In our last article (link here), we covered key considerations in evaluating a new ERP system. So, at this point, the decision has been made to implement a new system, the requirements of the new system have been agreed upon and the specific platform has been vetted and selected. However, once that evaluation is complete and a system selected, the work is far from over. Successful implementations require a well thought out process with some essential questions to answer:
Who Does What and When?
• Who is leading the project? An internal champion or project lead is critical. This is often someone in accounting or operations, but someone who acts as point person and coordinates with the various stakeholders and vendors is very important for a timely and efficient implementation.
• What is the implementation timeline? ERP systems, especially with complex and/or larger businesses require a great deal of setup, configuration and testing. What are the key milestones, and how do they tie into the full go live date?
• When is the right time to go live? This can be a disruptive time for the internal team, so avoiding peak business seasons and other intensive times for the team is very wise. Ideally, being able to go live at the start of a new month, quarter or even year makes for a clean information cutoff. Most importantly, the go live date must make sense for the business and its team.
Can the Team Use the System?
• Training, training, training. We have a client that made a material investment in a very well respected ERP system, only to find out a year later that key training was not provided by the vendor – this cost the team a tremendous amount of time and money due to incorrectly captured information and a reset of numerous key internal processes. Ensure the vendor provides thorough training and the team knows how to use the system at a thorough level.
• What data carries over? In some instances, historical data is imported into the new system(s). Even in this case, reports may or may not include detailed historical information. It may make sense to maintain the historical system for a period simply as a database to reference historical data such as costs, or financial statements. It may also make sense to just make one large data dump out of the old system so at a minimum historical raw data is not lost forever. The day may come when you need to compare historical standard costs, inventory components or financial trends – know how you are going to access that information.
Does it Work?
• A sometimes overlooked aspect of system integration is testing. With many systems, some testing can be done in either a “dummy” test version or via the actual system without any permanent impact. It is also a best practice to run side by side with the current system for anywhere from 30 to 60 days to ensure accuracy and performance.
• In the case of multiple systems being integrated together, does the integration work? Is the integration real-time, periodic or manual? A missed piece or set of data can wreak havoc on information flow and cause errors in pricing, costing or record keeping.
• Even after the go live date, companies often run into occasional issues. ERP vendors offer ongoing support, sometimes via general customer service, or through purchased support services. Know what is available and reach out to the experts if any kind of material issue arises. It is far better to work out kinks as soon as possible.
Even with a very well-run integration, be on alert to expect the unexpected. Further tweaks may be required to an ERP over time. You and your team should be vigilant to ensure that the system is working as it was intended during the vetting process. A new ERP should be a real asset to a company – invest the time during implementation to make certain it stays that way.