Confessions of an ERP Software Consultant

a letter from an ERP Software Consultant

It’s easy to see how your customization habit began. Your company probably started with their ERP implementation project back in the 1990’s when ERP software packages were missing lots of critical functionality. So you had to customize to fill the gaps.

When your users struggled to get information from the ERP, you came through with some snazzy custom reports built using the ERP system’s old school development tools. Then users complained that the user interface was clunky, so you did some comforting screen changes and built new sessions to reduce the number of clicks. Back in the day, we consultants called these personalizations, which was consultant-speak for minor customizations. So like good enablers, we ERP software consultants modified “source code” for you. Pretty soon you were hooked on adding more customizations. And of course, we were happy to oblige.

Fast forward to today. You’re thinking of replacing your ERP system because it struggles to keep up with your business needs. You don’t believe you have the budget to keep maintaining your muddle of customizations, but you fear the cost and headaches of a “reimplementation”. You want to get rid of those costly consultants but you fear that your IT staff can’t handle what we would leave behind.

So, do you continue to patch and coddle the old, customized system, or make a break to something new?

Step 1: Upgrade your ERP system

Industry research firm Aberbeen Group reports that 58% of “best in class” organizations have the latest version of their ERP software. In other words, to ensure you stay competitive you should take advantage of new functionality and technology in the latest versions of the software. From my experience, you’re better off upgrading than replacing. A good ERP software implemented properly can dramatically improve the key performance indicators (KPI’s) of companies.

Step 2: Use an incremental “bolt-on” approach

If you must customize, do so without changing standard functionality. Build separate applications, sessions, and “web parts”. Use workflow and middleware technology to build logic outside of the ERP. This incremental approach reduces time for testing, development costs and risk that the core applications will fail when you retrofit customizations. Use features such as “user exits” that allow you to add bells and whistles without changing source code.

Step 3: Provide self-service options to cut dependence on IT

A great way to reduce reliance on customizations is to provide tools that end-users can harness without IT assistance. Here are a few suggestions: deliver your reports in an easy-to-use spreadsheet format, use BI to combine related data from ERP and other systems like HR, such as paid hours from payroll with earned hours from ERP, empower users to access reports from within Excel that can cross multiple ERP systems and instead of having them sift through reams of paper or scroll through displays in the ERP system, push “alerts” and “task lists” on their mobile devices.

Step 4: Buy, don’t reinvent

Trust me, you do NOT want to be in the software development business. Rest assured that today’s ERP systems have enough functionality to give you exactly what you need to run your business. As long as the products are seamlessly integrated and simple to use, why build your own? A great option is to buy an integrated cloud ERP system that has the ERP software, BI software, social collaboration, supply chain management, pre-configured analytics (KPI’s) and industry-specific business process models built in.

Step 5: Streamline business processes

A good exercise is to come up with a list of customizations, prioritize and question them in the context of a business process review. Is there a way a business process could be made more efficient, automated, or even eliminated with newer functionality? When doing this, we often find that many customizations can be quickly crossed off the list. It’s also an eye opener for both users and business analysts going back and looking at the old stuff that was created to address some past pain. More than half the time, the user that requested the modification is either no longer there or no one’s using it.

Unfortunately, even with all this heartfelt advice, there are still those of you who think you don’t have a problem, the same way we proclaim… “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

One thing I know for certain, if your ERP software is over 10 years old, home-grown, or heavily customized, then you’re at risk. You’re already falling behind your competitors that have upgraded their ERP systems… especially if you’re a manufacturer.

The Author
Dan Aldridge
Director of Consulting, Priority Software U.S.

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