Ownership of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is much more than the signing of a contract at the time of purchase. In order to deliver value it must be the consequence of a long term strategy of ownership, and that means a long term commitment to data integrity, solution design and education.
When most companies start the ERP journey they commit a team to define their requirements, by attending demonstrations and endlessly discussing functionality, features and deployment options. They evaluate and weigh cloud vs. premise, author vs. reseller, access to support, and scalability, to name a few. The list seems endless; as does the effort required to reach a conclusion in terms of solution and partner. Is it puzzling then that some companies struggle to maintain that same level of attention during implementation, and throughout the life of their ERP system? I think that the failure of companies to take ownership of their ERP solutions goes hand in hand with the failure to realize the true value of ERP.
There are many reasons for the lack of ownership. Implementing an ERP system is just not the core business of our customers. Selling, designing, engineering, manufacturing, storing and distributing products and services all take precedent, as does purchasing, planning and invoicing. Year ends, month ends, audits, and tax years are all must do’s. This contributes to projects being under resourced, and with the lack of resources comes an expectation that the ERP vendor should “do it all” in terms of the implementation. That ultimately leads to a lack of ownership.
Based on limited resources and a huge number of other priorities jostling for position, what should management focus on in order to take ownership and harness the value of their ERP systems? To my mind, there are three key areas: data integrity, solution design and education.
ERP systems don’t have the ability to inter-disperse data with a dose of common sense; they can only calculate the data provided and present it in the designed format. The impact of this is often underestimated to the detriment of the user companies. Data integrity needs to be a priority; the right data must be identified early on, cleaned, created, tested and maintained for the life of the ERP system.
ERP systems now offer reams of functionality, determined by parameters and settings in the system, shaped by VB Scripts, and custom panes. The possibilities of developing a rich user experience with a product like SYSPRO for example, are endless, but it requires real engagement between the stakeholders and users within the company and the consultants who bring the technical expertise to bear. The solution needs testing, particularly with the company’s data, by the people that understand the process requirements. Too many companies believe that the software should “just work,” without the thought that the precise combination of parameters and soft customizations to the standard ERP product. This means that each solution is as unique as the company that is implementing it.
Once the solution is in place, it must be periodically revisited. Businesses change. How can anyone then expect their ERP system to keep up to date, if they don’t invest the time and effort required to keep it up to date?
The final piece of the jigsaw is education. Not just training on what buttons to press, but ensuring that all users have a rich understanding of why they have to carry out certain processes. This attention to education needs to continue well beyond the implementation phase. New members of staff shouldn’t just be expected to “pick up a new system.” Yes, getting the simple processes right might be straightforward, but ignorance of it will trigger gradual knowledge erosion. If this is left unchecked, it will diminish the return on value you can expect from your ERP system over time.
Taking ownership of an ERP solution means companies get the best solution for their particular needs, supported by accurate data and utilized by well-educated users, who aren’t heavily reliant on external support. It means they can not only achieve their initial ERP project objectives, but continue to leverage value from their ERP system for years to come.