The term “enterprise resource planning” or “ERP” is commonly used to describe a set of business applications that are linked together to give a business a single set of tools to manage their business processes and provide a “single source of truth” view of the business’ data for reporting. These integrated applications streamline how the business processes work together.
Introduction to ERP System Benefits and Challenges
Many businesses find that implementing an ERP system improves the communication between their business units. They have an integrated view of all aspects of the business.
However, implementing an ERP system can be a daunting process. If you are embarking on that journey, you will face technical, people, and data challenges, and it’s important to know that all of these can be overcome with proper planning and communication.
This post shows you why should consider an ERP system, provides guidance to help you find the ERP system that is right for you and gives you ideas on how to overcome the challenges that arise during an ERP implementation.
Picking the Right System
Picking an ERP system isn’t a decision to be made lightly. There are hundreds of ERP software packages available. While they all generally integrate business processes, individual systems may differ in their support specific business processes and in the way they integrate the processes.
When you are researching ERP systems, it is important to begin by narrowing down the list to those that support your business processes. For example, not all ERP systems support Kanban (continuous improvement of the manufacturing process). If your business relies on Kanban, you should start by focusing on identifying ERP systems that support Kanban.
Focusing on the Benefits of an ERP System
Focus on what your business expects to gain from the implementation of the ERP system. Typically, the main reason why businesses implement ERP systems is to increase productivity, improve reporting, and provide a single, integrated security model across business processes.
ERP systems typically improve productivity in several ways:
- Integrated systems typically improve communication between departments and business processes through data standardization and automated workflow processing.
- Everyone uses the same source of data, so reporting becomes more consistent, accurate, and timely.
- The various systems share a common data methodology, so the data is consistent across departments, business units, regions, and countries.
By using integrated systems, organizations have consistent data definitions and access to real-time data. As such, they are able to shrink inventory, reduce costs, eliminate overhead, and increase profitability.
As you look at ERP systems, keep your business goals in mind and ask yourself whether the core functionality ERP system will help you reach your strategic business goals.
Many ERP systems include an integrated reporting application. By using this reporting application, customers can quickly gain insight into data that may not have been previously available. As you look at ERP systems, look at the reports that are provided with the software. Try to identify how you would use those reports to replicate or replace your existing reports.
The reports in the new ERP system may include summarization, drill-down, and business intelligence capabilities that weren’t available in your old software.
Improve Business Processes
Many businesses view an ERP implementation as an opportunity to review and improve core business processes. If you have ever been told that “We have always done it that way”, you know that your business processes need improvement.
To get the most out of the new ERP system, make sure your ERP selection and implementation teams include both individuals who are business process experts and those who are open to reviewing and changing those business processes. Then look for ERP systems that will support and improve your business processes. For example, if inventory management is one of your most resource-intensive business processes, look for ERP software that will enable you to automate those manual business processes.
Overcome ERP Implementation Challenges
There are hundreds of ERP systems with thousands of integrated features on the market. Finding the one system that best supports your industry, business processes and business size, and the right number of users at the right price may seem daunting.
Begin by identifying the ERP systems that support your industry and business processes. Ask others in your industry how the implementation went and what using the system is like. Use the results of your research to narrow the list down to just a few candidates.
Consider Technical Considerations
As you review your narrowed-down list of possible ERP systems, there are technical considerations that may prove challenging as well. Some ERP systems are only available through a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering, meaning that your application and data are stored on the vendor’s servers. If you were planning on hosting the software on premises, that may rule out those ERP systems.
However, before you cross a potential ERP system off of your list, take a look at each system’s minimum technical requirements (MTR):
- How many servers and workstations will you need? Can you reuse what you have or should you buy new?
- How much data do you have now? How much do you anticipate having in three years?
- Are your local area and your wide area networks up to the challenge?
- Will you need a larger Internet connection?
- What about mobile? Are your devices up to the challenge? What about your wireless service provider?
- Do you have employees with the right training and knowledge to support the underlying technologies involved?
As you answer these questions, you should look at the cost of hosting the ERP system yourself and the cost of using a SaaS provider. The answer may surprise you!
Consider Data Considerations
When you get down to the final few candidates, it’s time to take a hard look at your data and the challenge of importing it into the new ERP system. After all, you will need to bring some or all of your data in order to provide historical reporting. Ask each vendor the following questions:
- Are there pre-existing tools available to import your existing data into the selected system?
- Will there be potential data quality issues if you convert your data? Will you be able to accurately compare historical data and new data?
- Do you really need to bring in all your detail, or can you bring in summarized historical data? If you summarize data, how will that impact the quality of period-over-period reporting? Did will summarize data impact demand forecasts?
- Will you need to use a third-party reporting tool, or will the included reports provide you with all the reporting functionality you need?
Consider Staffing Issues
As you proceed in your implementation, you will be faced with possibly the greatest challenge: people who don’t like or can’t handle change. While there is a small subset of people who embrace change, the large majority of people will resist change. The new system may change an employee’s responsibilities. Your employees may be asked to learn to use systems and processes they don’t understand. They may enter data “the old way” into new systems, or try to replicate outdated business processes in the new system.
Employees will be faced with entering, managing and finding data in new ways. The business processes they have used for their entire career may be drastically changed. They may feel like their job is threatened.
The way to overcome these challenges is through communication and involvement. Identify employees who are receptive to change and include them in your planning from the start. Bring in “the old guard” to help you document business processes, and get them thinking about things that can be done to improve those processes. When you are setting up and testing the new system, involve them as well. And listen to their feedback: Don’t blindly assume that your plan is right.
Consider Business Considerations
After implementation is complete, you may face the challenge of a paradigm shift for the business. Business leaders may expect certain reports with data formatted in a specific way. They may see numbers or results that shock or scare them. For example, if inventory reports were always done by business unit and never integrated together, an executive may see the number and not understand that it represents a company totally and that the business unit detail is only a click away. There will be many times that people see the data and immediately respond, “The data is wrong” or “The system is wrong.”
Including key executives in the planning, implementation, and validation of executive-level reports is the key to overcoming these challenges. Those executives will help you instill confidence that the information is accurate. If you can get executive buy-in, it may foster acceptance throughout the company.
Selecting and implementing an ERP system is a challenging proposition. Many businesses struggle to implement a new ERP system. For you to succeed, you will need to focus on preparation and communication.
Preparation will help you get off on the right foot. You need to understand your business processes, your technical infrastructure, your data characteristics, and your reporting requirements. With that information in hand, you should be able to select the right ERP system.
Communication will get you through the implementation’s challenges. As you work your way through the implementation, communicating with the key stakeholders will help them understand the benefits they will see when the implementation is complete. Good communication will also ease the transition into the new business processes for even your most-hesitant end user.