How to achieve ERP success: part 3 - support and development

As the new system enters its business as usual phase there needs to be an organisational structure in place to both support and develop the ERP solution on an ongoing basis. There are a number of ways of doing this - all with some advantages and disadvantages.

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 A-Team, writes Ian Anderson is a director at SAP services company DNAstream.

The A-Team comprises the experienced people in key project roles, who have the right solution and business knowledge to drive the project to deliver the desired business benefits. Experience has shown that a small select team of experts can deliver significant value to ERP projects.

The second article focused on the software itself and the key areas to consider, including good upfront planning - knowing why you have selected this software; using standard ERP functionality as far as possible to contain costs; using consultants who understand both your business and the software; and constantly checking and reviewing progress against objectives during the project.

This third and final article picks up the baton after go-live. However before we consider that, a brief comment on the period immediately after go-live, which can be the riskiest time in a project. There is often so much focus on hitting the go-live date that performance can dip immediately afterwards as issues occur in the live system and key resources may have moved on from the project. It is therefore important to plan for this phase by retaining these key resources for a short period until the new system is seen as being stable.

As the new system enters its business as usual phase there needs to be an organisational structure in place to both support and develop the ERP solution on an ongoing basis. There are a number of ways of doing this - all with some advantages and disadvantages.

In simple terms there is a spectrum of approaches ranging from a totally centralised internal support organisation to an outsourced arrangement, with a variety of hybrid models in between these two extremes. The areas of support and development can also be combined or organised separately, however for the purposes of this article we will assume they are as one.

The main differences between the models are highlighted in the following illustration.

So how do you decide? The decision is usually based on which model best fits your organisation with various factors playing a part, such as:

  • Your company's culture and politics.
  • Whether there is an existing support organisation (it may be easier to implement something similar and integrate it into the existing operation).
  • The cost of establishing and operating the support organisation.
  • The availability of suitable skills and resources - both internally and externally.
  • The size and complexity of the ERP solution, as well as the future plans for continued development.

If the decision is taken to outsource your ERP support and development requirements then the main factors to be considered include selecting the right supplier to best provide this service for your organisation; and ensuring your requirements are satisfactorily covered through SLAs and contractual agreements.

If you decide to run the ERP support and development operation in-house then, as indicated in the diagram above, this will tend to provide more control but will need more resource to set up and operate. There are a large number of variations possible but some of the common key areas which will need to be considered include:

  • Defining an appropriate organisation and governance model for the support function.
  • Availability of suitable resources to run the ERP support and development function.
  • Provision of a support helpdesk function with appropriate facilities.
  • Establishing suitable knowledge management processes.
  • Ensuring that super users are properly trained and capable of providing in-situ support.
  • Creating and maintaining documentation for the business processes and system.
  • The support provided by the ERP company.
  • Defining and agreeing SLAs between the support function and the business.

A mixed support and development model is likely to need consideration of the above elements with a key focus on deciding which areas are internally or externally run and how these will best operate within a seamless process.

In summary, this series of articles has highlighted the complexity of selecting, implementing and supporting ERP systems. The key points to take away are:

  • Engage the best consultants, and select the best business resources to fulfil key roles in the project (The A-Team).
  • Don't skimp on upfront planning - it's vital.
  • Avoid solution complexity, as far as possible use "vanilla" ERP and adopt standardised processes.
  • Constantly check and review progress against the project's objectives, and keep the business closely involved throughout.
  • Take time to consider what type of support and development organisation is best suited to your company, and look at what other companies have done to deliver first class support.

How to achieve ERP success: part 1 - the A-Team

How to achieve ERP success: part 2 - the software

Read more on IT project management