Mar 02 2021

How to Successfully Implement an ERP System

Enterprise resource management systems are large, with a lot of moving parts. A thoughtful management strategy can help ensure your deployment goes off without a hitch.

Enterprise resource planning systems are great for managing a business’s many complexities. While ERP systems are drawing attention at the moment as efficiency remains a heavy focus for businesses, the far-reaching nature of these systems can make implementation challenging. 

The potential upside of bringing ERP systems online is significant for businesses, nonprofits and other types of organizations. To realize that potential, there are steps that can be taken to ensure a smooth process for adopting the solution.

How to Find the Best ERP System for Your Business

Whether your needs are best met with SAP, Oracle or another company’s approach to ERP, what matters most is choosing the right implementation approach for your organization. 

David Olson, a professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics at the University of Nebraska who has researched and taught ERP implementations, says it’s important to do your homework before starting the process.

“I would recommend looking for options first,” Olson says. “Keep in mind that many firms don’t need full ERP. They might be better served by a transportation management system, warehouse management system or advanced planning system.”

Mickey North Rizza, program vice president for IDC’s Enterprise Applications and Digital Commerce research practice, agrees that many businesses, particularly smaller organizations, may not need a full ERP implementation to be successful.

“If you're a small business — let’s say you’re under 50 employees — the owner is the CEO, and what they care about are their finances,” she says. “They’re also going to care about the workflows that are tied to them: How do they buy stuff? How do they pay the bills? What goes on in the cash world, and how much inventory do they have?”

North Rizza adds that any ERP implementation should allow for growth. Olson, who co-authored Successful ERP Systems: A Guide for Businesses and Executives, observes that it’s important to analyze multiple options to find the best fit.

“If businesses are new to the ERP domain, consultants can help,” he says. “Then customers have a major cost-benefit analysis among the choices they feel fit them.”

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How to Implement an ERP System

The ERP resource site ERP Focus recommends a seven-step process that includes the following before the implementation project begins:

  • Build a project team: The team should include a project manager to oversee the implementation, an application developer to handle customizations, an application analyst to handle data management, and a quality assurance test engineer to handle testing.
  • Create a change management plan: This will help manage each of the steps involved.
  • Estimate a budget: When projecting how much the transition will cost, keep in mind that more than half of all ERP implementation projects run over budget.

There are also strategic pitfalls to be aware of before starting. A 2017 article in CIO lays out common ERP deployment mistakes and suggests preimplementation considerations should include whether the ERP will be cloud-based, how the business will staff for the process, and how to manage the change within the organization.

ERP Implementation Best Practices

Building a successful team and a well-thought-out implementation plan improve the odds of ERP success, but another key factor is end users. Employees are being asked to take on a significant amount of change, and they can’t be ignored.

Olson says that business process re-engineering — the reshaping of an organization’s workflows and processes — is important to plan for in an ERP implementation. But BPR can take time.

“BPR is good in that it involves improved methods, usually enabled by the software,” he explains. “But it changes how everybody does their job, which leads to a painful initial break-in period. Organizations need to gauge how soon they can get over this break-in period and get to the benefit part. I recommend a net present value analysis, although I admit that reliable numbers are hard to get.”

ERP Focus recommends two approaches to training employees, including both in-person and e-learning options. The site also recommends finding staff members who can help make the case for implementation across the team.

“Identify promising, tech-savvy staff to train as ERP superusers,” writes ERP Focus Editor Kathryn Beeson. “They can then deal with low-level user issues, allowing you to focus on the task at hand.”

Finding an ERP Vendor

With the mix of technology partners often brought into the process of building an ERP system, discussion may turn toward supporting technology vendors such as the IBM subsidiary Red Hat, which offers support for various SAP solutions.

It’s also worth considering an implementation vendor, such as CDW Amplified™ Services, that can help manage the implementation. That process can become increasingly complex, particularly if onsite work is involved.

Generally, most businesses aren’t in a position to handle a project this complex on their own, Olson says.

“If businesses have really strong IT, they can use less vendor help,” he says, citing the example of Samsung, which built its own system. “But if not, implementing ERP systems usually calls for hiring consultants.”

The odds of finding success with an ERP system come down to its execution. Having a good partner raises your chance of success.

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