Best Practices for Successful ERP System Deployments

Over the last two decades, the ERP market has grown from strength to strength, and the ERP system has almost become an integral part of any enterprise worth its salt. Analyst reports suggest that the ERP market is currently about $40 billion in total revenue, consistently ranks among the top IT spending priorities for enterprises, and is expected to grow to more than $50 billion by 2013.

ERP deployments with Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and others are not seen as mere IT initiatives; they are considered strategic levers to leapfrog the competition by enabling integration, standardization and improvement of business operations across the enterprise.

Yet many analysts indicate that a rising number of ERP deployments are failing to achieve their stated objectives. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), nearly 70 percent of all ERP deployment projects fail, are late or go over-budget. Panorama Consulting, in its “2010 ERP Report,” found that 57 percent of such projects take longer than planned; 54 percent go over-budget; and 41 percent fail to realize at least half the expected business benefits.

Any ERP deployment failure hurts the enterprise deeply as these are long-gestation, high-TCO (total cost of ownership) initiatives that impact multiple stakeholders. The biggest challenge for executives heading an ERP project is to determine how to keep the deployment simple and aligned to its goals and objectives.

Challenges in ERP Deployments

Enterprise resource planning system deployments are large in scope and complex by their nature compared to any other IT program. They have budgets in the millions of dollars and typically impact nearly the entire user community. Inevitably, they touch the core business of the enterprise and typically trigger process- and operation-level changes across business divisions.

ERP applications also end up having myriad integrations with satellite applications, data warehouses and external systems, resulting in complex technology architectures and dependencies. They become further complicated by the fact that they often stretch over a long period of time. These complexities pose many new challenges and also put a strain on the enterprise’s overall budget and day-to-day business and IT operations.

These various challenges can be classified across the three broad dimensions that lead to ERP deployment complexities: Organization/Business, Technology/Product and Deployment Type/Scope.

Carrying out any ERP initiative successfully requires striking a balance among the above-mentioned dimensions. These dimensions, comprising strategic as well as tactical approaches, are not independent of each other; rather, they influence each other in almost every phase. Following are key success factors and best practices for ERP deployments, grouped around these dimensions.

Organization/Business Considerations

Thorough and Continued Business Ownership and Stakeholder Management — ERP deployments need to be owned and sponsored by senior business leadership. Key business users, as well as managers, must be galvanized around the entire effort. This involvement at all stages of the program ensures that change is managed at all levels and percolated through the right channels and sources. The changes to business processes and operations should be clearly documented and explained.

Upfront Definition of ERP Success Criteria — It’s highly recommended that while developing the business case for the ERP program, enterprises must clearly document the ERP success criteria, the process by which those criteria are to be measured, and the applicable metrics. These criteria should be a combination of business metrics, IT and employee metrics, and they also should not be entirely internal-centric, that is, they should also “bake in” customer and supplier satisfaction. This helps the deployment team to remain focused during ERP execution.

Comprehensive End User Training and Ensuring Continued Use — ERP applications are typically pretty sophisticated and can overwhelm business users to the point of inspiring a phobia. Thus user training has to be contextualized and comprehensive for each and every user group to increase their system adoption and continued use. Training sessions should be planned and executed with user input at all times. And training must be repeated and should include hands-on testing as well for the learning to really sink in.

Avoid ERP Deployment in Parallel to Enterprise Major Re-org or Business Event — Even though any ERP deployment can be managed in parallel to a major re-organization through appropriate change management, doing so increases the risks associated with the deployment due to the uncertain business environment and the availability of key users and managers.

Technology/Product Considerations

Diligent Selection of the ERP Product and Systems Integrator (SI) — Enough due diligence must be done while selecting the ERP product and the ERP SI, even it if means a delay in launching the ERP deployment. Short-term goals as well as long-term objectives must be kept in mind while selecting the ERP product. And sufficient time must be spent with the SI in the ERP proof of concept and selection phase before awarding the contract to the SI.

Proof of Concept (POC)-driven, Robust Enterprise IT Architecture — ERP deployments typically lend themselves to highly sophisticated IT architecture and middleware. Due to the widespread use of ERP and comparison with legacy applications, system performance also becomes key for user satisfaction. The ERP IT team must do a detailed POC before finalizing the IT architecture so it can scale up as time passes and data volumes grow.

Minimizing Customization of ERP Out-of-the-box Functionalities — The true advantages of using a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), packaged application like an ERP system will accrue only if the enterprise keeps any customizations to a minimum and leverages the embedded out-of-the-box functionalities provided by the ERP. Customizing an ERP application introduces instability into the application — something that even the ERP product vendor will not own up to. ERP applications require frequent patching and regular upgrades, a process that can become more complex when customizations have been made to the system.

Reporting Cannot Be a Second Thought or an After-deployment Phenomenon — Even the best ERP system deployment will be considered a failure if the system does not provide all the necessary reports to business users. Always plan ahead for how critical reports are to be delivered to business users.

Deployment Type/Scope Considerations

Manage Risk and Cost Using the Appropriate ERP Deployment Approach — Any ERP deployment timelines, budget, risk and comprehensiveness are dictated by the type and nature of the implementation approach selected. Before initiating any ERP program, the enterprise has to choose among various critical options for how to approach the implementation: “big-bang” versus “region-based phased rollouts,” geographies to be grouped together, “single instance” versus “hub-and-spoke” instance model, “full-cycle implementation” versus “solution rollouts,” and so on. The company must evaluate these options in the context of its scale of business revenue, number of users and their demographics, in-scope geographies and languages, allocated budgets and desired timelines for planned ERP deployment, and then select the most appropriate option.

Adequate Due Diligence while ERP Program Scoping, Sizing and Resource Planning — Before taking the final plunge and getting into the nuts and bolts of an ERP deployment, the ERP team should do careful and detailed phase-by-phase project and resource planning for all the groups from the organization, system integrators and B2B trading partners affected or involved in the project. Various dimensions of the scope of work should be detailed out, such as geographical coverage, process coverage, user base, lines of business, etc. The deployment methodology should have clear entry and exit criteria for each phase of execution.

Well Thought-out and Well-rehearsed Mock Conversions and Cutover Planning — There is no better recipe for success than continued practice. Rich data quality and complete data conversion, minimum business downtime and smooth transition to a new ERP system are the hallmarks of successful ERP execution. Thus the ERP deployment project managers need to plan for multiple mock runs for data conversions and cutover, with the minutest of activities and dependencies documented and rehearsed.