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ERP Implementation Lessons Learned

By Scott Bendle, CIO, Rigaku Corporation

Scott Bendle, CIO, Rigaku Corporation

Successfully implementing an ERP system is a daunting task and even defining a successful implementation can be a pretty challenging thing. You can declare your business is functioning if you are keeping track of orders, delivering on-time, and can satisfy the needs of Finance. Meeting those goals is a pretty good level of achievement for an implementation. Let’s discuss the elements that can help get you to the point where you have left behind your old system, have moved into the new and prepared the groundwork for reaching whatever point you have defined as a fully successful implementation.

Is it really Time to Select a New ERP Package?

There are two challenges management should make when requested to replace the existing ERP system. Challenge people to develop a list of the top 10 or 20 activities the current ERP platform will not perform, typically these are the reasons a new package is viewed as an attractive replacement. The second challenge is to prove the current ERP platform cannot perform these functions, or workflows cannot be established to support these functions. If processes cannot be found, then it is time to consider a change, but the activity to disprove these functions, may be enough to re-invigorate the existing system. If not, this review can provide groundwork for your needs assessment.

"Going into a new ERP with corrupt data creates problems long into the future"

Understand your Current Processes

As a business you have developed certain practices and procedures. Make sure you understand why and how activities are done. Before implementation is the best time to challenge inefficiencies, and the worst answer is: “because we have always done it this way”. Often times when trying to understand where to make processes better, the focus is on activities within a department. Remember ERP is the tool that facilitates inter-departmental activities. Discussions focused on the flow of work between departments will help break down some of the resistance to change and individual groups staking claim to doing things only one way. Do not solve social problems with software changes.

Avoid Customizations

When you choose to implement a customization you are adding costs to the project now and on into the future. Every customization will need to be written for the next upgrade, tested, and re-implemented. At a minimum, customizations add cost and at the worst case create a barrier to future upgrades. Remember nobody wins business because they have a dazzling custom AP process. Focus only on processes that differentiate your business from competitors.

Preparing for Go-Live

When you prepare for going live, clean up your data. Make sure you have eliminated any duplicates and instances of incomplete or bad data. Going into a new ERP with corrupt data creates problems long into the future. Prior to implementation is the best time to address your item numbering system. Historically part number systems were “smart number systems” dependent on formatting and mnemonics to simplify memorizing and finding part numbers. Even the best of these schemes have built in limitations. Modern systems use non-intelligent numbering systems like the next item receives the next available number. This is facilitated by the “Google-like” search capabilities of modern systems. By using wild card queries with even a portion of the name or item number, the user can find what they seek. An important element of facilitating a non-intelligent numbering system is reaching consensus on naming conventions, for instance: noun, descriptor, and differentiating characteristic with each item separated by commas. Consistent use of a naming convention will aid searching.

Document your Decisions

You will be faced with many choices as you implement your ERP. As you reach consensus on each decision, record it. Then make that document accessible to everyone involved, and keep it up to date as decisions are made. This exercise should start during your selection process, so you have recorded details from the original demonstrations. Inevitably, you will have team members that will remember something different than what they heard in the demo and feel they were misled. The other significant reason for documentation is to codify decisions, so the team is not wasting time revisiting decisions that have already been worked through.

Provide Training for your IT Support Team

Like it or not, the people from your IT team that support implementation will become the de-facto experts on the system. Even though the IT team does not process specific transactions on a daily basis, there will be an expectation that they understand how to input an order, or know the nuances of cycle counting. Unless there are plans to have people committed long term as process experts, provide access to training in all areas for the IT team.

Build around not Out

Don’t automatically assume your ERP vendor has the right tool for every situation. An ERP vendor will always present their solution that may be incomplete for your needs or focused on a different industry. Be prepared to research applications to fulfill specific needs. Of course you want to carefully confirm that outside solutions are compatible with your ERP package. Select the right tool for your job. One thing to think about is your 1, 3, and 5 year goals and how additional tools will help you get there.

Don’t forget why you selected your ERP Solution in the first place.

Typically many options were considered, a needs assessment developed, and various packages demonstrated to your selection committee. Finally a decision was made based on capability, organizational fit, working with your particular industry, cost or a combination of these and other factors. Almost guaranteed, you will reach a point where you hate your choice. The implementation is challenging, there are processes that don’t quite fit, or internal resistance of some kind. This is a good time to go back to the selection process and remind the team of the over arching reasons that package was selected and draw the focus away from the specific irritations of the moment.

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