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CIO and CFO insights in the ERP selection process

INSIGHT ARTICLE

As with any significant technology investment, selecting an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is an undertaking that requires a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished within the organization, as well as the relative strengths and weaknesses of the available solutions within the future operating environment. The chosen strategy will affect not only IT-focused individuals, but ultimately every employee across the enterprise, so thoughtful and informed consideration by all relevant parties must precede selection and implementation.

And in the C-suite, while an organization’s chief information officer (CIO) and chief financial officer (CFO) may have differing perspectives on a host of issues, common ground can and should be found between them when preparing to select and implement an ERP solution.

The CIO and CFO: Encouraging collaboration across ERP planning

A critical component of any successful technology integration project is teamwork—especially among those with decision-making power and departmental oversight. In the case of ERP, this means that often the CIO and CFO will work hand-in-hand to determine which solution is best positioned to support the technology requirements of teams across the enterprise while also providing the highest value for the technology dollar—affordable to purchase and implement, economical to operate (low total cost of ownership) and capable of facilitating long-term financial stability and growth.

Because both CIO and CFO are driven by role-specific ambitions and targets, however, reaching a mutual decision can prove challenging. To mitigate against differing points of view leading to a project delay or cancellation, the following recommendations are designed to help guide CFOs and CIOs toward a common ERP selection and implementation strategy:

Determine how each ERP option supports overall organizational strategy

According to the 2014 Gartner Financial Executives International CFO Technology Study, out of a survey sample of 210 executives, the CFO authorized 29 percent of IT investments, surpassing even the CEO for decision-making in this space.

So while CFOs are clearly interested in ERP costs in both the near and long term, issues around how well each solution supports the company’s comprehensive goals for current and future operations are just as critical, requiring input from and partnership with the CIO, who has direct access to this level of knowledge. Reaching agreement on an ERP solution will require the CIO to clearly demonstrate how each proposed solution supports strategic growth, encouraging CFO approval.

Clearly identify solution ROI and set a budget early 

As CFOs take a more hands-on approach to technology decision-making, they are strategically prioritizing their options, and placing ERP software high on their list of potentially transformative tools. In the Gartner study, 47 percent cited enterprise business applications in the top three most important technology investments, with 23 percent putting them at the very top of the list. Forty-two percent of CFOs cited these applications as their most important technology investment over the next three years.

The importance placed on these tools underscores how critical they are in delivering value to the organization. From this perspective, CIOs and CFOs should both be looking for the same thing—ERP software that delivers the highest possible return on investment (ROI). Determining the required ROI for the business as well as the likely ROI of competing solutions goes a long way toward clarifying the value of available options. Similarly, outlining—and sticking to—a budget helps to narrow the software choices to those most likely to drive and sustain long-term growth and profitability.

Consider a solution with built-in business intelligence (BI) capability

When executives in the Gartner study were asked to identify the business priority they believed most required technology support, 62 percent indicated “facilitating analysis and decision making.” To this end, executives are increasingly looking to BI tools to capture insights across the enterprise, and realizing that ERP solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics® AX provide this critical capability as a built-in feature.

For both the CIO and CFO then, it will be paramount both to understand which software options include this functionality (and how deep that functionality goes) and to require vertically-focused demos from potential vendor partners to determine which tool best supports the organization’s use case.

Schedule ERP rollout to maximize functionality and control costs

Given the potential disruption as major systems are implemented and adopted, CIOs and CFOs should bring together relevant information from their respective areas of expertise and influence to carefully plan a timeline for project planning, implementation and support that protects against financial risks, system downtime and process changeover lag.

Gartner suggests a “pace-layered strategy” to minimize these types of integration risks, reduce costs and maximize security. Under such an approach, companies can categorize each business application (including ERP) as a system of record, differentiation or innovation, then apply differentiated management processes for each, driving more thoughtful, collaborative and high-value integrations.

The value of executive partnership in driving technology investment

It comes as no surprise that a successful ERP deployment hinges on partnership—and that synergy among department leaders is essential to securing the executive approval, team unity and partner relationships required to implement a successful and even transformative long-term software solution.

By working together to identify common goals and arbitrate diverging viewpoints, CIOs and CFOs can ensure the final selected system is one that not only meets their individual needs, but is also optimally positioned to meet business requirements and operational objectives enterprise-wide, securing sustainable growth and profitability.

Sources:

Gartner, “Survey Analysis: Critical CFO Technology Needs: 2014 Gartner FEI Study,” June 23, 2014, http://bit. ly/1Ga5I50.

Gartner, “Gartner Says Adopting a Pace-Layered Application Strategy Can Accelerate Innovation,” February 14, 2012, http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/ id/1923014.

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