Best Practices for Implementing ERP

By Geoff Wiltjer, Greenleaf Wholesale Florist Inc.

After all the hard work of choosing the best new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system for your company, your next challenge is to successfully implement the system so that your users embrace the new system, take ownership for it’s success and responsibility for using it properly.

Selling the System

Usually the people involved in selecting your new system will be involved in the subsequent implementation but this is not a requirement.  Your implementation committee members should cross many departments in your organization and have significant involvement of upper management.  This is the most important ingredient for a successful implementation.  If top management is behind the project, then everyone else will be as well.  Include branch managers at the outset and communicate with them directly.  This is not an Information Technology project; it is a project across all facets of the corporation.  A lead team from a mix of departments should be involved in “selling the system” both internally to your own personnel and externally to your customers and suppliers.  This is an ongoing process.  Let all users know the new features that will make the jobs performed in each department easier.  Be transparent, some users think of new technology, or making things easier to do means that you are going to replace them with a computer.  Emphasize that this new system will make them more efficient so they can spend time on other more important tasks.  Hold periodic update meetings or send email updates.  Tell your customers all of the reasons they will find it easier to do business with you.  Involving your vendors early will give them a head start on looking at ways your new system can share information with theirs and they may even be able to provide assistance and information about their systems.  The software vendor will provide support during your implementation but remember this is your system and your business and the responsibility for a successful implementation is ultimately yours.

Conference Room Pilot

Demos are… well, demos.  Many things that look very slick in a demo may not be as cool or as easy to use as the demo made it look.  The ability to actually use the system and enter transactions exactly like those your business conducts on a day-to-day basis is very valuable.  This can be done using a conference room pilot.  A conference room pilot is to simulate what you will be doing when you go live.  It is a great opportunity to find issues prior to going live.  You will more than likely find quite a few issues during the first pilot that you will need to address and then pilot again.  This will entail the use of a training or test database loaded with some of your company’s actual data; customer records, item records, etc. and several work stations set up in a conference room environment.  Using this subset of your data, people will be able to use the new system to learn and practice on the new system.  The value in training your personnel and obtaining familiarity with the new system are immeasurable.  It will be necessary for employees set aside some time to use the conference room pilot setup and become acquainted with how their duties will be done in the new system.  It is highly recommended that at least one person from each branch be brought to this conference room pilot experience.  This person or persons should fill the role of champion of the new system at the branch; the first level of support when branch personnel have questions about the new system.  As the go live day approaches everyone, from front office to warehouse, should be given the opportunity to experience the new system.  Receiving and delivery people should become familiar with the new forms and processes as well as salespeople becoming familiar with order entry and looking up inventory availability.  At the branch location this may not be possible in the conference room pilot but as part of the branch implementation training, sessions should be held for branch personnel to allow them a similar look and experience with the new system.  Formal, detailed training by the person in the branch trained in the conference room pilot to be a trainer and/or by the implementation team should take place for each department.  It is usually a good idea to implement your best branch first.  Because they are good at using the existing system effectively, they have the best chance at the smoothest implementation.  Remember, it much better to experience an issue in test than it is to find it once you are live.

Parallel

In my experience I have found it beneficial to run both systems simultaneously for about a week (that’s about all people can normally stand).  This requires the use of a training or test database for the new system.  In this process business is carried on in the old system in the normal fashion and every transaction is entered again in the new system.  This requires double work, which is a whole lot of work.  But the benefits of actually using the system in a near real-work environment and the ability to see the results and look at reports in the new system are quite beneficial.  This can be done in a conference room pilot scenario as well.  If you determine that running a full-scale parallel scenario cannot be done, then you can do a partial parallel in a conference room pilot setup.  Many questions of the real world will arise that were not anticipated in the conference room pilot.  The ability to confirm the Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, General Ledger and inventory balances will add a lot of confidence when going live on the new system.

Phasing In

To lessen the impact of the implementation, it is possible to phase in certain functions over time rather than all at once.  Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable and the General Ledger are often easily implemented ahead of the Sales Order Processing, Purchasing and Inventory modules.  For example, because the customer files and open invoices are going to be converted from the old system to the new system, this could be an on-going process prior to the implementation of other modules.  The same holds true for vendor files and Accounts Payable invoices.  If the A/P function is integrated with the receiving process and unit inventory and cost, the situation is more complex.  For General Ledger transactions, if the detailed ledger transactions can be converted, this dimension can be phased as well.  When dealing with multiple locations or branches it may be possible to convert a few of them at a time.  It will probably be easier to implement your best remote operations first.

For any area that you are moving from your old system to your new system, the less open transactions that you have to bring over the better.  For example, if you can pay as many outstanding invoices as you can, then there will be less open transactions that have to be converted to the new database and system.

Summary

It helps to look at the implementation project as a series of smaller projects.  Even though the project really never ends as your company and the system grow and evolve together it is helpful to establish some metrics.  Have the objectives been achieved?  This requires specifically defined objectives and a determined method of measurement.  It’s a good idea going into the project to give this some thought.  Your implementation will be successful if you can instill and maintain the enthusiasm of your users and continue knowledge transfer and end-user training.

Celebrate the small achievements!


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