With all the complexity, integration, training, expense and long project life cycles that accompany Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software deployments, you'd better be confident of your software selection decision, implementation approach and commitment from your ERP vendor. And to protect your investment and maximize your ROI, you need to recognize that ERP systems are much like a marriage, in that they require monitoring and continuous investment to keep things from falling apart.
ERP software is like a long term relationship. There's that "just getting acquainted" period during the software selection project, followed by the commitment stage when your company negotiates the software license agreement and then the getting hitched event when you receive the application, or possibly get a provisioned ERP application if subscribing to the software as a service (SaaS) model. Then there's the care and feeding to maintain the relationship. There are highs when the information system works well, then there's the times when you wonder if the relationship will survive recurring problems such as software bugs, short-falls, interruptions or instability, or you may even question if it's time to end it and seek a new ERP system.
So if you think it's hard breaking up a human relationship just consider changing a production ERP system in a company that relies on ERP transaction processing and information delivery every business day. There's no option to just shut the application down and replace it over a few relaxed months. Just the thought of an ERP software replacement can make many IT and business managers hang on to a badly-performing ERP system for far longer than they should simply to avoid the challenges and hassles of a new ERP software implementation, or the risks of an ERP implementation failure.
Last week, I traded e-mails with Paul Ritter, an ERP consultant in The Netherlands, who is a senior partner with the Institute for Strategy and Complexity Management, which helps clients deal with problems in their ERP systems and other IT implementation projects. From his research and work experience, he said that, IT leaders often are somehow distanced from the work being done in their corporate ERP operations and deployments. What's missing is "the human factor of ERP projects," he said. "I have asked a number of my ERP expert colleagues to write down some of their enterprise software project experiences. To my amazement only 1 in 20 was willing and/or able to write down a minute summary of one of her projects."
The problem with that approach, he said, is that it disconnects those IT leaders from their ERP software systems, which are arguably the key IT systems in their overall operations. "Unlike construction work, where one really sees what is being created, ERP projects progress in silence, while the meter is running," he explained.
Many IT and business leaders suspend ERP design and improvements immediately after the go-live event - seemingly not realizing ERP is a continuous process that evolves with your company and that the ROI maximization period only begins once the back office system makes it to a production environment.
Once the enterprise resource planning system goes live, its time to sit down with users and managers to find out how it's really going in the day to day operations, to find out if the system is working as designed or if tweaks or changes are needed to make it work better.
Once you have candid and honest input, you can classify recommendations into categories such as business process redesign, software reconfiguration, system integration, software customization, etc.
For suggestions affecting software, begin by having a discussion with your ERP software vendor. Chances are they've heard many of your requests previously among their large client base. They're also aware of new software modules, upcoming new versions, integrated third party products or ecosystem solutions that might resolve some of your requests.
Also reach out to industry peers. Attending the ERP vendors annual user conference is a great opportunity to network and create relationships with peers. These peers often have been through similar issues and can advise what has and hasn't worked for them.
Also talk to ERP consultants. They routinely solve IT and business problems at other organizations and can often use those experiences to accelerate solutions at other clients.
Lastly, don't forget to scour the social media sites. There are some excellent blogs, social networks and industry forums, such as ERPsearch.com, which provide volumes of expert advice that can accelerate your learning and save you time and money.
Letting your ERP system remain idle is an an easy rut to get into, especially as you have more IT priorities than you have time. ERP is an easy thing to hide behind. It's huge, complex and costly, plus no one outside of IT wants to know much about it other than it is working.
The problem, though, is that those people who don't want to talk about ERP and it's challenges for fear of rocking the boat inside your corporate walls are really harming your ERP deployment by keeping it stagnant until its time for either a fork lift (painful) upgrade or a complete system replacement.
By failing to advance your ERP system, you are allowing the frustrations to continue to grow and fester until one day it all collapses or frustrations peak and you are then forced to replace it entirely because the damage is too deep. At that point it's going to take a whole lot more work, aggravation and money to fix than if you invest on an ongoing basis.
Perhaps continual information systems investment is a bit like marriage counseling for ERP. The end result is a longer partnership.
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