Planning Requires Support: Why Your ERP Solution Needs the Best People:
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems deliver integrated management of core business processes. This means age-old business processes such as accounting/financials, sales, inventory management, purchasing (i.e., supply ordering), and so on. ERP solutions are based on a centralized database that stores data from every transaction, regardless of which department generated the transaction. This centralization is key, because it allows previously disparate departments or business siloes to be integrated, with the basic communication between them largely automated. So, for example, no longer will a confirmed sales order need to be manually entered into a system to alert the finance department to produce an invoice, and a separate communication won’t need to be made to shipping once payment is received.
Integrating ERP systems can seem tricky at first. There are many considerations to take into account to avoid that all your processes end up failing instead of optimizing them. That is the main reason why you should always hire a professional in the field.
ERP solutions are designed to combine all the various pieces of your business into one cohesive package, and, thanks to the lower cost of entry and ease offered by cloud computing, ERP systems can offer huge benefits for small-to-medium-sized enterprises – not just the large organizations that have long relied on ERP systems.
The benefits small to midsize businesses (SMBs) can realize will vary depending on their situation. For those undergoing rapid growth, the right ERP software can support their expansion. For manufacturing shops – even small ones – an ERP system that’s matched to their needs can help them optimize production, better control costs, and enable them to better respond to demands for custom products. Retailers, while still having the same basic needs (human resources, accounting, inventory management, etc.) supported like every other category of business, might choose an ERP solution with specific modules to support their goals, such as e-commerce integration for example.
Planning is everything:
The overall objectives for an ERP system are to maximize efficiency in business operations, reduce the chance for financial and other errors, and to make data readily available for analysis, which can, in turn, support better decision making. But before you purchase and implement an ERP solution, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions.
- What functional areas will your ERP system need to cover? For an enterprise focused on transportation, an ERP system would likely need to include specific transportation management system (TMS) function, such as planning and optimizing of terrestrial transport rounds, service quality control measurement, shipment batching of orders, and electronic data interchange (EDI), in addition to standard ERP functions such as accounting, sales, and personnel management.
- How will users (your employees) interact with the system? It’s nearly always a mistake to have one person be the decision-maker when purchasing an ERP solution without input from employees within each user group that will be using the new system. What a human resources staff member will need the ERP solution to do, for example, is going to be different than what the people in inventory or those in sales/customer service will need. It’s important to convene a group of staff members representing each group of stakeholders to get direct input on what functions and features they think will need to be included. Of course, it may not be possible to please everyone entirely, but getting input from those “in the trenches”, (users that will be relying on an ERP in their specific departments on a daily basis), will go a long way towards eliminating some blind spot where management realizes the new system does not fulfill some important requirement.
- How are the various business functions the ERP solution will perform being handled currently? Is there one or more legacy systems already in place, and will these legacy systems need to be decommissioned or will some of them need to be able to integrate with the new system and continue being used? A related question is where do the gaps currently exist? Which systems in place are currently functioning well and which have areas where they fall short? To realize a maximum return on investment (ROI), it makes sense to look for an ERP solution that will eliminate the biggest gaps you and your selected team of stakeholders have identified.
- How will a new ERP system align with your business goals? In other words, beyond fulfilling the immediate requirements you need to operate the business, are there any longer-term plans or objectives in place that any new software will need to accommodate? Once implemented, the average ERP solution should have a functional lifespan of at least 3 – 5 years before a major upgrade or migration is required. So, if you know, for example, that your company plans to open an overseas subsidiary, or is going to start deploying field technicians, or is in the process of acquiring its own warehouse, etc. – you’ll want to be sure to plan for these “forthcoming needs” when defining the requirements that any ERP under consideration will need support.
- Will you be using an on-premise solution or a cloud-based one? Cloud-based solutions can remove costly infrastructure off-site, reducing overall setup and maintenance costs. Your business may prefer to have more control over the system itself, however, requiring an on-premise solution. A business that centers on investment, for example, may prefer the added security of local storage and processing.
Have a Plan for Implementation and Anticipate Problems:
Just as your ERP software selection process requires a plan, erp system implementation also requires a plan. This is especially true given the transfer of data that needs to take place (where data quality is a central concern), project milestones around configuration, and testing must be hit, and the staff must be trained. Having clear goals and objectives from the outset will make rolling out a new ERP system a much easier task. It’s important to have clearly measurable metrics to judge performance. Be sure to include data in your initial plan, as this will help you to anticipate potential problems.
You’ll need to have the right support staff in place to work with your implementation provider to make sure that any technical requirements are met (e.g., do any servers and workstations need to be upgraded to accommodate the new system, is web connectivity sufficiently robust and reliable, will the data itself be housed onsite or in the cloud, etc.?).
The support staff will be an important part of your transition to a new ERP system. Not only will your employees need training on the new system, but the system itself will also need phased testing during the rollout. This is particularly pertinent for anything technology-based, so having good IT staff is going to be essential. Having these personnel already in place will drastically reduce the chance of major problems during the early stages of moving to the new system.
If you’re using a service provider to implement your new ERP system, which is what most software vendors will require, know exactly what the implementation provider’s terms are. Oftentimes these terms and conditions will presume the outsourcing of at least some of the learning and support needed for a new ERP system.
In addition, appoint an internal staff member to the project coordinator for the implementation, overseeing the work, and progress of the implementation specialist. While the implementation provider will have set milestones and timelines for the project, it is wise to have one of your own staff following the progress throughout – not only to make sure the milestones are met but also to identify any issues or bottlenecks promptly so they can be addressed before they can derail the implementation.
Get Motivated Staff Involved:
Before getting started with the implementation, you’re going to need a dream team of personnel from every department involved in the new system. These individuals will need to be heavily involved in the process from start to finish, with clear lines of communication to ensure things go smoothly every step of the way.
Personnel involved with implementing the new system will need to have time freed up to dedicate to the project. Not allocating enough resources to the planning and implementation of the new ERP system will hamstring progress before it has even started.
Stay Informed of Change and Keep All Staff Updated:
A smooth transition into a new ERP system requires a plan for familiarizing employees with the new system. By easing confusion and helping people transition to using the new ERP solution, you’ll prevent resistance to change.
Education will play a huge role here, with a successful education program addressing both instructions on the new system and highlighting the benefits of it to your employees. If you can both train and promote the new system at the same time, you’ve already won the battle.
You can use group training with instructors, create videos, or even set up small online support communities to help your employees acclimate to your new platform.
Announcing clear milestones in the progress of the implementation of your new system will increase morale and ease transition into the new system. Once people start to see the real improvements the system will bring about, they’ll be eager to make use of the new tools.
Employees that are already experienced with technology will likely be willing to help your company adopt the new ERP system. Ask them for feedback on getting users familiar with the new system, and be sure to listen to any advice they can give!
For further reading, check TEC’s article on managing change when implementing new software.
Ask for Help When You Need It:
This is where it can be extremely beneficial to make use of the ERP provider’s implementation specialists to implement your new system. If you were creating your own system from scratch without help, it would be difficult to know who to turn to if things didn’t go as planned. Having a knowledgeable support staff with experience in transitioning to a new ERP platform can make a huge difference in successful ERP implementations.
Turning to outside firms for help provides a number of advantages over going it alone, and you should strongly consider doing so in order to reap the benefits of a new ERP system as soon as possible.
Businesses thrive on information, communication, and efficiency, three things that benefit greatly from the use of technology to find success. While it can seem like a monumental task to implement a new ERP system, you can use the resources at your disposal and the people around you to help with the transition. Having experienced support in the right places can make all the difference.