How to achieve ERP success: part 2 - the software

How to achieve ERP success

In the first article in this series on how to achieve ERP success we looked at one of the key factors which can help achieve this, namely the project team - or the A-Team - writes Ian Anderson, director at SAP services company DNAstream.

The A-Team are the people who fill the key project roles. It is critical that these are experienced personnel with the business knowledge to drive the project and deliver the desired business benefits. Experience has shown that a small, select team of experts can deliver significant value to enterprise resource planning (ERP) projects.

While the A-Team is a critical element for project success, there are other important factors. This second article in the series covers one of these - the software.

So what do you need to do with the software to maximise your chances of a successful project? Here are my top tips:

Don't skimp on upfront planning

This is essential for any ERP project. The main reason for implementing ERP software is to deliver business benefits, as identified in the business case. Never forget that this is a business project.

The chosen software must be able to meet the required business processes, not absolutely, but at least to a level that is agreed in advance as acceptable, perhaps a 70% to 80% fit. This is often achieved through a level of compromise, such as adapting the business processes to fit the software where possible.

It is essential to have these business processes identified, documented, understood, mapped to the software and signed off by the business before you start implementation.

Use vanilla ERP as far as possible

ERP software is delivered in a generic form and needs to be configured to meet individual organisations' specific requirements. In simple terms, this is done by turning optional processes and keys on and off and setting parameters in thousands of tables in the core software. Additionally, the software can also be modified through custom-developed programs for essential processes which cannot easily be replicated through the configured software.

You adjust the generic ERP software in a way that ensures your business processes, authorisations, rules and regulations are automated by the ERP system. The overwhelming advice is to keep the software as standard as possible to avoid potentially costly effort on support and future developments, including upgrades. This is often referred to as vanilla ERP.

"A key factor in achieving the savings so rapidly was the decision to implement the SAP software without modification, says Jon Taylor, claims transformation programme leader at CIS. "We did not fall into the classic trap of selecting a system and then customising it to death." CIS achieved operational savings of £4m a month from its ERP implementation.

Employ consultants who understand your business and the software

This was covered in the previous article, but is equally important in terms of how you implement the software. ERP software can often be configured or developed in many different ways to handle a single business process - a consultant who understands your business will know the best approach for you, rather than simply repeating the method he used at his previous client.

The combination of business and solution skills can make a significant difference to the success of the project by driving through standard IT processes in the software which will enhance your business.

Constantly check and review during the project

It is vital that users and decision-makers are continually involved throughout the implementation project. There are various techniques for doing this such as specific milestones, checkpoint reviews and model offices where users can try the new software and comment on it. You should check and manage expectations, look for compromise and, above all, communicate as widely as possible so there are no surprises.

In summary

The size, complexity and pace of today's business environment demand ERP systems. Implementations can be big and complex, and how you handle the software is key to ongoing success. There are a few "musts" which, if done properly, can bring great benefits. If they are not carried out properly, however, the consequences can be costly.

We have now covered the project team and the software. The final article in this series will consider the best use of internal staff and how to undertake ERP support and accommodate future developments.

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