9 Keys to a Successful ERP Implementation

By Martin Marino, CIO, Goodfellow Bros.

Martin Marino _ Lo-Res
Martin Marino, CIO, Goodfellow Bros.

Picture this – your CEO comes into your office and says, “Let’s grab lunch. I want to talk about putting a new ERP system in place…by January 1st.” You quickly count the months left in the year. Seven.

You respond, “Lunch sounds great. You’re talking about January 1st – a year and a half from now, right?” He replies, “No, this coming January. That’s plenty of time, isn’t it?”

Sound familiar? It’s not his fault – he probably has no idea what goes into a major system change like this. One thing is certain – his expectations are high so your next steps are critical.

The 9 Keys below pave the road to a successful ERP implementation that meets everyone’s expectations:

Key #1 – Establish a Key Stakeholder Committee

You’ve just had this huge ERP project drop into your lap by your CEO. Your first task is to assemble a small group of key stakeholders – decision makers.

CIOs get to that position by making smart decisions that propel businesses forward so is a committee really needed. If you are considering skipping this step, please resist this temptation.

The most effective CIOs will recognize that, while they may be capable of making decisions on behalf of others, it is foolish to go it alone. By including decision makers from all pertinent areas of the business, you accomplish two important things:

1. You achieve buy-in and trust from those business areas much quicker. This also reduces the likelihood of finger-pointing on sensitive topics in the future.

2. The committee will better understand the details of the project and can help set appropriate expectations with management and other areas of the organization. A little blocking and tackling never hurts.

Key #2 – Make sure you actually NEED a new ERP system

This seems obvious, I know. You would not be considering a new ERP system if you didn’t think you needed one, but sometimes the best solution to a problem is not creating a bigger one.

If your company has outgrown the capabilities of your current system that might be a good reason to explore something new that better fits your needs. Conversely, if a new systems is being considered solely because your company has used the same ERP system for 10+ years, I suggest you think twice before making the switch.

Replacing an ERP system is not an insignificant effort. It is hugely time consuming and, in terms of opportunity cost, often much more expensive than what is shown on the vendor’s proposal.

Key #3 – Define System Requirements – Don’t boil the ocean

At this point, you have assembled your Stakeholder Committee and determined that yes, a new ERP system is necessary for your business. Now you need to define what that new system needs to do and how it will integrate with your other systems. You also need to decide what it will not do. Many ERP platforms can do way more than you might need. Determine what is reasonable for your company to implement, according to your needs, and steer clear of the tendency to add “just one more thing.”

Your system requirements documentation should adequately and appropriately address all ERP-related needs of your business. From a usability standpoint, does the system need to be available via mobile or web application? Should it be on-prem or cloud-based? Do you need advanced workflow capabilities? If so, document it in detail. These are just a few of the many questions you need to decide before looking at any vendor’s solutions.

The time you take upfront to define your company’s needs will always be fruitful. Some companies skimp on this critical pre-planning step then find that they spent a lot of time and money implementing a new system that doesn’t fit their true needs. Don’t let this be you.

Key #4 – Skip the sales counter. Get unbiased help with your research first

There are many objective resources available to CIOs to assist in finding the right solution for your business. As much as I appreciate a good, quality demo of a product I am interested in, I also need to guard my time and not get bogged down in vendor demos and sales cycles. No sales team wants to hear this, but I try to do my initial research in stealth mode – under the radar of sales teams. This can save you a lot of time.

You can do the same by consulting objective 3rd parties such as Gartner, InfoTech, and members of your peer groups. In many cases, you may have to pay for expert research and insight, but that information can be a tremendous help in finding the best platform for your business needs.

Key #5 – Get the best professional services team – don’t go it alone!

Most CIOs and business partners don’t change ERP systems more than a few times in their careers. For this reason, you need experts that do it all the time. The best partners will have the experience to anticipate your needs and ask the right questions to position your company for success from start to finish.

Some ERP providers have their own in-house implementation teams, whereas some of the bigger vendors always outsource these activities. Not all consultants are created equal so do your homework and find the best professional services team available with extensive knowledge of the system you are implementing.

Budgeting Tip: Make sure to allocate extra time and money for these consultants at the tail end of the project. Inevitably, some changes – hopefully small ones – will surface and you will want the resources on-hand so these professionals can help.

Key #6 – Plan, Plan, Plan

While all of these keys to success are important, if you don’t take time to plan all aspects of the project through to completion, let’s face it – you might as well not even start.

Undoubtedly, your CEO and key stakeholders will be itching to get started. This is the one critical area that you need to hold strong and pump the brakes until you feel good about the plan. The pressure will surely increase as the days or weeks tick by, but in the IT world, if there is ever a “measure twice, cut once” moment, this is it. Set realistic and achievable timelines and DO NOT RUSH IT.

Timing Tip: Line up your go-live date with the start of a new fiscal year. This keeps the books clean.

Key #7 – Designate a full-time Project Manager

Hands down, I believe that all but the smallest ERP implementations require a dedicated, full-time Project Manager. As the company’s head technical person, CIOs are often selected to lead these types of important projects, but I think this is unwise.

While I agree that the CIO should be heavily involved – most likely at the stakeholder committee level, it should not be their entire focus. If your attention and focus is spread too thin, it could be detrimental to the business.

Take cybersecurity for instance. The current landscape is lush with new threats that can take down any unprepared organization with very little effort required. Let’s face it, if the company is crippled due to a cyber-attack, a perfectly executed ERP implementation isn’t worth much at that point. CIOs are best positioned to oversee the management of IT security, ERP projects, and other key aspects of the business when they can stay out of the weeds.

Key #8 – Establish an implementation team

The emphasis here is team. This group of resident business experts are similar to the stakeholder committee – they have a vested interest in seeing a successful ERP implementation come to fruition.

The main difference with this group though, is that the members are typically much closer to the daily activities of an ERP system. They will help guide the direction for the more intricate details and the flow of the different processes. Leverage them as much as possible while you have them. As soon as they are released at the end of the project, the team’s momentum is lost.

Key #9 – Take it Slow and Steady

All ERP implementations are hard work and complex, regardless of your company size or the scope of the work. Anyone that tells you differently has probably not been actively involved in the implementation process.

An ERP implementation project won’t necessarily make or break a career, but the level of preparation going into a project of this magnitude can certainly determine how many grey hairs you display at the end of it!

Don’t rush it and give your team enough time to do it right. If you heed these recommendations, you’ll be just fine.