A License to Drive ERP Adoption

Updated: April 29, 2009

If implemented correctly, an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system can streamline workflows, improve customer service and boost productivity levels. But for all its perks, an ERP solution ultimately requires significant changes on staff and work practices. Convincing employees to embrace these changes is a challenge faced by every senior-level executive with an eye on ERP.

"There can be a real tension between employees and senior management," said George Goodall, a senior analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. Push too hard, said Goodall, and there's a risk that the company's "strategic vision of ERP will get lost as will any motivation for change in the enterprise."

Paul Hamerman agrees. A senior analyst with Forrester Research, Hamerman warned, "The end user is actually going to resist change. Employees don't want to have to do things differently."

Embracing ERP

Fortunately, there are steps companies can take to drive employee adoption of a newly implemented ERP system. For starters, Goodall recommended turning to a third-party provider specifically trained in implementing an ERP system to avoid IT headaches, offer training services and convince employees of ERP's many benefits. "An outside consultant can be very good at breaking through any barriers," said Goodall.
What's more, Goodall said, is that stakeholders need to become involved in driving adoption by communicating the benefits of ERP to employees and pointing out what specific pains an ERP system can address. For example, if an employee learns that using an ERP system's payroll module will expedite the time it takes for him or her to receive a paycheck, he or she will be far more likely to embrace the solution.

Another approach to driving adoption of ERP is tailoring a solution so that it's a perfect fit for a company's unique business processes, industry requirements and corporate needs. One way of accomplishing this is through customization, which involves creating customized interfaces and underlying application codes to extend an ERP solution's uses.

But while tweaking a system to meet unique requirements may convince employees of ERP's value, it can also wreak havoc."Customization is a bad word in the ERP realm," said Goodall. "The problem with customization is people end up off the upgrade path." That's because excessive customization can alter a system so far beyond its original incarnation that it is incapable of incorporating vendor-issued upgrades and patches.

"Customization is not the way to go if you can avoid it," concurred Hamerman. "It raises your implementation costs and makes it very difficult to upgrade your ERP package." Instead, Hamerman recommended simply configuring a system without breaking its underlying code or compromising its operating panel.

Business Processes Revisited

There are companies, however, that prefer to modify their business practices rather than tweak a technical solution to encourage ERP adoption and truly reap the benefits of this popular technology.

"As you implement an ERP system, you have to have a clear idea of how you want to orchestrate your company's business processes," said Hamerman. "You need a clear vision of how you want to run your business processes and how to do it without compromising your ERP system." For example, some companies may find it useful to upgrade their age-old supply-chain-management processes to suit a brand new ERP system. After all, no amount of high-priced technology can undo the negative effects of outdated and inefficient business processes.

Nevertheless, Goodall warned that encouraging employees to adopt new business practices can be just as difficult as driving the adoption of ERP. So weigh your options carefully and keep the lines of communication open with your staff.

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