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What is ERP? A guide to enterprise resource planning systems

Thomas Wailgum | July 28, 2017
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software doesn’t live up to its acronym. Forget about planning — it doesn’t do much of that — and forget about resource, a throwaway term. But remember the enterprise part. This is ERP’s true ambition. It attempts to integrate all departments and functions across a company onto a single system that can serve all those different departments’ particular needs.

Consultants ad infinitum — When users fail to plan for disengagement, consulting fees run wild. To avoid this, companies should identify objectives for which its consulting partners must aim when training internal staff. Include metrics in the consultants’ contract; for example, a specific number of the user company’s staff should be able to pass a project-management leadership test — similar to what Big Five consultants have to pass to lead an ERP engagement.

Replacing your best and brightest — It is accepted wisdom that ERP success depends on staffing the project with the best and brightest from both the business and IT. The software is too complex and the business changes too dramatic to trust the project to just anyone. The bad news is a company must be prepared to replace many of those people when the project is over. Though the ERP market is not as hot as it once was, consultancies and other companies that have lost their best people will be hounding yours with higher salaries and bonus offers than you can afford — or that your HR policies permit. Huddle with HR early on to develop a retention bonus program and create new salary strata for ERP veterans. If you let them go, you’ll wind up hiring them — or someone like them — back as consultants for twice what you paid them in salaries.

Implementation teams can never stop — Most companies intend to treat their ERP implementation as they would any other software project. Once the software is installed, they figure the team will be scuttled and everyone will go back to his or her day job. But after ERP, you can’t go home again. The implementers are too valuable. Because they have worked intimately with ERP, they know more about the sales process than the salespeople and more about the manufacturing process than the manufacturing people.

In addition, companies can’t afford to send their project people back into the business because there’s so much to do after the ERP software is installed. Just writing reports to pull information out of the new ERP system will keep the project team busy for a year at least. And it is in analysis — and, one hopes, insight — that companies make their money back on an ERP implementation.

Unfortunately, few IT departments plan for the frenzy of post-ERP installation activity, and fewer still build it into their budgets when they start their ERP projects. Many are forced to beg for more money and staff immediately after the go-live date, long before the ERP project has demonstrated any benefit.

Waiting for ROI — One of the most misleading legacies of traditional software project management is that the company expects to gain value from the application as soon as it is installed, while the project team expects a break and maybe a pat on the back. Neither expectation applies to ERP. Most of the systems don’t reveal their value until after companies have had them running for some time and can concentrate on making improvements in the business processes that are affected by the system. And the project team is not going to be rewarded until their efforts pay off.

 

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