Practical steps and pragmatic phases – taking the terror out of ERP
If you have made the smart decision to implement a cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution, you’re already on the right path to a more efficient and therefore profitable business.
However, if you haven’t yet selected a software partner, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of overhauling all your systems, also wary of any disruption this may cause to day-to-day activities.
In this guest article, Ian Robertson, Sales and Marketing Director of BrightBridge, discusses practical steps you can take towards making smarter decisions on Enterprise Resource Planning.
A company with expertise in your sector should take much of the hassle away and follow a structured path with phases of analysis, design, system build, enabling you and your staff through training, supporting the go-live, and providing a period of hyper-care in the weeks after.
It’s also key for you to know that the beauty of implementing ERP software is that you can take a phased approach, introducing the back-office fundamentals first. When you feel the business is in the right place, you can then progress to maximising the ERP solution’s functionality further to drive increased efficiencies, give an even clearer and more detailed picture of the future, and facilitate growth.
The clear trends for 2023 are focusing on financials and forecasting (thus alleviating financial teams of manually intensive processes), improving cash flow (by having the right amount of stock at the right time), and driving growth that doesn’t require a headcount increase (thanks to clever integration, automation and AI).
Plus, financial software big-hitter Sage has two products coming to the end of their lifecycles, so the scramble to migrate to another system is on – the risks of using out-of-development and supported architecture are huge.
One last note before I get stuck in, there’s still time to capitalise on the tax super-deduction introduced by the government in 2021. The cost of ERP software purchased and implemented (including consultancy fees) until 31 March 2023 translates to a 25% reduction.
Or if you’d rather spread the cost over a longer period, many solution partners have finance options where service fees can be added to monthly product subscription charges (like us!).
So, if you’re feeling cautious and haven’t started discussions with a solution design and delivery partner yet, the first stage is:
Establish the basics
This is all about making sure a business has a single view of customers, orders, items, and inventory, including the history stored in previous software. Ensuring all fundamental business functions are operating from a unified base is the critical foundation and has been proven to positively impact gross margins by up to five percent.
Here’s what to expect from a practical point of view, and how the software experts you select will take the stress away:
Even if you have the most detailed brief and robust aims, we don’t know what we don’t know and that’s why the business discovery and analysis period, reaching every corner of your business, is crucial. A software expert will speak to your teams, ask questions, understand current processes, and will find solutions for problems you didn’t even know were issues.
They should have significant past project knowledge, understand the out-of-the-box solution like the back of their hand and know the range of additional apps available. For those tricky areas that simply cannot be tick-boxed, your partner should be able to make anything happen by developing a customised script for it; for example your bespoke distribution needs.
Your partner will propose a number of changes such as new data fields, processes, and where activities could be automated, all to facilitate a single software structure that makes life simple for every member of staff. Part of the ERP architecture design is all about setting parameters, whether that’s relating to quality assurance processes, who has access to which data, inventory levels, processing orders, or communicating with customers.
Your implementation partner will evaluate and design workflows and rules across each task in each department to meet your goals and hopefully exceed your expectations.
All existing operational data will be gathered (at any phase) – such as financials, customer details, stock, payroll, order processing – and integrated into the new system. With most solutions, any siloed software integral to the business can be integrated through an API – for example, Jitterbit works as a seamless link between NetSuite or Microsoft Dynamics 365 and ANY other piece of software – so nothing should be left behind, unless it’s specifically scheduled for a later project phase.
As the system is built, it will go back and forth between development, training, testing, and back to development in an agile / waterfall hybrid approach, so all the key players in your business can get hands on and tease out any irks and further areas where efficiencies can be found. Training throughout the company is vital for team buy-in and a smooth transition, or often with larger companies, an internal training team is trained by the software partner.
Leaders and senior management will also have the opportunity to get under the skin of the dashboards as these are the portals into the business’ one big truth and inform smart, real-time When live and with the right permissions, any team member can view snapshots or a deep dive into granular detail, from anywhere, on any device with an internet connection.
When the design has been executed to perfection it will be time to integrate the very last of the data of that day – often go-live happens after business hours on a Friday so that it’s business as usual on Monday morning. However, you shouldn’t just expect your software delivery partner to be on hand, they should be there with hyper-care. In the first couple of weeks, it’s absolutely normal for people to get lost down a screen rabbit hole, forget which button to press, or complete fields incorrectly, which results in the next process step getting stuck… and nobody knows why.
Glitches happen, but with an enhanced support period there’s never any need to panic as your partner will know the answer to every query and tie up any snag. After working on hundreds of go-lives I assure you that within a month you’ll be kicking yourself for not making the switch to a cloud ERP system sooner!
An ERP solution should enable you to streamline your financials, monitor stock coming and going, forecast future customer behaviour, and keep out-in-the-field members of your team connected to everything they might need. But revolution is often a gradual process.
You can achieve everything and more through a strategic and phased pathway which ensures the business won’t be disrupted, staff won’t be overwhelmed, and you don’t have to be concerned about a vast investment in one go.
Different modules and functions can be added as the journey evolves, and though each project is bespoke, here are some example stages:
Elevate your view
Once phase one is complete and when you’re ready, you can add more management modules into your cloud ERP framework, for example, people and payroll, warehouse and quality, and supply chain and asset management.
Expand your business
Having established the first two important steps, you are then free to look forward and delve into more exhaustive business insights, planning, forecasting, and budgeting. At the same time, if you have projects on the go – for example product development – or have areas of intricate production, the management of those can brought into the cloud ERP architecture.
The savviest of businesses sell across different channels, from direct to multiple vendors to wholesale, so it’s natural you may need to bring omnichannel commerce into the system next and really understand where and what brings in the most revenue. Warehouse and shop floor automation is another key area where an efficiency boost leads to growth.
Dominate your sector
The future already looks bright, but you’re ready to pursue more innovative and disruptive strategies to help you stand out from competitors. Maybe you will expand overseas and integrate a new subsidiary or a manufacturer could offer in-the-field installation, repairs, and services, perhaps for new products. At this phase you can make the most of the very latest in technology and get smart with AI and the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).
An ERP solution can save, and even make companies money in numerous ways – by minimising hands-on time spent managing inventory and operations and by providing intuitive tools to analyse data in order to maximise existing and future sales.
What any business needs to consider when starting out their digital journey, is that a ‘one size fits all’ ERP solution, integrated throughout the whole business overnight is not usually the answer. An ERP project should be designed to benefit a business in line with its position in its landscape and its goals, working as a facilitator to fuel efficiencies and boost productivity.
Whether the phases are planned from the initial discovery and analysis or more gradually as the business grows and evolves, taking a step-by-step approach to integration and optimisation is the key to making the process less scary and more successful.