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ERP Implementation Critical Success Factor: The Pace of the Game Can Dictate the Odds of Success

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 by admin

For those of you who are NFL sports fans, you’ve likely noticed there are some NFL teams whose offenses produce better when they play in hurry-up mode – the way in which all teams play toward the end of the game when they’re behind and need to score rapidly.  The current day Indianapolis Colts strike me as this kind of team.  With Peyton Manning calling the plays from the line of scrimmage, the Colts’ players stay focused and execute in a highly-efficient manner.

Let’s contrast this to the slow, methodical, grind-it-out NFL offenses that take long periods of time and numbers of downs to get to the end zone.  Sure, there are successful scoring drives that can take twelve to fifteen plays to completion; however, the more times a team has to snap the ball and run a play the more opportunities there are for issues to sneak in that stall or end the drive – a penalty, a turnover, or even one dropped pass or missed block can result in an unsuccessful drive.

From my perspective, ERP implementation and NFL offenses have a lot in common.  They both require a variety of players with varying skill sets and experience levels to play their respective positions for a successful outcome.  In the NFL, all of the players know their roles, and there is a sense of urgency to accomplish tasks in an expedient, highly-efficient manner, and measurable progress occurs.  The same should be the case to ensure successful ERP implementations.

Players should be educated on what their roles are and how what they do fits into the overall plans for the ERP implementation.  And, while I completely understand that personnel’s day-to-day responsibilities can get in the way of having sufficient time to devote to the implementation project, my recommendation is that by running the ERP implementation like a two-minute offense, key personnel will feel the sense of urgency to execute in a highly-efficient manner thus producing a successful outcome.  To contrast this, if there is an expectation that a project can take as long as people want or has sufficient slack time in the project plan, there is a lack of urgency that keeps most personnel from prioritizing the time to accomplish what is necessary to produce a successful result with the implementation.


Using Enterprise 21 ERP’s Integrated Training System to Train New Employees

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Alex Smith

Virtually every business with whom we speak during the ERP selection process asks about Enterprise 21’s help files and how end-user training is conducted as part ERP implementation. The Enterprise 21 ERP system features help files built directly into the application, as well as an online users manual. These help files exist at the screen level and at the individual field level. In addition, when manufacturers or distributors purchase the Enterprise 21 ERP system, they receive the complete application source code at no additional cost. This enables end users (with the appropriate security permissions) to modify Enterprise 21’s existing help files to meet the specific needs of their organization.

In terms of functional training, TGI conducts end-user training onsite at the customer facility and provides online, Internet-based training throughout the ERP implementation process. In addition, the Enterprise 21 ERP system features an “Integrated Training System.” This system, which is built into Enterprise 21, serves as the foundation for initial end-user training and features answers to hundreds of frequently asked questions, training courses and certification exams, and “How-To” help. The Integrated Training System also includes a series of multimedia demonstrations that show end-users how to perform hundreds of different functions and process various transactions within Enterprise 21.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of Enterprise 21’s Integrated Training System, however, is that it can be used to train new employees in the months and years following ERP implementation. Often times, new employees are trained by existing members of the organization who were previously trained by TGI personnel during implementation. A person who is added to the organization’s customer service department, for example, would more than likely be trained by one of the company’s existing customer service representatives. The problem with this approach is that it can lead to a declining level of ERP system knowledge throughout the organization over time as employees are added.  Using Enterprise 21’s Integrated Training System to begin training new employees ensures that each Enterprise 21 user receives the same, base level of functional training regardless of whether they have been with the organization for two years or two days. New employees can then take the organization’s certification exams to determine whether or not they are ready to begin processing transactions in a live production instance of Enterprise 21.


ERP System Implementation Critical Success Factor: Proper Establishment and Execution of an Implementation Test Plan

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 by admin

The top three critical factors for a successful ERP implementation are the proper establishment and execution of a training plan, data migration plan, and a comprehensive implementation test plan.  From my experience, the proper establishment and execution of a comprehensive implementation test plan is perhaps the most overlooked of the three plans.

The test plan needs to be representative of how the company does business as a whole and should include the following:

  • Customer-facing (i.e., quote to cash, customer service, customer self-service);
  • Operational (i.e., demand to pay on the procurement side, inventory management and warehouse operations, manufacturing planning and execution); and
  • Compliance and control (i.e., financial management and reporting, lot traceability, quality management, industry compliance).

Let’s discuss how a company goes about establishing a comprehensive implementation test plan.  The starting point for the creation of a test plan can be to select some 50-100 customer orders out of the existing customer order files at random.  Experienced personnel can review these randomly-selected orders to make sure they collectively establish how the company does business as a whole.  Should there be some nuances that need to be added, specific customer orders meeting those scenarios can be pulled from the files as well and added to the list.

Assuming you did a good job of establishing a software demonstration script during the software evaluation process, the script can be another key input into the test plan creation process.  The test plan should consist of a series of test scenarios which may also be called “use cases.”  Associated with each test scenario would be some narrative about what is being tested, specific data that is to be used in the test, and the expected results of the test.

The test plan should also include some test cases to stress test the system to verify there are no issues with data tables that need to be re-indexed or infrastructure bottlenecks that need to be addressed (network capacity, memory requirements, processor speed, etc.).

The test plan should be executed by functional end user personnel – not just a couple of IT people running through the process by themselves.  There are two key benefits to this process.  First, the functional end users will be aware of nuances that may not have been addressed in the existing test cases.  These process anomalies need to be identified and added to the test plan.  Second, this process reinforces the training functional end users have received to date to verify whether or not additional training is necessary to ensure a smooth go live experience.

The test plan document should include space on each scenario to document the actual results of the test, the names of the individuals who performed the specific test case and the date it was performed, and any pertinent observations made during the test run.  Results should be documented in writing – or electronically – so the results can be shared with the implementation core team consisting of both customer and software vendor personnel and the customer’s executive sponsor.

The test plan should be a living document, which is updated as the business changes over time.
The test plan should be re-executed when a version upgrade is being implemented to validate there are no business processes that have become broken as a result of the upgrade process.

Additionally, a good rule of thumb for ERP software system enhancements is to establish the associated functional test plan or use case for that enhancement at the same time the enhancement is being defined.  This incremental portion of the test plan can be incorporated into the overall test plan.

By effectively establishing and executing of a comprehensive implementation test plan, companies implementing Enterprise 21 can expect their go live experiences to be as smooth as possible with the successful entry, picking, packing, shipping, and invoicing of customer orders day one.


ERP System Implementation Critical Success Factor: Proper Planning and Execution of a Data Migration Strategy

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009 by admin

One of the key elements of any enterprise software implementation is data migration.  Exactly what data is migrated to the new system in what level of detail is a key decision point to be considered during the implementation process.

To be able to make a well-informed decision about what data to migrate, manufacturing and distribution organizations would be well-advised to start with the target of where they want to be with their new system and work backwards.

Assuming there is any reasonable amount of legacy data, the decision to migrate existing data to the new ERP system rather than manually rekey the data becomes obvious.  Data can be categorized into five main buckets:

  • Core base data: including products, customers, prospects, vendors, and associated contacts;
  • Pricing data: customer pricing and vendor pricing;
  • Facilities, manufacturing, and product unit of measure conversion data: including bills of material, formulations, and routings; facilities layouts including zones, locations, and bins; and product-specific unit of measure conversion factors;
  • Historical data: sales history which can be used as an input to generate a forecast and for sales analysis purposes; and
  • Open transactions and beginning balances: including open sales orders, open purchase orders, open sales quotes, open returns, open customer invoices (accounts receivable), open vendor invoices (accounts payable), and general ledger balances by account; these items must tie to corresponding values in the legacy system (i.e., inventory stock status, general ledger trial balance, aged accounts receivable by customer, and aged accounts payable by vendor).

Once the data migration strategy is defined, the next step for the ERP implementation project team is to execute that strategy successfully.  Data migration tends to be an iterative process which can be run three to five times during software implementation.  After each test migration, the data must be analyzed thoroughly to make sure the resulting data in the new system is correct and matches up with proper expectations and comparable data in the legacy system.

For a new ERP system to function properly and provide accurate transactions and business information to be trusted for analysis purposes, the core data, which is the lifeblood of the new system, must be accurate.  The migration of data from legacy systems is a critical success factor for ERP software implementation.


Implementing on a Time Crunch

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Alex Smith

With the beginning of 2009’s fourth quarter starting today, companies of all sizes find themselves in a hurry to complete their ERP software evaluation process, begin software implementation, and prepare their organizations for initial system go-live on the first Monday of 2010. ERP system implementation is a time consuming task for any organization. Implementation requires a coordinated effort on the part of both the software provider and the manufacturer’s or distributor’s implementation project team leaders. Given the sophisticated, complex nature of ERP systems, there are two relatively easy ways in which an organization can implement a new ERP solution before the end of 2009 and be in a position to go-live January 2010.

Prepare your data. One of the most tedious, time consuming activities that occurs during the ERP implementation process is data migration. Companies need to have their data prepared in a computer-readable file format to import their data into their newly selected ERP system. Data accuracy and integrity is critical to the ERP solution’s performance both before and after production go-live. By having data such as GL accounts, customers, products, parts/ingredients, vendors, etc. prepared in a CSV file or other computer-readable format, companies can gain significant time and cost savings during the data migration process as opposed to manual data entry or other highly-inefficient migration processes.

Use the software as designed. Assuming the organization has made the right software selection as a result of their evaluation process, companies should spend little time worrying about miscellaneous modifications that are not critical to initial production go-live. If the organization has conducted a thorough software evaluation and performed a quantitative analysis of various software suppliers and solutions, its ultimate final software decision should have resulted in a software package that meets the vast majority of their business needs with standard, “out-of-the-box” functionality. If the selected software solution does not meet one of the organization’s critical software requirements, it probably wasn’t the right software solution in the first place. In regards to an expedited software implementation, companies should adopt a 90/10 rule, ensuring that 90% of the organization’s software requirements can be met with standard functionality, with the remaining 10% left to focus on minor, non-critical software requirements and enhancements in the first few months following go-live.

By preparing data for migration and using the software as designed, organizations should be ready for a swift implementation and go-live date in early January 2010.


Go-Live Expectations

Monday, August 24th, 2009 by Alex Smith

The final step in the implementation process is the day of system go-live. On this day, the manufacturing or distribution organization will switch from its former software system to a new ERP software solution to serve as the transactional backbone of the organization. On this day, all of the company’s former problems will go away, 100 orders above the daily average will be processed and shipped, and worker productivity will increase, on average, 75%. This is what any company who has just completed a software implementation should expect, right? Wrong. Initial system go-live is a critical step in the migration from one software system to another, but it is unrealistic for the organization to expect that all of its troubles will be solved on the initial go-live date. What then, should the organization expect on the go-live date in terms of customer orders, worker productivity, and return on investment?

From a customer orders standpoint, the organization should expect to enter, pick, pack, and ship customer orders on the initial go-live date. We frequently hear terrible stories in the ERP industry of companies investing six to nine months of employee time and money in a software implementation only to go live and not ship orders for another two, three, or four days, causing complete chaos for customer service personnel and the organization’s customers. I can honestly say that in nearly twenty years of business, we have been very fortunate to have every one of our customers ship orders on their initial go-live date. With sufficient testing and training, there is absolutely no reason why orders should not be shipped on the go-live date. That being said, companies should also expect the volume of orders shipped on the initial go-live date to fall slightly below average. Issues (hopefully minor) will arise, questions will come up, and some employees will not have a full, 100% understanding of the new pick, pack, and ship process within the new system; however, things will improve, the process will continue to be practiced, and overall operations will become much more efficient over time. One of our customers had an average of roughly 300 orders shipped per day under their old system. When they went live in January 2009, orders shipped fell to below 200 the first day of system go-live (a Monday), climbed above 250 the following day, and reached above 300 by Wednesday. Within two weeks after go-live, the company was shipping nearly 500 orders per day. Again, companies should fully expect to ship orders on the initial go-live date but should also expect to see an initial decline followed by a steady increase in shipping volume over the following weeks.

The organization should also expect overall worker productivity to decline on the day of go-live and then steadily increase in the following weeks. The transition from one software solution to another is not always easy for or widely accepted by the organization’s employees. No matter how much training end users receive during the implementation process, they are always going to have a multitude of questions upon initial go-live. They will, however, learn how to perform their daily tasks in a productive and efficient manner with the new software solution and will more than likely become more productive over the course of a workday than they previously had been under the old software platform. Workers starting to use a new ERP solution are like toddlers – they need to learn how to crawl before they can walk or run.

Lastly, what can the organization expect in terms of return on investment on the day of initial system go-live? The answer, bluntly, is nothing. Realizing a return on investment for purchase of an ERP solution takes time. Some companies, depending on the nature of their business, realize a return on investment in a variety of different ways and over a variety of times. Larger organizations can achieve a sizeable return on investment by eliminating staff due to streamlined processes and operations under the new software solution. One of our customers, for example, was able to eliminate 30% of its customer service personnel within 4 months of go-live due to improved visibility to customer information and more efficient order processing. Smaller businesses can achieve a return on investment through increased productivity, reductions in employees’ time spent on a given task, and improved inventory accuracy and data integrity. Even the task of closing an accounting period can save a CFO hours of time using a sophisticated and fully-integrated ERP system. Organizations of all sizes can and should achieve a sizeable return on investment. Such a return, unfortunately, is not going to occur on the initial go-live date. For more information on calculating a return on investment for purchase of an ERP software solution, click here.

Initial system go-live is a critical step in the overall implementation process. Companies should be realistic with their expectations but should also demand reasonable results from their software supplier. Orders should be processed and shipped, and end users should be sufficiently trained to make it through the day.


Selecting the Best Options for Successful ERP Software Implementation Training

Monday, August 10th, 2009 by admin

One of the key requirements for the successful implementation of a new ERP software solution is a well-defined and executed training plan.  A training plan should document how, when, and where all executive, functional, and technical user personnel will learn how to execute their work processes in the new system.

Some of the key elements of a training plan include whether the software vendor or implementation services provider will train all end users or if a train-the-trainer approach will be used.  A train-the-trainer approach is one in which key members of the implementation core team become functional experts or super users who then train their peers and colleagues within various functional areas.

Another decision to be made is how much of the training will be performed in an on-site classroom environment, via off-site remote or Internet-based training, or via computer-based or self-directed methods.  Please note that these methods are not mutually exclusive and may be used in combination during a successful implementation training process.

Some of the key aspects that will help determine how training is performed will be determined by the sheer number of personnel to train, the number of locations at which the personnel to be trained reside, and whether or not an entire workgroup can be trained concurrently vs. needing to stagger their training to keep portions of the team engaged in day-to-day operations while training others.

When the customer implementing new software is of any substantial size with multiple locations, a train-the-trainer approach typically can be delivered at a reduced cost over a method of having the software vendor or implementation services provider train all functional users.  Another benefit of a train-the-trainer approach is that the company implementing the new ERP software will generally come away with better overall internal functional knowledge because of the depth of training of the super users who become the internal trainers.  If this method is of interest, don’t assume that a given software vendor or implementation services provider has a core competency in training internal trainers.  Make certain to ask the various vendors about their training approaches and preferences during the software evaluation process.

While remote or Internet-based training can be performed concurrently with personnel from various locations without the need for travel, a key element which can be lost by using this approach is the ability for the trainer to walk around and observe the participants’ comprehension during hands-on exercises.  There will be both hands-on learners and lecture learners, and it will be imperative to cater to the needs of both groups equally.

Finally, there are advantages to using canned training aids such as computer-based training including the ability to ensure that a consistent level of training is provided and that the training materials can be used after initial production Go Live with the new system for ongoing training of existing and new personnel.  Ongoing training is a critical success factor to prolong the longevity of the ERP system and enable the company who is implementing new software to use the system as-designed and as extensively as possible.


ERP System Implementation Continues After Initial Go-Live

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by admin

OK – you’ve made it! After months of evaluating various ERP systems followed by more months of implementation, your business is now up and running on your new ERP software. Now you and your team can go back to business as usual and not give your software another thought – right? As Lee Corso, sports broadcaster and football analyst for ESPN, would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

The only way this would be correct is if the following were all true:

  • You were able to take advantage of virtually 100% of the functionality the new software provided that was pertinent to your business day 1 at go-live.
  • The software vendor never produced any software updates and fixes that provided any business value.
  • Your personnel grasped and retained 100% of the possible knowledge through the implementation and training process.
  • Absolutely nothing ever changed in your business – there were never any new personnel or resources that moved into new positions, and your business and industry as a whole never changed.

Since these statements are never true, even after initial go-live with your new software, there is an ongoing need to evolve business strategy and tactics to gain and keep a compelling competitive advantage in one’s industry, to improve business processes to gain business efficiencies, and train and retrain personnel.

Project goals are established and baseline metrics are documented as part of the business’ justification to move forward with the software evaluation and implementation projects. Some 3-6 months after initial go-live with the new system, the current business metrics should be compared with the baseline metrics to gauge progress made to date. Ideally, all of the targeted business metrics will have been met; however, it may be that there are areas where these objectives have not been achieved.

Whether or not the initial targets have been met, the business should perform an ROI Workshop to determine what can be done to drive additional return on investment from the new business software. An ROI Workshop would typically produce 3-5 key actions where substantial additional ROI can be derived by taking further advantage of the software that has already been acquired and implemented.

Another recommendation is to establish quarterly objectives to take advantage of additional software functionality. This can provide a rolling 12+ month calendar stating what advancements will be made over time. As part of this process, businesses should evaluate new software releases produced by their software vendors to determine the value of upgrading to the latest software releases. Companies are encouraged to create a measureable business case for upgrades just as was done for the initial software implementation and to evaluate the results against those targets 3-6 months after the upgrade has been put into production.

We also highly encourage companies to establish an ongoing training schedule for their employees. This should include refresher and more in-depth functional training for personnel who have been using the software for some period of time so these resources can become more proficient in their current roles. Also, there will be a need for introductory training for personnel who move into new roles and for new hires. Establishing an ongoing training schedule along with budgeted funding is critical for a business to gain the maximum benefit from an ERP system.

Regardless of the ERP system ultimately selected and implemented, businesses are encouraged to adopt continuous improvement principles when it comes to their ERP software systems to maximize the business value derived from these systems long after the initial production go-live.


Training Takes on Many Forms – Observations from the Recently Completed TGI Users’ Conference

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by admin

I have been sitting here smiling while thinking about the recently completed TGI Users’ Conference from early May 2009. I always enjoy these events.

As the sales leader here at TGI, one of the best things about what I do is that I get the opportunity to meet and establish relationships with a lot of great people throughout a lot of different businesses and industries. And, it’s great to see these people whom I’ve gotten to know also get the opportunity to meet and interact with each other. It is a lot of fun to introduce these individuals to each other and to observe the dynamics of various groups as they come together.

TGI users’ conferences are tremendous opportunities for customer personnel to learn in a number of different ways. Oh sure, there are presentations on the most current functionality TGI is delivering in the Enterprise 21 ERP system. These are always well received and customers get excited about upgrading their software installations and adopting the newest functionality.

In addition, this year’s conference was the first time TGI offered more in-depth, half-day elective training sessions. These sessions included events focused on such areas as accounting, ad-hoc and financial report writing, customer relationship management, manufacturing, warehouse management, and workbenches and dashboards. While the lecture portion of these events was well received, from my observation the hands-on portions of these events were of most value to the participants. Users were given the opportunity to dig into the software and ask one-on-one questions with the instructors about how they might best apply the various capabilities to their specific situations.

The last day of the event primarily focused on soliciting feedback from the participants as to what additional functionality they could use to derive additional business value. There were some great suggestions received directly from TGI customers in areas such as accounting, manufacturing, inventory management, purchasing, customer relationship management, and warehouse management. When one customer might raise an idea, others might nod their heads in agreement or say, “We could use that too.”

Finally, there were a series of less formal training opportunities – times when customer personnel could interact directly with each other during receptions and meals. These were opportunities for individuals to discuss topics directly related to their use of Enterprise 21 and in areas totally unrelated to software for further knowledge sharing.

In one case I observed participants from several companies exchanging ideas about their freight management practices. In another case, there were discussions about how various organizations were improving their respective operations from an Internet marketing perspective.

Overall, the event was informative and enjoyable. I look forward to the next opportunity to interact with our customers in such a setting, and I am excited to think about the fact that other new TGI customers whom I’ve not even met yet will be participating in next year’s TGI Users’ Conference.


Training Before and After Go-Live – Critical Success Factors to Gaining Desired Benefits from Enterprise Software Systems

Friday, May 22nd, 2009 by Alex Smith

Training is an integral part of every business software implementation. End users must be trained in the software application’s processing of all transactions and functions they perform on a routine basis. Customer service and order management personnel need to learn a new process for not only entering but tracking both existing and past customer orders; warehouse managers and operators must learn what could be a completely new warehouse process focused on improved warehouse productivity and inventory accuracy while reducing inventory levels; and business executives will learn to use new business intelligence tools for improved visibility and analysis of key business performance metrics such as days supply on hand for a given product, gross sales on a product-by-product basis, and sales margin on a product-by-product basis.

The overriding principle is that training is an important part of the implementation process regardless of a given software user’s role or organizational level. Without training in the business’s newly selected manufacturing software or distribution software package, the capabilities such software provides cannot be utilized to their fullest potential.

During the Enterprise 21 implementation process, training can be conducted in one of two ways. First, training can be delivered to all software users in a given functional area simultaneously. For example, business executives and accounting personnel will be trained in the software’s financial management tools; warehouse workers will be trained to receive and putaway materials and pick, pack, and ship products to customers using Enterprise 21’s fully-integrated warehouse management system; customer service and order management representatives will be trained to utilize Enterprise 21’s order management and CRM ERP software functionality; etc.

A second form of Enterprise 21 training that can be employed during software implementation is a train-the-trainer approach. Using this approach, TGI personnel would train each business department’s functional leader or super user, and those functional leaders would in turn train other software users in their given functional areas. No matter which training methodology is employed, adequate end-user training in the new business software package is essential for a successful go-live experience.

Following go-live, management and software users must remember that the training process is not over. Training should be an on-going effort. TGI offers integrated training tools that include multimedia-enabled presentations, how-to help, screen help, and field help. These tools can be updated and altered to meet each organization’s specific requirements. Furthermore, TGI’s integrated training services enable existing users to refresh the knowledge they learned during implementation and new employees to receive a level of training consistent with all other employees in the organization. This approach to training enables organizations to maintain consistent system and process knowledge across all of the organization’s departments and functional areas.

Both during and after implementation go-live, adequate training in an enterprise software solution is essential to increased productivity and on-going business process improvements.