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3 Keys to a Successful ERP Implementation
Over the last decade cloud computing and software have taken a larger role in our daily lives, not just in apps on our smart devices, but in our workspace as well. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are becoming more dynamic and integrated across all industries. Organizations are continually on the lookout for new solutions that will allow them to scale fast and adapt in the ever-changing market landscape.
In fact, the process to implement these new systems can be intense and costly and has been compared to performing open heart surgery on the business. Think about it. You’ve got to keep all of the day-to-day functions operating while reassessing and in some cases redesigning the inner workings of the departments and functions of the company.
At a recent webinar, we moderated an in-depth conversation with leaders from COBB Tuning and WP Engine about their experiences going through successful ERP implementations. As we worked with these companies throughout two very different projects, we found they shared a critically important outlook: they paid careful attention to expectations, people and data during every step of the process.
Unfortunately, we can also say the opposite is true: when customers jump in without considering these things, their projects don’t go as well. In “Avoiding ERP Implementation Failure,” we discussed how understanding these components can help companies head off a number of common issues that can hang up the process and affect its outcome. For those of you who are considering making an ERP change or who have a project on the horizon, we hope our conversation will offer you some valuable insights.
Here are a few key take-aways from our conversation:
Expectations: begin with the end in mind
What do leaders and employees expect to get out of the project, and how can you manage those expectations? To build success, start asking these questions at the planning stage – and keep asking them through deployment and beyond.
You know the classic line: “You can have it fast, cheap or good: pick two.” Start with an honest conversation about timeline, cost and quality, with the understanding there will have to be some give and take, especially if you’re expecting big things from the project.
Christian Krahenbuhl, Director of Operations at COBB Tuning, said his company’s objectives were stability and growth along with greater planning and integration capabilities. “We wanted to restructure the chart of accounts, lay out a new balance sheet and P&L for more detailed analysis, and create some automation in the system.” Describing COBB as a small company with a frugal culture, Christian said they wanted a hands-on implementation so they could take on certain elements themselves and eventually take over. Time was also a critical factor: “Our old system was slowly dying, so we chose Black Friday of all days as a drop-dead date, and we did alright. We took the time up front to clearly understand what we wanted, and Bridgepoint helped us consolidate down to realistic, executable ideas.”
During the project
April Downing, former CFO of WP Engine, said their NetSuite implementation was part of a larger strategic effort, offering enterprise-level controls and visibility for a custom-built order-to-cash system. Given the complexity of the project – and its year-long duration – April said it was critical to make sure that everyone involved, along with their managers, clearly understood their roles and the project’s long-term goals, value and priority level.
The project team at WP Engine also took care to manage expectations about potential issues as the project went live. “We told people: there will be issues to mitigate, there will be risk, things are not going to go perfectly smoothly, so don’t be surprised,” April said. Christian agreed, adding that they made sure no one was expecting consistent day-to-day reports immediately while users are still learning the new system. Talking candidly throughout the process about what to expect helped ease both change management and user acceptance.
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People: focus on employee success/make your ERP an extension of your team
It’s also important to choose the right people to execute the project, from executive sponsors and leads to IT resources – as well as outside partners who are willing to learn about your company and how you work.
For Christian’s team of three at COBB, dividing the workload was simple: he took on machines, process and operations, the CFO handled reporting and integration with tax software, and the Director of Marketing took on integration with marketing and sales tools. WP Engine had both a larger team and an implementation that would touch thousands of customers, so part of their process was informing stakeholders – people whose processes would change or who were responsible for customer relations – throughout the complex project.
They also encouraged early and frequent feedback from their project team. “One key thing was that everyone had a voice – from someone doing QA on one tiny element to the architect of the project.” They also had a smart way to gather unbiased opinions: asking people to raise their hands all at the same time to show a comfort level of one to five. At COBB, the small executive project team gathered input by giving the rest of the company constant access to dabble and give feedback. As a result, employees at both companies felt they had a voice, which gave them more ownership and willingness to take on responsibility for the project.
“We’re not successful unless our employees are successful,” April said. She encouraged participants to think of ERP as an extension of the team – one that can improve job satisfaction by eliminating tedious tasks and giving them more time for value-added work they enjoy.
Data: build in time – or do the best you can
Master data is one of those things that will hang you up every time – particularly if customer records are coming from multiple places or you haven’t updated your vendor list in years. The reality is that bad data coming out of an old system will be bad data going into new system, making it critical to assess the state of your data before beginning a migration. Consider where and how your data is stored, how big it is, how difficult it will be to access and – perhaps most importantly – how hard it will be to clean up. Then think about what it will take to bring it into the new system. As April said, “If the goal is to get to better data, how do you leverage what you have to get the value you want?” For WP Engine, this process was lengthy and very manual. “Looking back, we needed to invest in more tooling earlier and build in more time for data cleansing.”
On the other hand, Christian said COBB was forced to move quickly by a failing mom-and-pop system. “As a smaller company with a drop-dead date, we had turn it on and deal with it.” With their new ERP up and running, they took their old data and filled in the gaps as they went, using NetSuite’s data migration and real-time auditing capabilities to streamline the process. Then they turned their focus to the automation and analytics capabilities of the new system – as well as its ability to track new metrics such as order fulfillment rates. “Our customers are critical; without them we don’t exist. We focused on how we could make things better, put fewer people on hold, see who’s calling in and see their history, and be able to take care of them immediately by design.”
Bringing it all together
By taking the time to understand and manage expectations, people and data, you can make sure everyone involved understands the key objectives of your project and knows what both success and failure looks like. Doing so makes it easier to communicate and adapt as conditions or timelines shift, but even more critically, creates an environment in which people understand their roles, discuss problems and issues openly, and are committed to the success of your project.
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If you’re considering an ERP implementation or have an ERP change on the horizon, get in touch! Our dedicated team of certified ERP specialists are among the most skilled in the industry, bringing best practices, proven methodologies and decades of IT and business knowledge to every project. Bridgepoint can help you gain substantial process automation and real-time visibility into your entire client lifecycle so you can maximize and optimize your ERP investment. Learn more about our ERP Consulting services and solutions.