5 Actions that Lead to Implementation Success

Tom Schawang, Chief Financial Officer, Major Brands, Inc.
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Tom Schawang, Chief Financial Officer, Major Brands, Inc.

Tom Schawang, Chief Financial Officer, Major Brands, Inc.

Okay, you have made the decision to implement a new ERP system (or other significant software package). The rationale, payback, opportunity costs, and choice of software have been determined—now you are ready to plan the installation! However, you are aware of many stories involving failed implementations, and business interruptions from delayed launches. While nobody can (or will) guarantee that all the problems will be avoided, and an agreed-upon, go-live date will be met. There are five actions that can be taken to significantly increase the likelihood of a successful implementation.

  There will be a contingent who will push to learn the system first, before modifying processes to take full advantage of the software’s functionality  

1. ASSEMBLE AN EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION TEAM

Your employees already have a day job, so piling on additional responsibilities associated with planning, testing, and managing an implementation is problematic. Conversely, outsourcing project management prevents efficient utilization of in-house knowledge. An effective solution for most companies will include the following:

a. Experienced Senior Finance and ITCo-Leads: These two individuals will be able to tackle the primary areas of system design, process, and internal controls. They will be heavily dedicated to the project and will have much of their day-to-day responsibilities reassigned and potentially outsourced.

b. Subject Matter Experts (SME): A cross-functional team (4 to 6 people) of experts handle the design and testing. This team will not be committed fully, but additional support for their regular duties should be anticipated.

c. Steering Committee: A few executives should be assigned to champion the initiative, and conduct regular meetings to assess progress and risks.

2. DETERMINE THE APPETITE FOR CHANGE

You can create a system that produces an enormous amount of information, intelligent reporting, and streamlined processing, but if the organization does not embrace it, you will not reap the rewards that you were anticipating. Managing expectations is critical:

a. Management Support of Change: Communication should occur early and often. Lack of support or reversal of decisions will cripple the project. Change can be incredibly worrisome to the rank and file. “Are they going to take away the importance of my job?” Strong leadership can maneuver the employee base squarely behind the project with clear communication of objectives and vision.

b. Self-Service Approach: Employees should be ready to learn the system and to work through the software (not around it). Don’t accept verbal instructions or emails as methods to communicate transactions or data entry. Adding administrative resources to input data that could have been entered by the employee, who has the source data/information is redundant and ineffective. Fewer touches from the data source point facilitates clean, accurate data.

c. Phase II: Only so much change can be absorbed. Identify your limitations and consider phasing or segmenting changes.

3. ASSESS BUSINESS RULES AND PROCESSES PRIOR TO DESIGN

There will be a contingent who will push to learn the system first, before modifying processes to take full advantage of the software’s functionality. While this sounds logical, this approach leads to delayed, inefficient, or underdeveloped implementations. As in other company initiatives, planning leads to efficiency:

a. One Touch: Don’t be surprised by what lies under the rocks that you pick up. There will be manual or unnecessary processes discovered during implementation. Identifying and eliminating them will prevent you from redesigning later, and will thereby accelerate the efficiencies that the software provides.

b. Move Toward Standardization: Building a system to accommodate or manage exceptions requires validation. Just because we do it today doesn’t mean we should. There will be much change with a new system; keep the options simple.

c. White Board: Don’t create process and design around certain employees’ preference or limitations, but instead, determine what is good for the company. Usually, new software provides streamlined processes. If you have the right people, they will identify this and embrace the changes.

4. CHALLENGE MODIFICATIONS

“We are not going to design the software just to recreate what we do today!” That would appear to be enough to reassure leadership that process improvement is on the way. However, software doesn’t create efficient process; people create efficient process. Old habits, many of which are not even apparent, die hard.

a. Avoid Modifications: Out-of-the box solution should be the default position with modification proposals requiring a value proposition (“extreme vetting”?). This will not only control implementation costs, but also reduce the complexities of reapplication of modifications in future upgrades.

b. Sanity Check: During the proposal process, the software sales team will be anxious to say that the software can do anything you want it to. Create a list of key requirements that the system must be able to handle. While this is an action that should occur when selecting the software, revisiting during the design process will help separate requirements from wish lists.

c. Adopt Best Practices: Here is a chance to eliminate activities that were required due to limitations of legacy software.

Keep it simple and challenge complexity.

5. MANAGE THE CONSULTANTS

Consultants are experts in their field, but they are not infallible, nor are they mind readers. However, this is not a condemnation of consultants, as good implementation partners can pay for themselves many times over.

a. Sales to Implementer Handoff: You spent a considerable amount of time walking the vendor through your systems requirements. Leverage this education with the implementation team. Require the sales contact to be involved in the implementation or provide documentation to the implementation team. Otherwise, who is going to be responsible for delivering on the promises given to you when you bought the software?

b. Do Your Homework: If an implementation vendor is required, do your own due diligence. Referrals provided by the vendor will probably be glowing, or you would not have received them in the first place.

c. Negotiate Expectations: Set clear timelines and definition of success with the implementation partner. Then monitor key check points on timeline.

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