7 practical tips to boost ERP success

When implementing any type of ERP system, it’s essential that your team is prepared to handle the obstacles that could threaten the success of the project. And there will be many.

According to our experts with decades of experience working in the industry, some of the most common missteps aren’t necessarily complicated. During a series of interviews, these industry veterans, all of whom work for Forterro’s global network of ERP companies, gave their insights on 7 practical ways you can boost the probability that your ERP project will succeed.

1. Getting executive buy-in.

“Surprisingly, this is one of the most common issues that trip up our prospective clients,” said Scott Malia, COO of Forterro. “In some cases, companies have actually invested a significant amount of time — as many as six months — researching and assessing ERP solutions before finding out that a ‘yes’ from their executive team was not really a solid ‘yes.’”

Make sure you’re identifying the right people who need to approve the ERP implementation. Even if you have the approval of the CEO and top executive team, that may not be sufficient, Malia said. “Many clients mistakenly assumed that board members did not need to weigh in, only to find out later that they did,” he said.

It’s also important to clearly outline the overall cost of an ERP system to your executive team, Malia added. “Not only is ERP costly from a financial perspective—it will also require key members of your team to invest a lot of work hours to make sure it’s a success,” he said.

2. Identify the core needs of your organization.

Several of the ERP experts said a majority of your upfront research should be focused on assessing your operations. By identifying the core needs of your organization, you can avoid a lot of frustration - and unnecessary expenses - further in the process.

According to Eric Delacourt, director of new business at Sylob, an ERP company based in France, an ERP project does not need to address every single gap in your organization. You may run into complications if your expectations are too broad.

“Instead of focusing on the software, gather the leaders in your organization to discuss your company’s objectives,” he said. “Those objectives could include anything such as plans for generating new business, reducing costs, or introducing innovation. It’s important to make those objectives very clear, and then outline the areas that may keep your organization from reaching those expectations.”

3. Select the right implementation team.

With any type of major software project implementation, you’ll quickly find that it requires a significant time commitment from your internal team. With an ERP project that could last six months or more, you may be tempted to designate managers or team members who aren’t as busy as your top performers. That would be a mistake.

“It’s critical that you identify stakeholders who are intimately familiar with the areas that you are targeting, such as manufacturing processes, accounting, HR, project management, and marketing, said Håkan Magnusson, sales executive at Jeeves Information Systems AB in Sweden. “The most important people to get involved are those who know the work and do the work, not managers who don’t do the work. It should be key users—the people who know the functions and what needs to be done. Don’t rely on the perspective of the people who won’t be using the system.”

Once you have your team identified, it’s important to convey to employees and the management team the importance of making the ERP project a priority.

4. Engage users early in the process.

You can get all the way to the end of an ERP project, feeling great about the progress you made—only to experience resistance by users throughout the company.

Alexander Crettol, director of services at SolvAxis in Switzerland advised to avoid the threat of slow adoption by engaging users early on. “The worst thing you can do is avoid getting people involved during the early stages, then having them refuse to take ownership of the new project,” he said. “It won’t work.”

While it’s unreasonable to think you’ll gain total agreement, you can start gaining buy-in by asking employees about the challenges they’re facing in their roles. “While you can’t make everyone happy, you can at least listen to them,” he said.

Even with the best efforts at engaging your team, expect some level of resistance. It’s human nature to resist change. With thorough training, you can help users gain the confidence to adapt to the new system.

5. Think industry, size and geography first.

When you select an ERP product that’s already designed for the specific challenges and needs of your industry, the size of your company, and the location of your business, you’re able to immediately minimize the number of complications that can arise during implementation.

According to Tove Brodin, a consultant for Jeeves ERP, a company based in Stockholm, Sweden, there are pros and cons to consider. “Smaller systems are often very standardized and easier to start with,” she said. “They can have a lot of functionality, but they’re not very flexible. You can run into problems when you add a lot of data.”

“Midmarket solutions, on the other hand, offer more functionality and more flexibility, but require more adjustments during implementation,” Brodin said. “Despite all that, they’re still easier to modify than ERP products designed for larger companies.”

6. Work with clean data.

Cleaning your data is another practical task that requires a major time commitment. However, the payoff is great, according to Crettol.

“If you pair a new ERP system with obsolete data, you’re putting the project at risk for failure,” he said. “Your system won’t work properly if you start transferring data that contains duplicates from the old system.”

7. Document your business processes.

It’s important to document your new business processes after undergoing the changes that will result from an ERP project. It’s another practical tip that can minimize complications further down the road, while providing an invaluable resource for your employees. “Don’t underestimate the disruption that can occur when employees change roles or leave the company,” said Jean Christophe-Piguet, a support consultant for SolvAxis. “It can lead to a loss of information.”