5 Critical Points for ERP Success

Updated: June 14, 2010

ERP projects are more complicated than other IT initiatives because they involve connecting departments across an organization. Unlike CRM, for example, which primarily affects marketing and sales, ERP touches every part of a company. The value of ERP lies in connecting together data from the entire company, which means true ERP projects involve participation from multiple departments and functional areas.

For many organizations, the breadth of ERP automation offers an opportunity to improve and transform processes as an integral part of the implementation. Improving communication, collaboration, and information sharing across an organization are among the most important benefits of ERP. The information sharing aspects of ERP mean that implementation goes far beyond deploying technology.

Although technical infrastructure is essential, the most challenging part of many ERP projects is handling workflows and processes that intersect multiple part of an organization. Many organizations do not pay sufficient attention to changes caused by this business transformation aspect of their implementation.

To achieve success on your ERP implementation, pay attention to these five dimensions of ERP implementation:

1. ERP is about business value. Treat ERP as a major business investment rather than view it as a purely technical project. Even though ERP relies on technology, the primary function of any ERP system is delivering business value. Remember this during every aspect of the ERP process, from vendor selection through implementation and go-live. Always ask, "What are the business benefits of this investment?" Without defining concrete and specific business benefits, any investment in ERP is a waste of money and time. More than anything else, ERP is about improving your business.

2. Business fit is paramount during software selection. It's easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of software selection, but pay close attention to the business results you hope to achieve. Discuss this at length with the software vendor and any consultants you have engaged to help with the selection process. Put them on the spot and make sure they help identify concrete areas in which the software will make your company more efficient, profitable, and so on.

Determine whether the software vendor has successfully implemented in companies similar to yours. If your business has unique attributes, then try to find a solution that supports vertical industry features and modules that match your requirements. Avoid writing custom code to the extent you possibly can.

3. Prepare for transformation. One of the great benefits of ERP is the opportunity to improve how your business operates. Although change is hard, automating old, inefficient processes generally makes little sense. It's far better to use the implementation as a vehicle to streamline processes and simplify, or improve, workflows. This will likely involve changing how people inside the organization perform their day-to-day work, which is usually one of the most difficult aspects of an ERP implementation. Get ready for these changes and don't minimize their importance.

4. Embrace change management. ERP is all about transformation and improvement, making change management one of the most important determinants of implementation success. Communicate project goals and status frequently out to the organization. And don't forget training and documentation, which receive insufficient attention on many projects. Going back to point one in this list, communication should focus on business goals and concrete benefits, rather than just reciting schedule dates.

5. Line up strong executive sponsorship. An experienced and committed executive sponsor is an ERP project's best friend. However, the sponsor must genuinely be engaged in the project as an active leader. Active leadership requires time and attention from a senior company executive; ideally, even the CEO should publicly get behind the project. Be sure your sponsor is not just a figurehead, lending his or her name without expecting to be involved. When the chips are down and your team must make difficult decisions, you need that sponsor right behind you every step of the way.

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