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A 5-step guide to enterprise resource planning implementation

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation is a complicated process that requires careful planning and strategy. Integrating front and back-end systems and processes into a shared platform can take anywhere from six months to two years to complete. Multiple factors—such as the size of your organization, how complicated your current setup is, the number of users, and the transfer of data from legacy systems—contribute to the duration and expense of the process.

Although changes and adaptations will be required along the way, putting together an ERP project plan prior to your deployment is an important part of preparing for a successful implementation. In this guide, you’ll learn how to understand the process in steps and get tips to make the process smoother and more successful.

Step one: Preparation and planning

Assemble a team of first-line and management employees from every department to develop and execute your ERP project plan. A wide range of expertise on this team will give you crucial perspective into how system and process changes will affect day-to-day operations.

The first step for this new project team is to evaluate current business practices to identify which processes can be improved or automated by the new ERP system. Triage these processes in order of priority and use this evaluation to help you strategize and determine the goals and scope of the implementation.

Tip: Study ERP system examples from comparable organizations to get a feel for what works best in your industry.

Step two: Procedure review

Have the project team conduct an extensive review of the features and capabilities of your new ERP software. The purpose of this review is twofold:

  • For the project team to familiarize themselves with every aspect of the new ERP solution and identify proficiencies and skill gaps before the wider rollout. This experience will guide training
  • To verify which manual processes will be automated by the new system and ensure that necessary modifications are made prior to rollout so that automation proceeds smoothly.

Tip: Conduct interviews with key employees from each department to get firsthand insights into how current processes work together and how those processes can most effectively be automated.

Step three: Data preparation

Define which of your existing data will need to be converted to the new system, and then analyze it to weed out useless or outdated information. If possible, locate source documents to verify data accuracy and completeness. A little housekeeping at this stage goes a long way because an ERP system is only as useful as its data. If your data is clogged with inaccurate information, the value provided by your new ERP will be negatively impacted.

Once data has been checked and cleaned, create spreadsheets to collect and segment useful data into logical tables to streamline conversion to the new system.

Tip: Set realistic expectations for the process with everyone from executive leadership to first-line employees, and keep communication open about how it’s going. This will help alleviate anxieties about the change to tools and processes and promote adoption of the new software post-launch.

Step four: Testing and training

Have the project team practice with a test database populated with a full week of real transaction data to validate system output, test accuracy, and ensure that integrations and interfaces work properly. In addition to testing the new system, this hands-on experience with the new software can be used to help the project team create cheat sheets and process documentation for company-wide training.

The ideal training methodology varies by workforce. Factors such as how much time your employees can devote to training and where they’re located will guide you as to whether in-person training, e-learning, or a combination of both will work best.

Regardless of which training method you choose, use these suggestions to make the process more effective for everyone involved:

  • Train tech-savvy staff members as ERP software superusers so that they can help with low-level user issues and free your IT department to address larger issues.
  • Gamify parts of the training process to boost engagement and encourage friendly competition amongst colleagues.
  • Offer incentives to complete training on time. A combination of small perks, such as free food or an extra hour for lunch, and large perks, such as cash bonuses or extra days off, can be an effective way to motivate employees and make the process fun.

Tip: Turn cheat sheets and process documentation into standard operating procedures that can be accessed by the entire organization and updated regularly.

Step five: Rollout and evaluation

Put together a go-live checklist for the days and weeks following implementation to make sure the following necessities are ready to go:

  • System testing post-go-live.
  • Schedule and budget for staff overtime or temporary staff.
  • Communication protocols for system downtime.
  • Network speed and reliability checks.
  • Data backup processes.

The day of rollout, plan on a lot of questions and be prepared for some hiccups. Make sure your project team is prepared to lead their departments through the process, and that your IT team is ready to make changes and adjustments as needed. ERP implementation is a lot of work, but the benefits to productivity and profitability are well worth it.

After rollout, evaluate your ERP solution’s output against the goals and objectives your project team set during the planning stage. Is your new system accomplishing those goals? Is it successfully automating manual processes the way it should? If not, additional alterations and refinements are needed.

Tip: Perform periodic audits to compare ERP solution output to benchmarks to determine whether the solution is adding value.

Save time, money, and frustration by hiring a solution provider

Bringing a solution provider onboard at the beginning of your ERP implementation can increase your chances of success and help you avoid common pitfalls and mistakes. Solution providers manage the purchase, deployment, and initial configuration of ERP solutions, and many of them specialize in specific products. For example, Microsoft certified partners specialize in Microsoft products and have certified skill in deploying Microsoft solutions. This means they bring proven competency and experience to implementations.

If you have room in your budget, a faster, easier deployment is often worth the additional expense of hiring an expert to guide the process.

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