Implementing an ERP system involves deep, substantial changes—not just in your IT functions, but in overall business processes, too, because enterprise planning will affect every single person in the company. It’s the rough equivalent of getting a heart transplant for your business. So, how do you make sure your business’s heart keeps beating during implementation, ready to emerge stronger, healthier, and more efficient on the other side?
We asked the real experts—our current customers—what they had learned throughout their implementation process. These customers include businesses that used an ERP to unify disparate existing systems that weren’t integrating well, those looking to replace an existing system that no longer met their needs, and those that were implementing an ERP system for the first time.
We’ve compiled their valuable responses into a list of 10 things you should keep in mind before implementing an ERP system.
1. Understand your business’s actual needs and goals
Before implementing a new ERP solution, it’s important to consider what your business’s actual needs are. What are you hoping to gain from implementation? What problems are you hoping to solve? What requirements will each function need?
Our customers recommend ensuring you develop a comprehensive document that centrally lists all of your business requirements and needs. You must know what your goals are before beginning implementation. You can’t get what you want unless you know what you want. Your business is specific, so your ERP should be, too.
Further, it’s important to understand what does not currently work for you, as well as what your goals are as you move forward with implementation. Keep track and evaluate these goals throughout your journey, ensuring the implementation remains on track with your core business needs.
2. Understand the true functionality of an ERP solution
Knowing the full power and potential of an ERP system is crucial to being able to use it to its full functionality. There’s so much that industry-specific ERP software can do for you and your business—but in order to utilize it, you must first put in the time to explore and understand it. Don’t be afraid or intimidated, because the right software partner will help and support you throughout every step of this process.
It’s also a good idea to map the specific functionality of the ERP you’ve chosen to the needs and requirements of your business and industry. By conducting this internal mapping exercise, you can guarantee you’re making the most of the functionality and capabilities you’re paying for.
3. Track your data before, throughout, and after ERP implementation
Data integrity throughout the entire ERP implementation process is paramount. Be sure to track your data at every stage of the process. You need to ask: “What processes and policies will be put in place to ensure the integrity of the data that is being entered into the system?” And then after all that data is in the system, it’s important to track it. It’s a good idea, also, to systematically archive no-longer relevant historical data as part of the ERP implementation plan.
4. Consider how this software implementation will affect your current processes
It’s important to understand that with an ERP implementation, many of your current processes will need to change in order to adjust to this new way of doing things. Your business will need to be willing, at all levels, to adapt its culture and processes to new ways, rather than struggling to adapt the system to match the old ways—this includes even changing current processes that work well. Customers advise getting those who will be using the ERP system to get involved in this process from the get-go. They are the best source of information and feedback.
5. Generate a realistic timeline
This one was recommended by many customers, to approach implementation in realistic and timed phases. This will ensure you’re not trying to rush through the process and can allow enough time to implement each module properly and effectively.
6. Include testing and training in your timeline projections
You will need the patience to continually test the system again and again as you progress through implementation. And when you think you’re done, test again! Working toward a thoroughly tested system is more important than meeting a deadline that doesn’t allow for comprehensive testing.
One great approach is to test your documentation periodically by providing instructions to someone who isn’t the main person responsible for the new process and see if it can be accomplished. Aside from checking whether the instructions work, this will also give you a backup in the case of employee turnover.
7. Make sure your executive team is on the same page when it comes to implementation
One of the most important things to guarantee the success of an implementation is support for the inevitable changes it will bring, starting at the executive level. Be aware that the work and time it takes to implement an ERP system is going to reduce the organizational bandwidth for other changes that may be desired by the business. If leadership sets the example by highlighting and regularly reinforcing the positive changes that this implementation will provide for the businesses, employees will adopt the same mentality.
8. Include your entire team in the implementation process
It’s not only important to get your executives involved, you also need to ensure key team members and stakeholders are involved in the entire process as well. Give your employees hands-on experience and time to ‘play’ in the system prior to go-live, so that the transition from the current system to the new system is less of a culture shock.
9. Honestly consider whether or not you’re ready to go all-in
This kind of mission-critical system works best when your organization is truly committed to making it work. If you’re approaching implementation with serious reluctance or attempting to bend the ERP system to fit the shape of your old processes instead of the other way around, then the implementation is not going to have an optimal outcome.
10. Ensure the system is going to take you into the future
You want to ensure that you are establishing business practices and uses of the software in a way that allows you to be flexible enough to meet future business challenges and changes. Try to think about where you envision your company in 10 or 15 years, and the kinds of things you’d like to be doing. The way you implement your chosen ERP system should reflect a wide variety of possible futures and be able to scale with your company.
These are important topics to consider when it comes to the success and stability of your business for years to come. ERP implementation isn’t an overnight fix, it’s serious surgery. In the end, an ERP system should be a solution that grows and matures as your business does or has the ability to scale on-demand, and your technology partner should be able to provide the industry-specific functionality, knowledge, and support you need to make the initiative as seamless and successful as possible.