What’s the Key to a Successful ERP Software Implementation?
Bill Seymour is a ERP business consultant specializing in Infor VISUAL ERP. Bill has decades of experience implementing many dozens of ERP systems and related applications. We spoke with Bill about the software implementation experience including what he’s learned from his customers.
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Q: What’s the key to a successful software implementation?
Bill: I believe the key to a successful software implementation is having full commitment from upper management. There need to be goals set and a plan put in place to implement the change that needs to happen so that the result can be a new and better way of doing things. Evolving to this point took commitment so getting to the next level does as well. If the company continues to do the same things they’ll get the same results.
It’s important that the entire team becomes part of the newly developed processes. Every employee in every department of the company needs to learn the part they play that contributes to the company’s continued success.
Q: What do you discuss with management?
Bill: When I go into a project, I have a little mantra. Twenty days, twenty weeks or twenty years: how hard do you want to work?
If you don’t want to work hard for the next twenty years, then commit to supporting us for the next twenty days. Synergy Resources’ implementation methodology has been proven at hundreds of companies like yours. The system is very powerful and flexible. It allows you to set up rules that govern how the system will work for your business model. Then, instead of managing by every little detail, you can manage by exception to the rules. Stay committed to the process and you’ll be successful.
Q: How does the engagement begin?
Bill: The first thing is to look at the customer’s current practices so that we can write up our observations with an assessment and recommendations for improvement. We review these observations with the customer and set a path that we develop together. We call it, ‘A System of Controlled Performance’.
It takes about one or two hours to walk through the entire ‘Future Processes’ with all key steering committee members. We walk through from 30,000 feet how the system can work for them from estimating all the way through to invoicing. We’ll take them through a process and say, ‘Here’s how the system can work for you. Does that make sense?’ Then we take them down to 10,000 feet to get a little bit more into the details. Lastly, we pilot at the ground level and repeat.
Ultimately the objective is to write Business Process Designs (BPDs) for the customer for each Area of Responsibility (AOR). BPDs are similar to PowerPoint slides with step by step procedures that are illustrated with screen shots. The BPDs explain what’s required from each person in each department in the company. BPD documents the process from quoting all the way through to invoicing. When the BPDs are approved, the customer can rest assured knowing that it has a process that works.
Q: Can you talk about end user training?
Bill: The level of training depends upon each customer’s wishes, but often we’ll train the lead person in each department. That’s usually done first.
The department lead will take the Business Process Designs (BPDs) we’ve created and proofed for them to train their subordinates. The BPDs are an evolving tool. As we get a little more in depth with the customer’s particular business model, we’ll refine those BPDs with updated screen shots and text that best suits the customer’s training needs.
We should also mention that the BPDs can help the customer get ISO certified. That’s because ISO basically boils down to, ‘Say what you do, do what you say’. We’ve had a lot of success with customers who choose to pursue ISO after their implementations have been completed.
Q: How do you test the training’s effectiveness?
Bill: We teach to Critical Control Points (CCPs). A CCP is, ‘Ok, your intention was to do this. Can you prove that you’ve accomplished the objective?’
We’ve developed many CCPs to test the success of the implementation and as a continued daily routine. CCPs help assure each department, ‘Ok, we’ve accomplished the objective’. For example, how do you make sure that you have closed out customer orders so that you’ll get paid? How do you make sure that Work Orders have materials issued to properly maintain Inventory integrity? How do you make sure that labor was applied for Work Orders which maintains the accounting integrity? And so on.
People seem to like CCPs a lot because they work. CCPs ensure that end users are not leaving something important out of the process. CCPs also validate that the customer has accomplished what they had set out to do and that the entire process is complete and accurate.
Q: When do you engage with the technical staff?
Bill: It’s important to work with the IT person early in the process. VISUAL is a very versatile system that can support many different business models. However, you need to set the system parameters using the rules that work best for your particular business model. That’s what we call ‘Database Configuration’.
We do that first because we’re challenging the company and a set of rules. How can they become a more efficient and effective organization? The system should help the customer improve their business processes, On Time Delivery (OTD) and profitability. This is critical.
Q: What do failed implementations have in common?
Bill: We know that MRP and ERP systems work mathematically but sometimes, customers can get in their own way. When an implementation fails, it’s usually because the customer doesn’t stay committed towards the kind of change they need to make.
Some companies have a DIY mentality. They’ll try to save money by implementing the ERP system on their own. It’s a shame. It’s much more cost-effective to invest in getting the proper training from a consultant who can demonstrate how the ERP can change the customer’s daily routines and practices for the better. A skilled, experienced consultant is an asset who can make all the difference between success and failure.
Q: One of your areas of focus is Planning/Scheduling. What kind of issues can throw off scheduling?
Bill: A salesperson might have an order on the hook that he or she wants to reel in. The salesperson wants to jump the line! (The current planned workload.) This could create a scheduling problem: you probably don’t have unlimited capacity and you won’t know if you can get materials delivered on time. Like it or not, when you jump the line you may have made a salesperson happy but, in the meantime, you’ve pushed someone else out of their confirmed delivery time.
Jumping the line is not the problem per se. The problem is with not knowing the outcome of jumping the line. What’s the consequence of that move? Who did you push out? That’s the problem.
I make an analogy with travel. Imagine that you had scheduled your family’s flight and hotel reservations for Hawaii six months ago. You’re due to depart next week. Now suppose that someone has just pushed you out. Your family’s not going to be happy when you fly there only to find your hotel room has been re-booked for someone else.
Jumping the line compounds the problem and makes it worse the longer the practice continues. Your customers are unhappy with the lack of on-time delivery service.
That’s exactly what happens. You might have just one machine to fit certain jobs on at any given time. The new order may have displaced a customer who’s waiting for their order to be filled. That customer is going to be upset with you.
Q: You’ve worked with many manufacturers over the years. What do manufacturers often overlook?
Bill: One common problem I’ve seen over the years is when design and manufacturing engineering staff doesn’t collaborate like they should.
Too often, individual engineering departments work independently which increases the risk of redundancy. Whether the engineers are located on separate floors in the same building or separated by partitions in the same room, the problem is not the degree of physical separation. The challenge is to reduce redundancy by getting everyone in engineering to work together as a team which is more effective.
Frequently companies feel they has become very efficient over the years of their evolution. Being a Lean Six Sigma Blackbelt, we learned the difference between ‘Efficient’ and ‘Effective’. I.e. While you evolved in your business over the years you learn and taught others how to repeat to become very ‘Efficient’ at a twelve-step process to reach that objectives (learned behaviors). We help you (with the help of using the ERP tool correctly) to develop a process with two/three step to obtain the same objective therefore becoming more ‘Efficient AND Effective’.
I’ve found that improved collaboration within engineering can reduce turn-around time from months to weeks. It’s something I’ve learned through the years working with many manufacturers. It can make a significant difference to the time factor!
Q: Are there software solutions that can help with the engineering collaboration issue?
Bill: Engineers use tools like CAD/Solidworks etc. software to do their design work. Our ERP products have a tool called ‘CADLINK’ that can make a significant difference to get design work exported from CAD into ERP. Without CADLINK, the process could take weeks. Proofing that all has converted to ERP takes time. With CADLINK, the import/export might take just 20 minutes. The ROI on that tool is like the day before yesterday!
That’s why we come in and do what we do. We help our customers achieve world-class levels of performance.