Prepare your Business for the ERP Implementation Process - Follow These 5 Tips

If you’re considering an ERP implementation, there’s a good chance you’ve heard your share of big promises made and horror stories delivered. On one hand, you understand that ERP selection and implementation is inherently complex and demanding, so you know your work is cut out for you. On the other, you’re looking for an ERP vendor that can simplify the process and offer some assurances of success. You don’t want your operations disrupted or your people frustrated by a botched ERP implementation that over-promises and under-delivers. At abas USA, we aren’t here to make empty promises - we are here to help.

At abas, we’ve developed a deep ERP implementation process built on decades of experience working with thousands of companies in dozens of industries and countries around the globe. We’ve been there, been around the block more times than we can count, and done (and seen) it all. We know the potential risks and how to resolve them, because we’ve done it. Most of all, we have a strong dedication to empower our customers to achieve the operational excellence they’re looking for through an ERP project. Our implementation strategy is built around technology, people, and processes. We believe that people make up the heart of a business and, at its core, a good ERP setup will enable workers to function at their best in consistent and repeatable ways.

We don’t focus on technology alone -- it should be a huge red flag if any ERP vendor talks about technology alone. At abas USA, we know from decades of experience that an effective change management process, which an ERP implementation is of course, involves a “change triangle” of tech, people, and processes. If all three are not the focus of any implementation, the three-legged stool can collapse.

We could talk about our change management and implementation processes for ages, but let’s begin with some context. Here’s a look at five steps to help prepare your business for a successful ERP system implementation. Once we’ve discussed the theory behind these steps, we’ll get into how we help you systematize the best practices and drive your project to a positive conclusion.

1. Understand Why Some ERP Implementation Projects Fail

You need to understand common pitfalls in ERP implementations if you want to avoid them. In many cases, problems can be mitigated if you understand what they are, develop strategies to avoid them and keep on the lookout to ensure they don’t pop up repeatedly during the initiative. Through decades of experience, we understand the known risks and also have experience managing unknown risks that can pop up by surprise. Some of the more common pitfalls to avoid are:

Limited engagement from your business

It takes a lot of effort to get a new ERP system into production. You’re going to need to define your processes and establish workflows. You’ll want to migrate data. You’ll also need to understand where the business is going and how it’s getting there. Your project team needs to be equipped with the time and resources needed to adequately handle these issues. Your project team will probably be the people in your company spending the most time planning for the ERP implementation. If that team is under-resourced, then you’re setting yourself up for problems at the outset. You need your people on board.

In the same way, you also need your company leaders or owners to be fully supportive of the project and aware of its scope. If they don’t have a clear idea of what to expect early on, then they're more likely to run into issues as the project evolves. Nothing creates more frustration among people, in our experience, more than “unexpected” and unplanned for problems/concerns. It is far better if you understand the potential risks and include a way to manage and mitigate them in your plan. Nobody likes surprises.

Poor expectation management

Speaking of expectations, few things will disrupt an implementation more than going in with one set of goals and having to change them dramatically part-way through. This is a shared expectation between the vendor and client around the scope of the project. The vendor needs to be honest and not over-promise as it bids for your business. Your organization needs to set a clear budget, well-defined project specifications and reasonable timeline and stick to those goals.

Setting realistic expectations may seem difficult as you work to get stakeholders on board and want to be as positive as possible, but being straightforward from the outset is invaluable as it gives you more flexibility and predictability over the life of the ERP implementation project. Ultimately, you should work to be pragmatic about issues such as project budget, timeline, delivery expectations and software performance. A rushed, under-funded project will go awry just as quickly as one in which a vendor makes false promises. 

It’s like any important relationship, you want to build a platform of trust and have open, honest communication before deciding upon action. As carpenters have been saying for centuries, “measure twice and cut once.” Taking care with your planning, and doing it collaboratively with your organization and with your ERP vendor, can save everyone a lot of difficulty down the road.

Unfocused project scope

The theme of pragmatism is coming back again, as you need to not only be realistic about big-picture expectations, but also on the specifics of what is needed for the project. For example, we’ve all probably been on a team at some point that, rather than settling on a defined idea and moving forward, seems to constantly brainstorm new concepts, tweak the vision and adjust the end goal. Doing this during an ERP project leads to escalating costs and timelines.

Developing a clear, well-defined project scope from the start is critical to scheduling the project and choosing the right software. You may want to build some intentional room for flexibility and adjustments into the scope, but you should also identify those opportunities and be sure to protect the core vision that is essential to your ERP strategy. It’s good to build-in some slack, but not so much that the slack becomes what the project is about. When the place you live is called “wiggle room,” you’re going to have a lot of frustration on all sides. Whenever possible, do the work of detailed, accurate planning up front rather than “we’ll see what happens when we get there.”

Neglecting go-live analysis

Progressing through a new ERP implementation is a complex process, and it’s easy to get so focused on getting everything working in the backend that you neglect thinking about what it’ll look like when it’s time to go live. What essential features do you need on day one? What bugs are intolerable from the start and should be totally nailed during Q/A testing? Which devices and interfaces must you support to get users on board? What technology and training investments will be needed to ensure a stable rollout? What critical success factors do you need to meet right away?

Performing critical analysis of the go-live process and coming to terms with what you’ll need is absolutely essential. Avoiding this step can be catastrophic as the first impression of a new ERP system is often what sticks with users. If you mess up the roll-out, it may not matter if the system is great; users may give up on it before you can get them engaged. As the saying goes, “you don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression.” You pay a steep price when you come out of the gate already limping along.

These are a lot of problems to avoid, but they all fall under a central theme: Be practical in how you plan the ERP project and avoid letting the excitement of innovation carry you away. A new technology suite can be transformative, but if you get so distracted by the possible results that you neglect the process, then you may find those goals are ultimately a pipe dream. As we said before, amazing technology is a critical driver of productivity, but getting it right also requires people and processes working in tandem with that amazing tech. When projects flame out, it’s because one part of the “change pyramid” has been neglected. Often, that neglected part is people, who always have the ability to undermine even the most-amazing technology by simply refusing to adopt it. Bring your people and processes along too.

2. Get Your ERP Implementation Processes In Order

A lot of people will try to tell you that an ERP implementation is about data migration. If you just get your data ported into the new ERP platform and make sure it’s in the right place, then everything else is a formality. Those people aren’t lying to you - data is important. But how can you ensure data is actionable for users if it isn’t delivered in line with your processes?

A transformative ERP program will allow users to interact with data intuitively as they work instead of having to jump through hoops to get the information they need. With that in mind, your implementation project should include:

As-is process mapping and analysis

You can’t align software with processes unless you first know what's included in those processes. Before launching a new ERP system, you need to map out your different business processes, detail the workflows involved, identify where they intersect across different operational units and pin down inefficiencies. This will not only help you figure out trouble spots that your new ERP solution may be able to address, it will also let you identify features that are deal breakers in terms of features you’ll need to keep your operations running smoothly.

When it comes to BPR or Business Process Re-engineering, the ERP implementation period is one of the best times to rework your processes. As much as it may be nice to think that all tasks are engineered to optimize efficiency and performance to create the best customer experience, the reality is that many processes are defined by the existing technology stack in a business. Limitations in your ERP system can force you to function in specific ways, and re-engineering your processes in light of the new ERP setup is necessary to smooth the initial user experience and drive efficiency gains. Furthermore, you may be able to rework your processes to take advantage of new automation opportunities created by a modern ERP platform.

Identify points of intersection

You don’t want to become over-reliant on extensive customization to make an ERP system work. It can over-tax your development team, make you too reliant on a very specific configuration of the system or create excessive complexity. Identifying where your processes align with how an ERP system is structured - or how flexibly an ERP platform can adjust to your processes without custom code - plays a key role in defining project expectations and choosing the right system. Furthermore, dedicated business process management tools - or those built into an ERP platform - can go a long way in aligning your processes with the ERP setup.

3. Establish an ERP Implementation Change Management Strategy

An ERP implementation process will typically come with extensive change. There’s a lot to think about, and you have to consider the financial, procedural, technical and human issues that come up along the way. We’ve just discussed the process change issues you’ll need to think about during ERP implementation, but here’s a glance at the other three:

ERP deployment and financial change

Of course, you’ll need to be aware of the cost and budget implications of an ERP project. This includes being aware not only of the expenses that come from the system itself, but also the human resources that will be devoted to the initiative. Other issues you must keep in mind include:

  • Does your existing accounting software integrate with the ERP or will you need to migrate data or deploy something new?
  • Will your new ERP change the way you handle financial regulatory compliance, particularly in terms of how you document transactions and perform internal audits?
  • Will you need to automate currency conversions, tax calculations or similar processes associated with handling sales across multiple regions with varied laws?

You’re probably already considering many of these issues within your business, but accounting for potential change that is driven by or required due to your ERP project is vital in ensuring a smooth rollout.

ERP implementation and technical concerns: Are you deploying a cloud-based ERP or an on-premise solution? If you’re working from the cloud, you’ll want to focus on updating any weak points in your WAN and ensuring secure data transit throughout the network ecosystem.

If you’re going with an on-premise system, then you’ll have to put new servers, storage and local network systems into place.

In either case, you may have to worry about some development to optimize or customize the ERP software, though requirements can vary substantially depending on the solution you use and how much the vendor is willing to support you during the rollout.

Beyond development work, you should also analyze how your users will leverage the ERP solution and make Wi-Fi upgrades and focus on mobile device support accordingly.

ERP projects and the human factor

Based on what we’ve already discussed, you’re going to be changing your processes, rolling out a completely new software platform to underpin your business, deploying new technology and expecting your workers to adjust to all of this in stride. That won’t happen if you don’t plan for the change.

End-user documentation is critical in setting expectations for the ERP rollout. You can use documentation to highlight new features, provide some self-led training and get users familiar with the interface and capabilities of the ERP system. From there, focus on training and championing the platform. It’s also important to ensure you have adequate technical support in place at the go-live date so you can resolve any user issues quickly and prevent your teams from getting frustrated with the system.

Preparing people for change may be the most abstract concept within the ERP implementation process, but don’t neglect it just because you can’t easily measure readiness. Neglecting user training and readiness can derail a project before it gets off its feet. If your people either aren’t ready to, or aren’t willing to, adopt the solution, then it’s not a solution. Neglecting any part of the “change triangle” of tech, people, and processes is a costly mistake you can’t afford. Find an ERP vendor who deeply understands how to partner with you to bring about the positive change you want and need.

4. Create a Post-implementation Plan

Similar to the go-live strategy, it can be difficult to adequately consider the post-implementation process when you’re so focused on finding the right ERP system and getting it into place. However, neglecting this key step can leave your teams struggling to become comfortable with the software as an everyday solution. Training, as already mentioned, is a major part of ensuring this comfort with the technology. However, you shouldn’t stop there.

In most cases, an ERP system will be deployed at a small scale within a part of the organization, such as to support a specific department, to make sure it is functioning properly. The post-implementation process should involve gradually expanding use out across the entire business and optimizing the database environment.

This final part of the ERP deployment may feel a bit like a formality, but it can prove instrumental in maximizing the value of your new solution. Getting users fully on board and establishing a culture of continuous improvement can ensure you are getting as much value as possible from your investment.

5. Understand your Vendor’s Process

Most ERP vendors will build a specific ERP implementation process and fine-tune it to work within your specific circumstances. Developing a strong understanding of your vendor’s philosophy and ensuring it aligns with your goals can set you on a strong path for success.

As mentioned earlier, the abas ERP implementation strategy is highly focused on processes. To help clients achieve a successful implementation, we begin by creating four established teams. The first is a steering committee that creates a structure for the project, identifies critical success factors, prioritizes requirements and otherwise oversees the big-picture strategy for the implementation.

Project managers form the second team, in which we bring together a customer PM with an abas PM so they can collaborate to manage their respective groups, control the timeline, document activities and communicate between stakeholders.

Consulting is the third key team. This group is responsible for developing a deep understanding of the high-level needs, business practices and processes behind the project. From there, they manage day-to-day training in their areas, report on progress and communicate across stakeholders.

The key user team rounds out this collection of groups working together toward implementation. This is your primary project team and should incorporate a multi-disciplinary group that covers multiple layers of the organization. You want to capture your business in a snapshot with this team so you have a balanced voice to provide in-depth knowledge of specific processes and requirements.

Once the teams are in place, abas works from a five-phase project model. It incorporates discovery, process mapping, piloting the project, migrating to the new system and putting support systems into place.

There are many nuances to this process, but the overarching theme is common across each step: We want to empower your people to be their best, so we focus on the underlying processes that make your business work and ensuring the abas ERP fits your overarching vision.

Ensuring ERP Implementation Success

As you can see, an ERP implementation project includes many moving parts. We aren’t here to give you false promises and guarantees, but we can promise that our implementation process is built around a combination of industry best practices and an organizational philosophy that emphasizes creating strong customer relationships.

We stick around to help you through the entire implementation process so you’re never alone, and the results are clear. Approximately 92 percent of our customers come back to us as their ERP requirements shift and more than 350 companies have been working with abas for more than 15 years. A successful ERP implementation process is about empowering people, and nobody does that quite like abas. In fact, consider this case study:

Langston Companies Inc. recently embarked on an ERP implementation journey to unlock greater value across its portfolio. The company was founded in 1946 in a 5,000-square-foot facility, and while it maintains the original plant, the company footprint has expanded across North America. They manage an arsenal of goods, including flour, dog food, charcoal, cat liter and more across countless grocers. This growth created challenges in managing processes with traditional, manual processes, forcing the company to re-evaluate its ERP system, choosing a system that offered these benefits:

  • Real-time visibility into financial, operation and production data. More information earlier in the planning phase helps managers make better decisions. Even while systems generated data, the company could not use existing systems to understand data and adapt schedules. 
  • Data-driven strategic planning. Valued added through data increases as the data expands. In other words, adding value means using data to make companywide changes, driving strategy. In a continental company, decisions affecting material sourcing, requirements planning, and distribution have a direct effect on costs, so better strategy amounts to improved customer service.
  • Increased traceability. Packaging of foods and food-contact substances have a big impact on grocers and their suppliers. Langston need a way to advance lot control for bag-making materials to ensure compliance with government regulations.
  • Improved accuracy in controls. Making companywide changes in policy and processes allows Langston to better manage local and national inventory, prepare for seasonality, and reduce risk.
  • Enhanced supplier relationships. Better supplier relationships amount to improved purchasing power and cost reductions.
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