ARTICLE TABLE OF CONTENTS
This is the definitive guide to ERP implementation methodology & strategy basics.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- What ERP implementation means
- How to get started with ERP implementation
- Benefits of ERP implementation
- ERP implementation strategy basics step-by-step
- Lots more
Let’s get started!
ERP Software vs. ERP Implementation
It’s one thing to find the right enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to organize and manage your business’s day-to-day activities. It’s another thing entirely to install and implement that software, transfer or import your customer data, configure your users, set up your preferences, and train your workforce to actually use the ERP software.
Far too often business leaders rush their ERP implementation and wind up having to overhaul their ERP system all over again a couple of years later. Don’t fall into this cycle. Instead, take time to plan your ERP implementation methodology and ensure that you migrate your ERP data into a new system that works for, not against, your team.
How you implement your ERP software is just as important as finding the right software.
Including in relation to your ERP implementation budget; you can see below that on average, more than 50% of ERP implementation projects overrun the planned costs:
Fortunately, implementing ERP software doesn’t have to be difficult.
In this guide, you’ll be walked through the process of setting up and implementing an ERP system to improve your business’s organizational efficiency without causing any headaches or hassles.
Getting Started With ERP Implementation
It’s no secret that an effective ERP software system can make a significant impact on your business’s efficiency and growth.
In fact, a 2019 study by Panorama Consulting Group found that 95% of business owners reported improvements in operational processes after adopting an ERP system.
However, the same Panorama study also found that a whopping 91% of businesses that implement ERP software don’t end up seeing the full benefits of their system. This points to a fundamental problem plaguing ERP systems:
They are underutilized due to poor or rushed implementation that falls short of full digital transformation.
And that’s exactly what a properly-implemented ERP system should do—achieve full-scale digital transformation by streamlining and harmonizing all various front-end and back-office business processes under one system.
For an ERP software system to reach its full potential, however, users must take the time to familiarize themselves with the functions that their ERP solutions offer and carve out sufficient time to integrate them into their company.
The Benefits of ERP Systems: What’s There To Gain?
For larger companies, it may take weeks or even months to fully integrate a new ERP system. This is why many business leaders give up halfway through their implementation process and are left with poorly configured software that, sooner than later, will need to be replaced. It’s a story we’ve heard a million times that afflicts both bustling Fortune 500 enterprises and lively small businesses.
To commit fully to an ERP implementation, it’s important that business leaders remain mindful of the larger picture.
There are many benefits that come with adopting a full-scale ERP implementation, including:
Data Visibility & Accessibility
Data from every department becomes accessible and retrievable by management, making monitoring and inter-department communications simpler and more efficient.
Advanced analytics and reporting features come standard in most ERP systems, providing your business with a single database from which to source financial reports such as income statements and cash flow statements.
Manual processes are eliminated via ERP automation, freeing up time to focus on tasks and priority objectives that affect your bottom line.
Streamlined Customer Service
Having a centralized customer database makes it easier to track and profile customer retention and acquisition data and helps advance marketing and customer outreach efforts.
Reduces IT Costs
Managing multiple systems requires more dedicated and time-intensive IT oversight, whereas a single ERP system centralizes your IT processes and reduces the amount of required oversight and maintenance.
Creating a Multi-Stage ERP Implementation Strategy
Implementing an ERP system is a labor-intensive task that should be taken seriously by senior management.
Adopting an ERP is neither the sole responsibility of the executive suite nor the IT department. Rather, implementing an ERP system is a combined effort from key personnel between multiple departments and levels of authority.
Are you ready to get started designing and carrying out an ERP implementation strategy?
To guide you through the process, we’ve put together a list below of ERP implementation steps that streamline the process from start to finish:
- Step 1: Build Your Team
- Step 2: Delegate and Plan
- Step 3: Budgeting and Cost Forecasting
- Step 4: Data Migration
- Step 5: Start Briefing and Training
- Step 6: Testing and Going Live
- Step 7: Evaluating Your ERP Implementation Success
Let’s kick things off with step #1:
Step 1: Build Your Team
An effective ERP implementation plan is one that incorporates various senior personnel from all departments and teams within your organization.
ERP systems affect virtually all aspects of your business’s operations, from human resources (HR) to finance, accounting, IT, marketing, legal, and sales teams.
Your ERP implementation team should be headed by a Steering Committee composed of divisional or departmental leaders that can offer critical input on planning.
Therefore, a large-scale enterprise with multiple international offices would do well to create an ERP Implementation Steering Committee made up of the following personnel:
- CEO (Chief Executive Officer) or Executive VP
- COO (Chief Operating Officer)
- CFO (Chief Financial Officer)
- Director of Sale or Marketing
- Director of Finance
- 2 Executive VPs (Vice Presidents) (off-site)
- 2 Directors of Production (off-site)
Of course, the size and scale of your Steering Committee should be adjusted according to the size of your firm. From there, you can build an ERP Implementation Group that removes the CEO and C-Suite executives from the process but includes third-party consultants, external partners, and in-house IT professionals.
Keep Your Implementation Group Diverse
You should never leave your ERP Implementation Group to senior management and the IT department. If you do, you might end up brewing resentment within the workplace because your employees may find that the IT department is “telling them what to do” which can kill morale and make it appear as if the implementation process is being imposed on them from the top down.
Your goal should be to keep the implementation process as inclusive and all-encompassing as possible by soliciting input from all levels, departments, and stakeholders.
For instance, a well-composed Implementation Group is one that includes shop floor workers, warehouse staff, engineers, financial officers, as well as senior management.
Considering Hiring an ERP Consultant
Unless your Steering Committee or Implementation Group contains professionals well-versed and experienced in ERP implementation best practices, then you should consider seeking out the services of an ERP consultant.
Although an ERP consultant can drive up your total ERP implementation cost, the peace of mind is well worth the price if you have the resources.
Plus, having an external ERP implementation consultant available will free up your senior management to focus on mission-critical tasks and day-to-day business operations. Therefore, what you might spend on a senior consultant might be offset by a more efficient and productive workforce that can keep focused on their comparative advantage.
Having a veteran ERP professional on hand, however, will almost certainly speed up the implementation process.
ERP consultants have overseen many system implementation processes from end-to-end, so they know what to avoid and how to resolve errors or mistakes as soon as they arise.
Often, the result is an implementation process that is weeks or even months faster than it otherwise would be without them.
Step 2: Delegate and Plan
The critical second step in any successful ERP implementation plan is to break the migration and adoption process into sizable steps that can be delegated to various sub-teams or departments.
At this stage, it’s equally important that you select a collaboration tool to keep communications and progress checkpoints in a central and easily accessible hub—for many, Google Sheets and other GSuite tools get the job done just fine.
Keep in mind that one of your core tasks is to effectively “sell” the ERP migration process to senior management, a tight-fisted accounts department, or external stakeholders. To do this, you must be able to demonstrate that the migration plan will ultimately bear fruit for the company.
It’s critical, then, that administrative staff develops and clearly communicates the strategic and tactical business cases for adopting an ERP system.
Further, they should also determine what system requirements are necessary to carry out the ERP implementation, develop a comprehensive and accurate project budget, and get senior management to sign-off on all aspects of the ERP implementation methodology.
Next, it’s time to let the rubber hit the road by assessing how familiar or how well-suited your workforce is for an ERP system adoption.
Running an employee survey or questionnaire can help determine whether your workforce is resistant to systemic change, or whether they are eager to implement an ERP system.
The more your workforce is open to embracing change, the speedier and less costly the implementation phase will be.
Once the initial screening is complete, you can go ahead and devise custom training materials for each divisional team within your company.
As future end-users, it’s imperative that your team is caught up to speed early on with the ERP system of your choosing. They should know months before the system goes live, what the name, look, and feel of the new system is and how it will impact their day-to-day workflow.
Step 3: Budgeting and Cost Forecasting
It’s a little unsurprising that ERP implementation costs often run over budget.
ERP implementations or migrations are long-term projects that incorporate all the departments and teams within an organization. As such, it’s no easy feat to predict and accurately forecast what each phase of the implementation strategy will cost.
Nonetheless, there’s no reason why your business should join the 21% of companies whose ERP implementation plans run over budget by 26% or more.
While cost overruns are somewhat normal in ERP implementations, going over by such a wide margin can put a serious dent in your company’s bottom line.
Defining Your Cost Estimates
Budgeting is one of the trickiest pre-implementation tasks because it’s challenging to predict what events might transpire during the course of an ERP implementation.
To be on the safe side, it’s wise to err on the higher end of any cost estimates—pitching an inflated project budget is less of a headache than justifying an over-budget project.
As a rule of thumb, most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) would do well to allocate between 1-1.5% of their annual gross revenue to their ERP implementation. This figure will help cover a variety of costs associated with an ERP implementation, including:
- ERP software costs and licensing
- Human resources and consultancy fees
- Infrastructure upgrades
- Overtime pay
Among the line-items listed above, the most commonly overlooked is the last one—overtime pay.
Implementing an ERP system requires longer hours from your employees and often results in delays and setbacks to other aspects of your business.
You can avoid getting caught off-guard by overtime wages by apportioning roughly 10% of your implementation budget to overtime pay.
Budget For Productivity Loss
Even with the assistance of external ERP consultants and implementation experts, your staff is inevitably going to suffer from productivity loss in their day-to-day responsibilities.
Over the course of the implementation process, your employees will have to be taken away from their core duties to learn how to use the new ERP system.
Business leaders should prepare for dips in productivity during the adoption and training phase of an ERP implementation.
For the period that your employees are undergoing training for the new ERP system, you should expect projects to take roughly 15-20% longer than they would under normal circumstances. This rule also applies over the first few weeks in which the ERP system is live and operational.
Draft Your Per-User Budget
What you pay for your ERP implementation largely depends on the software you decide to use. The per-user cost of ERP systems varies widely by software product as well as product type—that is, whether it’s an on-premise solution or a software as a service (SaaS) product.
To get a general idea of what you will pay for an ERP solution per user, you can refer to this 2019 ERP report which analyzed 2,000 ERP projects over a five-year period.
The report found that the per-user cost of an ERP system was dependent on the number of employees. Specifically, their findings were as follows:
- 0-49 employees: $7,143
- 50-249 employees: $8,542
- 250+ employees: $7,257
From the above data, you can infer that mid-sized companies with fewer than 250 employees pay the highest per-user cost for an ERP system at $8,542. But don’t bust out a calculator and multiply that figure by your total number of employees just yet.
On average, only about 35% of a company’s workforce will be a registered ERP system user.
With this in mind, let’s draft a tentative per-user budget for a hypothetical company of 300 employees. This company can expect an average per-user cost of $7,257 with roughly 105 users on the system. Therefore, you can estimate an ERP implementation cost of $761,985 based on their number of employees registered as users.
Step 4: Data Migration
To this point, you’ve struck a Steering Committee that has identified the right ERP solution for your business and its unique needs.
You’ve also drafted a budget, forecasted productivity losses, and organized an inter-departmental Implementation Group to carry out the footwork necessary for a successful implementation within every level of your organization.
Now, you can get started working on the meat and potatoes of your ERP implementation—migrating data.
Your company’s IT department will mostly oversee this part of the implementation plan, but it’s important that other organizational leaders are available to assist with tasks such as:
- Data verification
- Assigning legacy data to new fields
- Testing legacy data
- Verifying new data
- Setting up new database
Data Migration: A Make-or-Break Project
Ultimately, data migration is one of the most important aspects of a successful ERP implementation. It’s also one of the most challenging implementation phases. If your organization fails to effectively migrate your customer or supply chain data to your new ERP system, the results can be catastrophic.
For a good example of a data migration done poorly, look no further than Target:
When Target launched its expansion into Canada in 2013, they manually ported over critical data from their in-house ERP system in the US to their new Canadian ERP software in Canada.
However, much of the data received by the new system was incomplete, missing critical information such as pricing details, product dimensions, supply chain contacts, and much more.
Target Canada’s lack of key data resulted in supply chain delays and inaccurate product listings. Within two years, Target Canada shuttered the doors of all 133 stores and filed for bankruptcy.
The example of Target Canada proves the importance of successfully migrating data from an old ERP system to a new one.
Run a Data Inspection
Your ERP software will allow you to view your legacy data that you want to import into the new system. Here you can inspect your data before you import it.
To avoid winding up like Target Canada, don’t treat this step like an optional suggestion. Instead, dedicate key members of your Implementation Group to thoroughly inspect all data fields.
Don’t know where to start? Below, we’ve listed the basic steps involved in running a data inspection. However, your mileage may vary depending on the type of ERP software you choose and whether it’s an on-premise or SaaS solution.
- Pull up your data: Most ERP platforms allow users to view their legacy data in a list format during the initialization stage.
- Determine completeness: Eliminate any fields that are unnecessary, empty, or sparsely filled out; where there are gaps and omissions, correct them.
- Check formatting: Go through each data field and ensure that they abide by consistent formatting and styling (e.g., don’t use UK, Britain, England, or U.K. to refer to the United Kingdom).
- Remove duplicates: Your overarching goal is to import the cleanest and most reliable data possible, which means duplicate or redundant data should be left out.
- Look for new fields: Your new ERP system may ask for new data fields that your old software didn’t. Check for new mandatory fields, fill them in wherever possible, and format your data so that it’s easily retrievable within the new ERP program.
Be Critical With Your Data
There’s no reason why you should import obsolete or irrelevant data that provides nothing of value to your team.
You should be skeptical of any ERP system calls for a blanket import of all of your existing data. Before importing your data, you should first ask yourself this series of questions:
- Is this already retrievable in a more intuitive location elsewhere?
- How often is this information used?
- Once this data is populated, how often is it referenced?
- Does this data add any value to our team?
- Is this data worth archiving for future records?
Running through the checklist above might provide you with insight regarding whether to keep or cut some of your company’s data before porting it over to the new system.
Bring Key Stakeholders on Board
Migrating enterprise data, especially when done manually, can take an enormous amount of time. In many cases importing ERP data takes longer than any other aspect of an ERP implementation process.
To expedite the process, you should never leave data migration exclusively in the hands of senior management or high-level IT personnel.
Data migration should be a full team effort. Appoint those most familiar with each type of data to inspect it and verify its completeness and accuracy.
For instance, select an employee from the accounting department to inspect data on capital assets and someone from the sales team to review customer acquisition data. Since they work with this data every day, they’re the ones best suited to determine its relevance and accuracy.
Import and Test Your Data
How you import the data from the source system to the new ERP program will depend on the software you’ve selected.
However, the leading on-premise and SaaS ERP solutions are relatively standardized in that they require administrators to extract, transform, and load ERP data in CSV format.
Regardless of the type of data you have on file, your ERP software will convert (“transform”) the data into the CSV file type.
Don’t be surprised if your ERP program asks you to rank-order the various data fields you want to import. Although some ERP systems have automated these processes, some will require you to select root fields from which other data fields are dependent.
For example, your ERP will want you to import your customer names before importing invoices because otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to assign an owner to the invoice.
Start Early and Keep It Clean
In our books, there are two fundamental principles about ERP data migration.
First, you’ve got to start early if you want to finish on time.
Second, you’ve got to keep the data clean so that you don’t end up in the same predicament you were in when you ditched your last ERP system.
Don’t let all of your cleaning and inspecting efforts go to waste.
Once you’ve eliminated obsolete data fields or removed redundancies from your profiles, don’t continue to collect them.
Permanently close all fields that are no longer necessary for your business, and document all changes you make.
Now that you’ve imported your data to the new ERP system, ensure that every field is properly labeled and the value of each data entry is defined.
The last thing you want to happen after taking the time and effort to migrate ERP data is to go back and relabel and reinspect everything after its imported.
Any structural changes made to your ERP database must be recorded and approved by senior management before being executed.
Step 5: Start Briefing and Training
After importing and testing the data received by your new ERP system, you can begin on the long road to adoption. This starts, of course, with training your employees on how to use the system and how to reduce slowdowns and support queries during the early days of its operation.
Although training sessions may cut into short-term productivity, they will pay dividends in the long-run by reducing the number of project delays and slowdowns caused by confused employees.
Fortunately, not every training session has to take the form of a group seminar or lecture. Although these training sessions are effective, they’re costly and they require entire teams to put a hold on their core work until the training is finished.
To prevent costly delays and setbacks, you can mandate e-learning sessions into your ERP training protocol.
The Benefits of E(RP)-Learning
Whereas in-person group training sessions are difficult to coordinate, e-learning is completed online and can be personalized to specific teams or individuals.
Leveraging e-learning can result in an easier ERP training coordination process and employees can be encouraged to take it at their own pace while they complete their regular work.
The bottom line is that e-learning is more cost-effective than traditional classroom training sessions.
Classroom training on the job is notoriously wasteful, which is backed up by a 2016 report by Training Magazine indicates that switching to e-learning can save companies 80% on printing costs alone.
By some estimates, e-learning training sessions reduce employee learning time by over 50% compared to classroom learning. Therefore, what would otherwise require a month’s worth of in-person training would only take a workforce two weeks to learn via e-learning.
The benefits of e-learning for ERP don’t stop there, either—here are a few other compelling reasons for providing ERP training via e-learning:
- Provides a recurring reference for employees: Employees can enter the e-learning system to refer to previously learned material while on the job.
- Reduces risks and employee intimidation: Online training provides a fail-safe environment in which your employees can make mistakes without humiliation.
- On-to-go accessibility: Remote or on-site workers can access an e-learning suite without having to be physically present at your offices.
- Better memory retention: Interactivity and gamification boost employee engagement during the learning process and are more conducive to long-term memory retention.
- Offers greater flexibility: The flexibility and 24/7 availability of e-learning ensures that anyone can engage with the content.
- Ensures inter-team consistency: Standardized e-learning sessions guarantee that consistent training material is provided to every trainee.
Tips for Better In-Person Training Engagement
Not everything can or should be taught through a screen. Instructor-led training, for some, can be more engaging and can eschew the flashy graphics, animations, and distractions of e-learning that some learners might find annoying.
Below, we’ve listed a few of the ways that you can enhance your team’s learning experience via instructor-led training.
- Allow employees to learn from each other: A classroom environment invites your team members to ask each other questions and collaborate to find solutions. In the process, they build rapport and trust in one another.
- Build role-play situations: Have one of your team members pretend to be a customer asking a question about a particular product, and have another use the ERP system to identify the solution to their partner’s question.
- Invite learners to ask questions: One of the key benefits of instructor-led ERP training is that it provides an opportunity for your employees to ask questions and establish clarity before moving forward.
- Make it flexible: If possible, allow employees to choose which training session they would like to attend and have them register beforehand to ensure that the class doesn’t overflow. That way, your employees don’t have to be overburdened with a training session during their peak work hours.
Blended Learning: The Best ERP Training Approach
For the best results, consider adopting a blended learning approach to your ERP training program. The blended learning approache combines the best of e-learning and instructor-led training to offer a flexible, responsive, and collaborative learning environment.
According to the US Department of Education, which surveyed over 1,000 independent studies on optimal learning methods, a combination of face-to-face and digital learning demonstrated the most progress than either method alone.
Blended learning is a hybrid style of teaching that allows team members to benefit from the flexibility of online learning while also providing human interaction and positive emotional engagement.
For business owners, blended ERP training provides cost savings because they reduce the number of in-person training sessions required to bring employees up to speed on the new system. However, ERP e-learning services also come at a cost.
Be sure to weigh the financial cost of acquiring or licensing an e-learning program against the cost of hosting additional in-person training sessions.
Step 6: Testing and Going Live
Your team’s undergone weeks of training, both digital and in-person, to bring them up to speed on the new ERP software.
You’re “all systems go” for the big launch. But before officially bringing the system live it’s crucial that you test the ERP system and ensure that everything functions as expected and that your key team members don’t encounter any difficulty while using it.
Your Implementation Group should comb through every feature of the new ERP system to ensure that it can respond to both routine day-to-day business operations and infrequent scenarios.
If you run into any bugs, errors, or hiccups within the system, bring these to the IT department to have them resolved before allowing the system to go live.
Less-frequent tasks, such as physical inventory counting or product recalls, must also be simulated.
It’s the responsibility of the Implementation Group to brainstorm every scenario in which your organization will need to access its ERP system, and to run tests simulating such scenarios across all modules of the software, including:
- Costing and Financial Accounting
- Customer Relationship Management
- Human Resources
- Materials Management
- Sales & Marketing
- Supply Chain Management
Leading ERP vendors such as Orale, Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, and NetSuite all categorize their software features into “modules” that resemble those listed above.
Dedicate at least one team member from each of the divisions or departments listed above to test run both routine and infrequent operations that naturally arise in their day-to-day.
Regularly Check-in With Test Teams
Running a “parallel launch” is generally a better idea than switching over to a new ERP system and immediately abandoning the old one.
While your peripheral employees and non-core team members are undergoing training on the new system, but still using the old one, your Implementation Group should be testing and using the new ERP.
For a period of one or two months, both ERP systems should be running in parallel.
You can think of this period as a “beta test” in which your senior team members can work out kinks in the system and detect bugs before they affect your entire organization.
Schedule all-hands meetings at a minimum of once weekly with your Implementation Group. Allow every team an opportunity to present the results of their tests with the rest of the Implementation Group and report to senior management and IT personnel where corrections can be made within the new ERP system.
Your ERP implementation success depends on your ability to solicit quality feedback and how you respond to it, so don’t overlook this crucial step.
Going Live (But You’re Not Done Yet!)
The big day has finally come—you’re ready to launch your new ERP system. Although the heavy lifting is now over with, the “go-live” stage is still one of the most important ERP implementation phases. Just because you’ve made it this far doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels and coast into the new system without any further effort.
Schedule the exact hour and minute that your organization will flip the switch and cross over to the new ERP program.
Ensure that all team members are prepared for the switch-over and that the transition isn’t scheduled during peak hours for any of your core teams—otherwise, this may cause pandemonium in the event of a system failure or shutdown.
Do a full hardware check before the fateful hour arrives. This means having senior IT personnel ensure that all desktop computers are connected to the network and that all servers are operational.
Your network speed should be stress-tested to ensure that the number of users on your new ERP system can be accommodated at once.
Step 7: Evaluating Your ERP Implementation Success
With the ERP launch behind you, it’s time to kick your feet up, relax, and take in a moment of serenity after months of painstaking system upgrades, data migration, staff training, and rigorous testing. Just kidding, of course. Once your new ERP system has gone live, the all-important evaluation phase begins.
If you managed to keep the ERP implementation remotely within budget and on time, you can consider the project a relative success. After all, you’re already doing better than the 54% of companies whose ERP projects went over budget in 2014.
But that’s no reason to celebrate. Save your celebration for the first comprehensive review. At the end of the first fiscal quarter following the ERP system’s launch, ask yourself:
- Has your ERP system reduced the frequency of human errors?
- Has your ERP system increased team productivity and output?
- Has your ERP system improved client relations or customer satisfaction?
- Has your ERP system affected bottom-line growth?
- Have you successfully integrated third-party systems into your ERP program?
- Are your employees satisfied with the new ERP system?
Your first post-launch quarterly report should address these questions as a starting point.
If you haven’t yet achieved the results you expected with your ERP system, you may not be utilizing the software to its full potential.
You can see in the chart below the amount of ERP projects worldwide that had delivered 50% or less of the benefits expected by their organization:
If you figure things could be better, consider bringing in an external ERP consultant to remedy any concerns or shortfalls that you’ve experienced with your ERP program.
Define and Track Your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Now that your ERP system is live and operational, it’s crucial that you monitor how well the software performs by tracking KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
Your company’s KPIs will help determine the extent of your ERP implementation success, or whether you need to revise your company’s ERP strategy.
Below, some of the most common KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for measuring ERP success are listed:
Supply Chain and Inventory
- Lead times and processing
- On-time and accurate customer deliveries
- Inventory tally accuracy
- On-time replenishment shipments
- Average sales
- Lost accounts
- Sales per user
- Average sale margin
Accounting and Finance
- Receivables (30-day, 60-day, 90-day)
- Total receivables
- Average overdue receivables
- Average account aging