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Planning for success: Lessons learned when selecting a new ERP system


It is the time of the year when organizations begin evaluating technology needs and potential changes to their core business systems. Have you outgrown your current enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, require more security or flexibility, or are you operating with outdated technology? If you are looking to implement a more robust ERP platform, there are several factors to consider before selecting and implementing new technology.   

Preparation is critical to choosing the right system for your needs. Before you begin evaluating software, you must detail and understand your organizational requirements and aspirations. The process is about more than just developing a checklist of desired features; it’s about leadership having a vision of how new technology will integrate within your company and revolutionize your processes.

First, define your goals and project objectives. Make sure they are specific and measurable, so that internal employees and external vendors can be held accountable. For example, “increase the speed of payment processing” is a specific, quantifiable goal, while “increase efficiency” is too ambiguous to determine success or failure. Develop a vision of your projected return on investment, once again looking for measurable areas of improvement. Implementing a new ERP platform requires a significant amount of cost, time and effort; what impact do you want it to have within your organization?

After the goals are defined, you can start a business process review and requirements analysis to document what you truly want your ERP system to accomplish. If you are working with an outside consultant through this process, ask for questions in advance, schedule internal meetings at differing levels of the organization, and review and document existing work flows. Understand your current environment and determine overall objectives before beginning a detailed analysis of the features and functions of potential solutions. 

A new implementation is not just about cutting positions; you should strive to become more efficient and use the power of the software to add value to your employees’ responsibilities. Be creative about how you want the technology to truly transform your organization. For example, where you may currently have lower level positions entering data manually and producing spreadsheets, those jobs may be transformed into higher-value positions with more potential for actionable analysis and information.

Often, when evaluating goals and objectives, employees tend to be attached to current procedures. However, you must be disciplined to take those processes into account, but mainly look to the future. It is important not to focus on how you do things today because in most instances, a large technology leap will change the entire way you do business.

In working with our clients, many have told us what they have learned through their ERP implementation experiences. The following are some common issues they encountered that are important to consider when preparing to choose a new ERP platform for your organization:

Take the time to develop a thorough requirements document: If done properly, this will give the project a strong focus and reduce the number of changes and scope adjustments later in the process.

Measurable goals are a must: Be sure to set specific goals for internal employees and external vendors, as well as the output you expect from a new ERP system. Without well-defined metrics, it is difficult to make necessary improvements.

Insist on vendor demonstrations targeted to your organization and environment: If you clearly define your goals and needs from a new ERP platform, vendors will be able to address your unique concerns.

Include key users in the system requirements evaluation and on the systems evaluation team: Make sure these users are heavily involved in the evaluation and selection process to help ensure necessary features and functionality are included in a new platform. This process will also build internal champions to support the new system roll-out and manage the change successfully.

Realize there is no perfect solution: It is unlikely that a system will immediately fulfill all of your organizational requirements. Your goals and needs will evolve in time, and you must choose a solution that is flexible to account for growth and changing demands.

Selecting a new ERP platform is a difficult endeavor, especially considering organizations only go through the process every 5-10 years. Before attempting to choose a solution, you must plan ahead to understand your current operations, which processes require enhancements and your expectations from your financial system. If your organization is considering a new ERP platform, discussing your requirements and concerns with a qualified technology advisor is often beneficial in helping you choose the best solution for your business.