Getting the most out of your ERP system

When selecting a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, your first order of business is to perform an across-the-board analysis of your business processes. This analysis will yield a list of operational needs to be met by the new software. You will then be better equipped to assess the various products on the market and select the one that best meets your needs.

Implementing the selected system involves matching up company needs and software features. One step in the process is sometimes skipped, even though it has a huge impact on the benefits derived from the massive investment in time and money associated with any new ERP system. This step consists in revisiting the business process analysis performed at the selection stage, after a set period of familiarization with the new system and all its features.

This is a good time to review each business process and ask the question:

  • Why is this done this way?

All too often, the answer is “Because we’ve always done it this way”. Many internal business processes are developed on the fly, in response to situations as they arise, when the main concern is to “make it work”. This is perfectly normal. When swamped with the daily operation of a business, it’s hard to find the time to sit down and rethink processes from A to Z. Especially when any given process involves several departments, and when workers in one department don’t really know what their colleagues in the other departments are doing.

The implementation of a new ERP system is the perfect time to launch this kind of exercise, for the following reasons:

  1. New systems offer new features that weren’t available to the company before, opening the door to new ways of doing things.
  2. Implementing any new system requires change anyway, so might as well take advantage of the opportunity to introduce the operational changes that the process reengineering requires.

This exercise requires tact and consideration. People tend to identify with the processes they’re used to. People can easily take it personally when “their” process is questioned, especially if they’re the ones who set it up in the first place.

I’ve seen a custom-made product manufacturing company cut two weeks off their delivery time just by reengineering their administrative processes following the implementation of a new ERP system. And it wasn’t just the new software features; a lot of it had to do with reengineering processes as part of project implementation.

The SME had been structured on a functional basis: Sales, Production, Finance, Engineering. No-one but the President had sufficient authority to overhaul the processes involving all these departments. But the implementation team used the project as a source of authority, since it affected the entire company.

So, don’t just look for a system that meets your current needs; look for one that will meet the needs of your new and improved processes. And don’t hesitate to draw on the expertise of your consultants: they have been privy to many different ways of doing things over the course of their practice and have enough distance to give you an accurate picture of your processes. This is the best way of maximizing the return on your investment and getting the most out of your system.

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