Onboarding a new ERP system can be a complex and time-consuming undertaking. But given the transformative changes that such software can deliver, it’s well worth spending the time and resources to get it right.
To help you, we sat down with Simon McCarthy, ERP Systems Consultant here at Intact, to hear his take on what makes a successful ERP implementation. With eight years’ experience in helping customers get to grips with new business management solutions, Simon is well placed to share his knowledge and expertise on the ins and outs of ERP success.
Read our full Q&A with Simon below.
Many businesses underestimate the level of time and commitment needed to successfully implement an ERP system. What advice would you give businesses looking to undergo a project of this scale?
The first thing I would say is: take time to get your data right. You’re never going to get this opportunity again – to just sit, look at what data you have, and identify where, going forward, it will be usable. And to give you an idea of roughly how long this process can take, we offer it as a service for larger businesses, and typically spend around a month making sure a client’s data is presentable before we proceed to the next step.
Next, I’d strongly recommend seeking involvement from all areas of the business. If you’re a big business and you don’t get buy-in from all your branch managers or staff, it’ll never get off the ground. You’ve got to make them feel part of the process.
Regarding processes: you need to ask why you’re currently doing them as you are. Often when you ask a business why they have certain processes, they say it’s because they’ve always done it like that. Remember, there’s a reason why you’re changing system, so take the opportunity to remove pain points and gain a deeper understanding of your current processes.
Changing ERP software invokes change across any organisation. How can businesses prepare for this internally and have you any advice in this regard?
Whoever your project team is, make sure they are given dedicated time to work on the project. Don’t just try to fit it around current tasks; it’s a part-time job in itself and deserves their full attention.
As touched on earlier, gaining buy-in from staff is crucial from the get-go. You’ve got to get staff engaged with and invested in the project, as they’ll ultimately be the ones testing its functionality and using it in a real-world setting. What’s more, vendors rely on company-wide feedback to refine settings and ensure that the right changes are implemented ahead of the go-live date.
It’s also worth asking your vendor for projected timescales, information requests, and meeting scheduling. At the start of an ERP implementation project, it’s normal to have several launch meetings with your vendor, before things calm down while they begin configuring your software. By liaising closely with them from the start, you can set expectations and mitigate any disruption which may arise from project-related admin.
From a change management point of view, it’s important to have solid internal communicators who can keep things organised and allay any concerns that individuals may have. What’s more, it’s absolutely critical that you document all changes to processes. Just because a change has been decided, it doesn’t mean everyone knows about it right down the line, so this has to be considered.
In terms of both the vendor and the customer, in your opinion, what constitutes a good implementation project team structure?
Although implementation teams will look different depending on scope and scale of the project, there are several key roles you should look to fill internally. This will ensure the timely completion of key tasks within the project timeline, while reducing the need for excessive back and forth between you and your software vendor.
At Intact, we recommend assigning the following roles to develop a covers-all-bases implementation team:
- Project Sponsor – Accountable for the project at the highest level, responsible for decision-making, budgets, and timescales.
- Project Manager – The key point of contact, responsible for project delivery.
- Data Extraction and Manipulation – An astute technician, capable of extracting data from the legacy system and transforming it to meet the needs of the system.
- Workstream/Process Leads – Participants from across the business who contribute to process and workflow refinement.
- User Acceptance Testing – A structured team of individuals from across the business, responsible for testing the system to ensure it meets key targets.
- System Administration – Technical personnel responsible for maintaining the system from go-live and beyond.
- Training – A confident team lead who can train staff on the capabilities of the new system.
Of course, assigning an implementation team is only half the battle. You also need to maintain transparent and honest lines of communication between your consultant and the assigned project manager, embracing an attitude of partnership that will lead to positive outcomes on both sides.
I’d also recommend that your Executive Sponsor attends project meetings regularly. They’ll not only get a general overview of the project, but will also be on hand to manage requests that require high-level decision making.
Most businesses have generated a plethora of historical data but transferring it all over is not best practice. What advice would you give companies in advance of their implementation to ensure the best quality of data is taken over?
You have to question why you want to bring over historical data. It’s understandable if it’s for seasonal replenishment data, but it’s good to use a new ERP system as a clean slate.
If it’s critical for the business, like replenishment of products, then that’s OK, but if we’re just bringing it across for the sake of it then let’s just reference it in a database.
How do you keep an ERP project on time and on budget? What tools do you use and have you any advice to businesses before they embark on their new ERP project?
Ensuring that the project runs on schedule comes back to honest communication. You need to work closely with your software vendor while understanding their limitations and constraints. Ultimately, while you do have the right to request additions and amendments, it’s important to acknowledge that changes can have a knock-on effect.
Of course, part of the responsibility of ensuring timely project delivery rests on you, the user. Prolonged information sharing, poor communication, and a lack of solid decision-making can all contribute to delays and roadblocks, which is why assembling a strong implementation team is so critical.
Going live on a new system is a nervous time for any customer. How do you prepare them for the official go-live day and what do you do to ensure as little or no disruption occurs on the day?
While it’s good to have a rough idea of a go-live date, there are so many variables at play that it can be difficult to set a date in stone until you’ve entered user acceptance testing, which typically takes around a month; you can’t realistically set a go-live date until after this is complete.
I always try and have a conversation with customers the day before or morning of go-live to say – look, things are going to come up. There are going to be things that we’ve missed, things that have been imported wrong, or things that are going to need to be changed. We’ll deal with everything on a case-by-case basis.
Ahead of the go-live date, be sure to map out some sort of escalation procedure, to document the issues and have them all feeding back up into the chain. And remember: issues will happen, and it’s not going to be flawless.
Your customer is live on their system but everything is still very new to them. What advice would you give customers during this transitional period so they don’t get too overwhelmed but still enjoy the benefits of their new system?
Be confident in the processes that you have tested and implemented from the start of the project because we’ve implemented and tested them for a reason. So, if you’re getting feedback that something doesn’t work, don’t go and change everything on day two. Allow time for things to bed in and take a review in a couple of weeks when the hustle and bustle has died down.
Have frequent internal reviews with your admins. It’s likely you have staff who have used the same system for years and these changes are a big thing for them, so it’s good to keep in touch with those people to make sure they are comfortable.
Once live, the internal PM will probably remain the system admin, but treat it like an ongoing project after go-live – it’s still happening, you’re looking at a 3-6-month window for optimisation. So, their time should now be invested in getting it working optimally. The project isn’t over.
Long-term, what can businesses do to ensure they get the maximum value from their new ERP system going forward?
The first thing I’d say is that the project doesn’t finish at go-live, and nor does the financial resource attached to it. Use the Optimisation period to make refinements and improvements, reviewing settings to push the system further.
To actually push this system, you need an understanding of how it works before you get the most out of it. The post-go-live Optimisation period provides a solid bedding, highlighting what the system can do. But you need to understand that this is a continuous process, and that it may take time to optimise every aspect of the new system to your requirements.
Learning a new system takes time. What training do you believe is essential early on? And what can a customer do to ensure they maximise their new solution?
Making sure your system admin is familiar with Intact iQ early on is key. Usually this will be the user responsible for passing on the training/processes agreed with the consultant.
Also, the Intact Training Academy helps to give a broad view of Intact iQ and can help stimulate ideas that aren’t essentially part of current business practice. We also look to make sure relevant people from the departments are available for their module of training.
Thanks to Simon for sharing his top tips for ERP success. If you’re ready to get started on your implementation journey, the specialists at Intact are here to help. Click here to learn more about Intact iQ or get in touch with our expert team today.