is talking about. I also check that they’re completely across the business outcomes you are trying to achieve.

“Your decisions will influence the success of your ERP implementation and, in turn, the return on investment you’ll gain from it.”

Take notes

20171016-ERP-Implementation-take-notes-during-setup.jpgThere is a lot to set up, and it can seem overwhelming at first. So it’s no wonder the phrase “We will come back to this later.” becomes a favourite when things get complex. 

The implementation technician may say things like, “If the address is blank on the pick slip it is because you didn’t tick the box for…” or, “Now that we understand the difference between item classes and item hierarchy, let’s move on and come back to it later.”

You may also hear comments like “Let’s start this way, and re-assess once you’ve processed a few transactions”.

This is where taking notes becomes extremely important. If you don’t record all of those items, how likely are you really to come back to them all and remember clearly what needed to be done?

I like to take three types of notes during implementation sessions:

  • Points for a user manual (e.g. when we run a mass update remove the leading zeros from item codes so that we do not create duplicates)
  • Key implementation decisions (e.g. We are using departments and not categories so that that we can show summaries in the P&L)
  • Things we should come back to (e.g. Turn off the ‘allow override’ when going live, so that we do not create duplicates. Kept it on for now to simplify data imports)

Appoint a champion

There are going to be many moving parts, and someone needs to make sure they all tie in.

Remember that your cloud ERP software will be used by your accountant, bookkeeper, office staff, sales reps, warehouse staff, management and anyone else in the business who needs to manage records and transactions.

It’s a great idea to involve specific staff members in discussions relevant to their areas of the business, but you also need someone who sees the entire picture and can sanity-check that everything makes sense.

If you involve staff in the implementation sporadically, you will get, well… a sporadic solution.

An appointed ERP champion will make sure that everyone’s needs are being met and that any conflicting or redundant requirements are resolved in a way that enhances the solution rather than creating duplications, inconsistencies or process bottlenecks.

“If you involve staff in the implementation sporadically, you will get, well… a sporadic solution.”

Make time

During the ERP implementation process, you may feel short of time or that you’re getting too involved in the details. Sure, your ERP champion can alleviate some of the pressure. But you will still need to be available to make critical decisions for the correct processes and a sound ERP implementation.

Whether you’re a business owner or C-Level Executive, you will also need to voice your requirements for reporting and outline who needs to access to what information and when.

The process will include change, not just replicating existing processes. Before you approve those changes, you must make sure you fully understand their implications.

Which leads to… 

Open your mind

20171016-ERP-Implementation-Keeping-an-Open-Mind.jpgImplementing cloud ERP software is a fantastic opportunity to learn about industry-standard best practices and about how other business manage their processes and utilise ERP to its full advantage.

Your implementation partner works with other businesses, sees their challenges and finds the most effective solutions. The benefit of working with a good implementation partner is that they develop the best ERP implementation methodology from the challenges they’ve solved for others and from their experience. You can leverage that experience and learn from their insights. 

Keeping an open mind during the implementation process also means considering new or improved processes that may work better for your business. Simply insisting on replicating your current processes into the new ERP system won’t always yield the best results. Think about what’s best for your business long-term.

When your implementation consultant asks you, “How do you like to report on your sales?”, ask them what options you have. Take the time to listen, absorb, and find out if there’s a better option than what you’re currently doing. You may be surprised!

Prepare to question what you are doing today and carefully consider new ways of operating that can provide added benefit.

“Take the time to listen, absorb, and find out if there’s a better option than what you’re currently doing. You may be surprised!”

Keep the spirit of change

If you took notes during the implementation process, you will end up with a list of “Leave for a later stage” items or things you were going to review after you’d been using the system for a while. 

I strongly suggest setting up a recurring quarterly session in your calendar to review this list.

When I review these lists with clients, we often find that some things become unnecessary, and some points give birth to new improvement projects based on fantastic ideas that our current selves have time-capsuled, ready to be reviewed by our future selves. 

Your future self will thank you for that quarterly review when it comes up.

Inbal Steinberg is an implementation consultant who works with business owners to identify and put in place the best information systems for their business.

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