ERP Project 101: Organizational Fit Gap

I think we can all agree that organizational fit is a key consideration for successful ERP selections and implementations.  However, mention the phase “fit/gap” or “gap analysis” and most people will fixate on the ERP software.  There are several examples of functional/software fit-gap templates/activities but very few organizational fit-gap templates/guides.  The goal of this blog is to shed some light on this very important activity.

 What is an Organizational Fit/Gap?

An organizational fit/gap analysis is a comparison of the customer’s existing organizational model that supports the business to the defined organizational model supported (or assumed) by the ERP system.  Consider the following illustration: 

Org Gap Analysis

Organizational Fit Gap Analysis

If you do not know what is changing in the organization then how can you manage organizational change?  Too often I see ERP projects only focus on the “To Be” model and expect business users to figure out how to transition. I have also observed that customers see organizational change activities as an opportunity to reduce implementation costs by performing the activity themselves – regardless of their capabilities. 

In order to effectively conduct an organizational fit/gap analysis there are two key sources of information that are required: 

Information   Source Comments
Customer’s Organizational Structure and Business   Processes A   majority of peers and customers believe that this exercise is a non-value-add activity given the imminent organizational change that will occur as part of   the ERP implementation.
ERP Business Process Maps Consider   ERP business process maps as a demonstration by the ERP vendor to show how   their ERP software supports business processes.

Just as you perform a formal Fit/Gap analysis on ERP functionality you should also consider performing a formal organization Fit/Gap analysis as illustrated below:

Organizational Gap Analysis for ERP

Template to identify possible organizational changes based upon predefined ERP roles/responsibilities

An organizational fit/gap analysis should be performed during the ERP selection stage and refined during the early design stages of the ERP implementation.  Do not limit yourself to performing this exercise only once.  The analysis performed during an organizational Fit/Gap will drive future decisions and implementation activities.

What Activities should an Organizational Fit/Gap Influence?

The organization fit/gap analysis will have a direct impact on your organization change management plan and communication plan.  In addition, this analysis will provide insight into user security requirements.  Utilizing this approach will highlight how well the predefined ERP user security profile(s) align to the organization’s existing users.  As a general rule, the majority of predefined ERP workflows are based upon predefined user security roles; therefore keep in mind that ERP user security profile changes may require additional testing for related ERP workflows. 

Why Do We Need a Formal Organizational Fit/Gap?

Conducting a formal organizational fit/gap enables you to quantify the level of change.  Instead of taking a broad stroke at managing change you can provide a focused effort to accomplishing your objective. Remember that people are the most important component of a business solution.  Given the importance I believe that formalizing this activity is worth the investment.

Summary

Predefined ERP implementation tools, templates, roles can provide limited value to an implementation.  Too often the ERP market wrongly perceives that these predefined components result in faster implementations.  This misconception is most pronounced in the ERP SaaS/Cloud arena.  At the end of the day, an ERP implementation should only move as fast as the customer can handle the change.  Conducting a formal organizational fit/gap can enable the customer to adapt faster by focusing on the specific changes required for success.

Troubleshooting ERP Projects

During my career in ERP consulting I  had several opportunities to be involved in deployment of emerging ERP products and services.  As with any innovation rollout there are challenges to overcome and I had to learn how to quickly triage ERP projects for success.  Troubleshooting an ERP project is more than just performing an assessment – it’s implementing a realistic action plan and making it work for all stakeholders involved.   Following is a tested and proven approach to jumpstart stalled ERP projects.

Method

Similar to a Forest Fire Hotshot I typically got dropped into a “hot” ERP project that had stalled or had serious show stoppers.   Time is always against you.  However, you must first put in the effort to objectively understand the situation and establish your credibility:

Troubleshooting ERP Challenges

Troubleshooting ERP Projects

Too often I see project managers jump into the details (WBS, Risks, Issues, CPI, SPI, Cost) without first understanding the context.  You cannot be perceived as a busy body looking for who dropped the ball.  Vendors, Customers, and System Implementers are made up of people.  People make mistakes – especially me.  People don’t care what you know until they know you care.   It will be people - not technology – that will play the biggest role in getting the ERP project back on track.

Before hitting the ground running you first need to do your homework.  As part of an ERP assessment it is important to review the key project artifacts generated and updated throughout the project.

Key Project Documents

Key Project Documents

This is the easy part and it is usually a simple process to review and evaluate.  If a project scope statement does not exist or is not well-defined then chances are this absence is contributing to the problem.  Creating or refining the project scope statement is a very small part of the action plan you need to execute.  Now, let’s turn our attention to the implicit artifacts and information that are harder to identify and resolve.

Understand the Underlying Drivers

ERP vendors,  System Implementers (SIs), and Customers want their ERP implementation to be successful.  Yet there are fundamental drivers for each stakeholder  appears to be in contradiction.  Consider the following illustration:

ERP Stakeholder Implicit Drivers

ERP Stakeholder Implicit Drivers

Understanding the fundamental drivers of your stakeholders enable you to relate, empathize and align the efforts of all project stakeholders.  It is important to note that you need the efforts from ALL stakeholders for success – regardless of who is at fault.  I humbly submit that it is extremely rare when a single stakeholder is responsible or is at fault.  On the flip side it is even more extreme to have a single stakeholder solely responsible for saving the day.

Strategy & Execution

It is a straight-forward exercise to develop a plan for troubleshooting an ERP project but providing a plan by itself does not add business value.  How you execute and implement the plan is more important than the plan itself.  Many of my project management colleagues may not agree with my assessment but I am  convinced that this is true.  Following are my guiding principles for ERP troubleshoot efforts:

  1. Create quick wins.  Triage is required to stop the bleeding.  You need to quickly seize the initiative  and  create positive events.
  2. Attack problems from multiple angles.  If you have one approach get stonewalled you still have other ongoing activities to continue the march forward.  This means that you have contingency plans in flight.  Be aggressive.
  3. Triage is not the time for lessons learned.  There will be opportunity for reflection after the immediate problem(s) have been addressed.
  4. Problem solving is not about assigning blame.  You need every individual to have laser focus on resolving the problem and not on how to protect them own interests.
  5. All stakeholders must be willing to stretch outside their comfort zone.       Customer and vendors limit their response based upon contractual arrangements.  Partners think outside the box for mutual success.
  6. The answer lies within the team.  Many times the greatest impact you can have is to enable the  key players to recognize the solution. Communication skills will be vital to your success:
Communication Skills

Survival Skill – Communications

Summary

There is a fair amount of information available in books, articles, and blogs related to avoiding ERP problems and I agree that you should take reasonable steps to minimize known ERP problems.  However, I believe that it is prudent to be prepared for the “unknown unknowns” that always occur with any ERP project.  Troubleshooting ERP projects require process knowledge of project management fundamentals, problem solving techniques, and most importantly – perseverance.  Just like the rudder steers the ship, finding small success(es) can get your ERP project back on the path for success.

BPR, BPM and ERP

I had a customer ask me about the relationship between BPM and ERP.  Does ERP implement BPM or do you need to have BPM before ERP?  Is an ERP implementation a BPR project?  Who’s on first?  As the ERP industry evolves it has become evident that additional disciplines like Business Process Management (BPM) and Business Process Reengineering (BPR) must be employed for a successful ERP experience.  In the following blog posting I plan to define and demonstrate the roles that BPM/BPR play in the ERP lifecycle.

BPR, BPM, and ERP Revisited

Allow me to establish some basic definitions for our discussion:

  • Business Process Management (BPM) consists of methods, techniques and tools to design, deploy, control, and analyze operational business processes involving humans, organizations, applications, documents and other sources of information.
  • Business Process Reengineering (BPR) is the redesign of business processes – and the systems, policies, and organizational structures that support them – to optimize the work flows and productivity in an organization.
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is integrated business software that supports multiple business functions across an enterprise.  ERP implies the use of Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) packaged software rather than proprietary software written by or for one customer.

There are a couple of key concepts we should review to compare/contrast BPR and BPM.

Compare BPM and BPR

Compare & Contrast BPM & BPR

BPM focuses on the business process model to monitor, identify, and implement incremental improvements.  These improvements or eliminations fall within the fundamental rules, parameters, and culture established by the existing business model.  However, there comes a point in time where the law of diminishing returns applies and a transformation to the underlying business model is required.  A more aggressive approach like BPR must be utilized to evolve to the next level of business process maturity.  Consider the following illustration to demonstrate how BPM and BPR interact along the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI):

 

BPR, BPM within CMMI

BPR, BPM within CMMI

Allow me to provide an example.  Company A performed a CMMI assessment of their purchasing process.  Results from the assessment showed that the purchasing process was defined for certain business sales (revenue stream) but not for all purchasing events (direct & indirect).  Another key finding was that there was no formal integration between demand planning, supply planning and purchasing which resulted in reactive purchasing. From the above CMMI reference, it was determined that Company A’s purchasing process is at the Managed level.  Company A implemented several incremental initiatives (BPM) to improve process execution including documenting purchasing tasks for all purchasing events and conducting periodic purchasing planning meetings with operations. 

Company A realized process improvement yet the value was limited by following model constraints: (1) each revenue stream (business line) had its own unique purchasing process & rules and (2) Purchasing had limited visibility across the entire supply chain.  Two fundamental mindsets have to change:

  1. Move from unique purchasing processes to a common enterprise purchasing model that is flexible enough to address the competitive requirements for each business line
  2. Enable Purchasing to have visibility across the entire supply chain to support a process-oriented management model versus a function-oriented management model.

Implementing these changes will require a formal, projectized (BPM) effort that will redefine existing business rules, culture, and business process activities.   As Company A continues to evolve their purchasing process they will conduct both BPM within the CMMI maturity level and BPR as they move to the next CMMI maturity level. 

How Do BPR, BPM, and ERP Relate?

ERP provides the automation of business activities.   There are two fundamental value propositions that ERP provide to customers looking to move up the CMMI maturity model

  1. ERP reduces the effort required to perform tactical business activities so customers can focus on strategic activities. Expanding on our purchasing example, this would include basic functionality like automating the creation of purchase orders, approving purchase orders, and matching purchase orders with receipts & supplier invoices.
  2. ERP provides the opportunity for visibility across business functions to support business process management.  That said, there are several factors that determine the level of visibility. 
ERP Business Process Visibility

Factors Impacting ERP Business Process Visibility

A competent ERP solution should provide robust, closed-loop integration between the functional modules provided out-of-the-box.  As a practical note, there is always a need to integrate ERP to legacy systems and this requirement should be not overlooked.  A business solution is only as good as its weakest integration.  Process consistency will enable a relevant comparison of results and management of business processes.

A mature ERP solution should provide automation and integration support for both tactical and strategic business activities across the CMMI model.   

ERP Evolution within CMMI

Interaction of BPR, BPM, and ERP within CMMI

I am a firm believer that business should lead and technology supports.  Therefore, as the business model evolves it is important to identify the corresponding ERP functionality to support the business activities.   This model also communicates that the best approach to implement ERP is to follow a logical maturity path for business processes.

Common ERP Misconception and Mistakes Related to BPR & BPM

Allow me to address some common misconceptions and mistakes made during ERP implementations related to BPR and BPM.

BPR is part of the ERP implementation.

While I agree that the initial ERP implementation will result in major changes with existing business functions, BPR will not happen unless there is a concerted effort to redefine the holistic business model and organizational structure to be successful with the ERP software.

Implementing ERP will give us BPM.

The direct answer is no.  ERP does provide an information foundation that can support BPM.  BPM is more about a discipline for managing processes and less about software. 

Do I need ERP to mature my business processes?

Technically speaking, ERP is not a hard requirement for BPM.   However, manual routine tasks and limited visibility hinder strategic activities.  ERP can play a key support role in automating business tasks and provide visibility through integration.

Should I implement ERP features that support business activities at different maturity levels?

Business realities will necessitate that customers implement ERP features supporting different CMMI maturity levels.    The problem lies in two areas:

  1. Customer expectations are not appropriate set regarding the limited value realized from mature ERP functionality due to less mature business activities supporting strategic activities.  Example:  A procurement process scorecard measuring standard Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will have limited value if there is not a standard, enterprise procurement process.
  2. Implementation partners and business solution advisors should provide a short-term strategy and roadmap to evolve the supporting business activities to same level of maturity.   This approach provides a “quick-win” opportunity for customers to drive additional value from the existing ERP investment.

Summary

Understanding how BPR, BPM, and ERP should relate to one another can be a challenge.  Some believe that it is an “either or” proposition.  I do not subscribe to this school of thought but rather believe that BPR and BPM are disciplines that should be interweaved as part of your ERP application strategy.  Knowing and appreciating these interdependencies will put you in a better position for ERP success. 

Business to IT Alignment – A Practical Discussion

Business to IT alignment is an objective that most technology and business leaders would agree as essential for agility.  However, ask for a definition of Business to IT alignment or how to implement an alignment strategy and the likely results are conflicting information and vague guidance.  In the following blog I will try to add clarity to this topic as well as provide practical guidance.

Definition

Let’s start with a basic definition of Business to IT alignment by addressing some common misconceptions.  Business to IT alignment is far more than just Project Portfolio Management (PPM).  Business to IT alignment consists of several domains:

Knowledge Map for Alignment

Business – IT Alignment Domains

Several Tier I & Tier II ERP software vendors provide software solutions to address certain Business to IT Alignment requirements, including PPM and Communications (social collaboration).  However, it is important to remember that technology alone is not the answer.  Collaboration tools can be used to generate more noise than effective communication.   Also consider that having strategic initiatives stored in a common platform (ex. PPM) does not mean the all stakeholders share a common interpretation.    

Just as Business – IT alignment is more than just PPM, enterprise governance is much more than just IT governance.  In simple terms, enterprise governance is a process that ensures that enterprise capacity (Business, Operations, IT) are working on the right things at the right time to enable business goals. It’s a set of guidelines that focuses on organizational success while managing associated risks.  Alignment is hard to achieve when governance is not consistent across the enterprise.  Knowledge transfer is the most underestimated and misunderstood area.  Effective knowledge transfer is more about education and trust than software and templates.  Before one can be successful with Business – IT alignment it is important to fully appreciate the scope and breadth of effective alignment.  A viable alignment strategy must address the key challenges listed in the next section.

The Challenges of Business to IT Alignment

Consider the following alignment model.  This is a very simple model that I would like to use for discussion purposes.

Governance Model

Business – IT Alignment Governance Model

Allow me to highlight some key challenges associated with the traditional alignment model provided.  First is the notion that Business and IT operate separate silos.  Notice in the example above that there are separate Business and IT goals.  Thus, there must be an exercise to reconcile Business goals and IT goals to identify commonalities and gaps.  Practically speaking, given the level of effort required to align these separate strategies, a reasonable conclusion is that alignments occur periodically based upon corporate milestones.  This is where the model breaks down because effective alignment must be a daily activity.  Every business request from strategic initiatives to daily support tickets is an opportunity to reinforce alignment.  Another possible concern implied in this model is that the majority of alignment effort happens at the enterprise level.  Sustainable alignment must happen at every level within the organization.

A results-oriented alignment strategy must address the inhibitors of alignment.  Consider the following relationship between alignment and communication:

Alignment and Communication Inhibitors

Alignment and Communication Inhibitors

Success alignment requires successful communication.  Successful communication requires the effective use of all the key communication skills

Key Communication Skills

Key Communication Skills

Process is important but the soft skills like communications, emotional intelligence (empathy), and knowledge transfer will have the greatest import on long-term alignment success.

Practical Steps to encourage Alignment

Before you can start implementing practical steps you need to assess the level of alignment within your organization.  The Strategic Alignment Maturity model referenced below was developed by Dr. Jerry Luftman and is based upon the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI).

CMMI - Strategic Alignment

Strategic Alignment Maturity

Once you have identified your current maturity level then you can devise realistic, increment steps to move forward to the next maturity level.  It is also important to periodically assess your organization’s alignment.  What gets measured gets done!

Summary

Why is Business to IT Alignment so hard? Consider the following statements to highlight  the key challenge with alignment.

Business vs IT Value Perspective

Business vs IT Value Drivers

Is Business to IT alignment an impossible goal? No, as long as a practical, measured approach is taken to achieve tangible results.  Business to IT alignment is a strategic goal that can only be reached by taking tactical steps to bring Business and IT closer together to generate mutual understanding and trust. When alignment is achieved communication is effective resulting in valued partnership.

The Next Evolution of ERP: Adaptive ERP

With the initial release of ERP, one of the key “game changers” was the ability of business users to access data and generates reports without direct IT involvement. This empowerment of the business user had a significant impact on business agility. Today, we continue to see ERP vendors focus on providing business-friendly tools for reporting and analysis.  Yet, I can see a new evolution brewing in the ERP industry what I like to call “Adaptive ERP” where business users can perform on-demand actions to meet business changes real-time.  In the next sections we discuss the key capabilities of Adaptive ERP and a practical assessment of where the ERP industry is today.

What is Adaptive ERP?

Adaptive ERP would enable business users to configure, simulate, test, and implement business technology changes with limited traditional IT services (ex. software development).  Predictive analysis will become a reality.  Logical thinking and search methods will be more valuable than technical syntax. Information will become context and even transactional specific.   Following is an illustration of the major domains that Adaptive ERP should address:

Adaptive ERP

Conceptual Model of Adaptive ERP

Domain:  Logical Development

Too often a change in the business model requires an IT development effort.  Any competent IT development will require the following activities:

  • Business requirements gathering
  • Technical design
  • Technical construction
  • Unit, System testing

In general, the greater the number of individuals involved in a project the greater the coordination/communication effort resulting in a greater time commitment.  Enabling business to become agile will require an evolutionary change in how ERP supports business activities.  However, simply removing people out of the equation is not the answer.  What is required is providing business owners the tools and experience required to become more self-sufficient.

Logical Development

Logical Development for ERP

Following is a brief list of the capabilities required to enable business users to perform logical development

  • Business models must be defined as metadata within the ERP software.
  • Business rules are separate from technical components and are exposed directly to business users.
  • Business scenarios are defined separate from the respective business models. Business exceptions are variations to a specific business scenario.
  • Business users should have the ability to run simulations in production (i.e. parallel testing)
  • ERP must provide automated testing support
    • Automated unit and system testing (self-learning via business model metadata).
    • Automated business process test scripting.
    • Test scripts are a results-oriented view of business requirements.
    • Automated impact analysis with logical development change.
  • Business users should be trained in logical and structured thinking.  There has to be a prescribed process to effectively conduct knowledge transfer with the ERP software.  Business users should be able to directly educate (i.e. configure) the ERP software on how they run their business.

Remember that a key value proposition for ERP is to reduce software development.  This is not an argument to eliminate IT but rather to refocus IT from tactical support to strategic activities.  IT will play a very important role in enabling business users in logical and structured thinking.

Domain: Predictive Analysis

Today, there is interest in Big Data and Enterprise 2.0 technologies but they are not the final destination.

Predictive Analysis

Predictive Analysis

At the end of the day, business decisions have an impact on business results. Enterprise 2.0 and Big Data are supportive technologies.  Enterprise 2.0 focuses on the utilization of Web 2.0 standards in developing collaborative technologies like blogs, RSS, social bookmarking, social networking and wikis.  Enterprise 2.0 emphasizes employee, partner and consumer collaboration for creating knowledge.  Big Data is the next evolution in Knowledge Management where it is now viable to manage and utilize both structured and unstructured data.   However, the key challenge remains – how to effectively leverage all the information we are collecting.  We need to flip the following time paradigm:

Data Analysis Cycle

Business Information Cycle

Changing this paradigm will require inference engines that streamline analysis generation and enable predictive analysis.  Following is a brief list of capabilities that will support predictive analysis:

  • Case-Based Inference will provide recommendations based upon data and transactional patterns.
  • Rules-Based Inference will provide tactical, operational decision support based upon standard business principles.
  • Big Data will facilitate the assimilation of structured and unstructured data to identify patterns and provide operational context.
  • Collaborative ERP 2.0 will support collaborative discussions and provide transactional context for decision support.

Advancements like this in analytics will enable business users to focus on the value-add activities of reviewing analysis and drawing conclusions for effective business decisions. 

Domain: Open

Whether or not you are sold on open source ERP,  you have to admire the new paradigm and simplicity that open source ERP promotes.  As we continue to see the consumerization of legacy ERP technologies, the market will continue to drive individual user enablement and vendor independence.  Following is a brief list of capabilities that will promote a more open ERP industry

  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)will enableemployees are able to bring their own computing devices – such as smartphones, laptops and PDAs – to the workplace for use and connectivity on the corporate network.
  • BPMN compliance will ensure that ERP business process definitions will agree with business process definition standards outlined in the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) model.  This model is governed by the Object Management Group (OMG).  In my humble opinion, the OMG is in the best position to define a global standard for business process models.  This advancement will be a key enabler to the holy grail of true enterprise system interoperability.  This is no small task and will require significant market demand to promote this standardization initiative.
  • Collaborative Shared Development is a key benefit of an open community.  Sometimes it takes a village of developers to support an ERP solution.  Today, I can go to the Apple App Store to purchase an app for my iPhone.  In the future, we should see an ERP App Store when a customer or an individual business user can download an object (software, report, role-based feature) to customize their ERP experience.
  • Open Partner Network.  The more integrated your ERP is within your business value chain (suppliers, vendors, customers, providers) the more powerful your ERP system can be.  I expect we will see the ERP market put more value in delivered integrations with partner, supplier, and provider networks over software product features.  SOA will be a key enabler for making open partner networks a reality.

Openness is about creating flexibility and the freedom for a customer to respond to the changing business environment in the most effective manner.

Domain: Viable Solutions

A profound lesson I learned the hard way is that regardless of how many features and products an ERP vendor can provide (even for free); it will all be all in vain if the software is unmanageable.  It is unacceptable that a customer has to pay triple and even quadruple the original software cost to maintain their ERP investment.  Some may argue that ERP vendors have not acted in the best interest of their customers by building features upon features without providing tools to significantly reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Simplifying Technical Support

Simplifying Technical Support

Following is a brief list of capabilities that will significantly reduce TCO:

  • Automated testing (self-learning tools).
  • Automated master data management (information awareness tools).
  • Eliminate the need for multiple instances.
  • Assimilated, holistic solutions– loosely coupled point systems will not work and result in greater costs and possible failures.
    • Minimize the technical stack.
  • Higher Quality Assurance
    • Upgrades/Software Maintenance releases included the test cases and results performed by the ERP vendor.
  • Implementation Wizards
  • Support for Hybrid Deployments
    • Software architecture can support either single or multiple tenants.
    • On-Premise, Hosted, Public Cloud, Private Cloud for either applications and/or data.
      • Example:  Customer decides to store mission-critical data on-premise and internal data on the public cloud.

It should no longer be acceptable that an ERP customer has to totally shoulder additional implementation and upgrade costs.  This is not indicative of a true partnership.

Challenge to ERP Industry for Adaptive ERP

Today, we continue to see a consolidation of the ERP industry.  With these acquisitions some ERP vendors provide some limited capabilities of Adaptive ERP but these capabilities are spread across multiple software products and platforms.  An ERP solution is only as strong as its weakest link (integration).  More technologies loosely coupled together usually mean (a) more IT resources, (b) additional points of failure, and (c) a more complicated experience for business users. We have witnessed where ERP software has become bloated with features upon features without any logical progression.  ERP customers are forced to deal and pay for unused features resulting in more frustration than simplicity.

Many top-tier ERP software solution packages use a systems configuration concept to set up the business environment for some time but please allow me to challenge the industry a little more. I agree that several ERP software packages provides configuration concept yet there is no clear decrease in implementation schedule (ex. SAP) or cost savings associated with this approach because the currently exposed configurations do not change that frequently (ex. Earning Codes, GL Accounts). Objects like business rules, scenarios, and exceptions change more frequently. This is a challenge for some ERP software (ex. PeopleSoft) where many business rules are encapsulated within the technical object. Pre-configurations are only a beginning – it adds value in the short-term but ERP is a long-term proposition. In my humble opinion, the key is to expose the underlying business model to business users for greater real-time interaction.

Also, there are Master Data Management (MDM) solutions available to support a tactical level of data governance by removing duplicates, standardizing data and, incorporating rules to eliminate incorrect data from entering the ERP system.  For Adaptive ERP, MDM must advance in what I call “information awareness”.   Information awareness means two things (1) MDM is able to automatically detect and define new information sources within the enterprise ecosystem via data polling, and (2) MDM is able to determine how data is used.  These capabilities will be key enablers for automated impact analysis.

What we need to have is a mature, open, holistic solution where all the individual software platforms are assimilated into a robust, uniformed solution.  This is not simply building a dashboard that brings together two separate user sessions together or an orchestration level that adds another level of technology abstraction and performance overhead.  A viable solution is a manageable solution.

Summary

I’m a firm believer in performing non-competitive business activities as competent and cheap as possible.  In that end I am a firm believer in ERP.  However, the ERP industry has come up short in the areas of total cost of ownership and business adaptability.  Many on both sides of the aisle have wrongly concluded that more software features and increasing the technical stack are the answers for making ERP adaptable.  Putting more power in the hand of business users is the strategic answer for business agility.  People are the most important and adaptive component of a business solution.

Building a Better ERP Estimate

There are several documented examples of ERP implementations that went over budget or did not hit the original go-live date.  There are also many explanations out there to explain why these ERP implementations did not meet budget or timeline.  Instead of repeating common information out in the ERP blogosphere, I would like to speak to a root cause that is typically overlooked by our industry – inaccurate ERP implementation estimations.   In the next sections we will take a closer look at building a better ERP estimate.

Rule #1 – Have the right type of information to calculate an ERP Estimate

Developing a competent estimate for an ERP implementation or major customization can be a challenge for both seasoned consulting partners and a new ERP customer.   In a previous life I developed ERP implementation estimators for one of Tier-1 ERP software vendors.  I also developed both Time & Materials as well as Fixed-Price ERP implementation estimates – some good, some not so good.

Simply stated – an ERP implementation estimate is based upon your current understanding of the following areas:

Information Drivers for ERP Implementation Estimates

Information Drivers for ERP Implementation Estimates

 Let’s focus on some specific areas that are typically overlooked or under appreciated. 

Area Description
Customer Participation Implementation partners are generally good about estimating their level of effort to support ERP implementations but fall far short in estimating the effort for the customer.    In the majority of ERP implementations, customer must make available their best and brightest resources to support the implementation.  Odds are that these resources play a major role in current operations.  The ERP estimate should include any need to backfill existing business resources.
Project Scope Project scope refers to the implementation activities that need to be performed and who is responsible for performing the task(s).  Unfortunately, customers see this as an area to reduce implementation costs by taking on activities that they do not have the skills/resource availability to complete (ex. Organization Change Management).  People make ERP successful.
Product Scope Too often business processes and product scope is defined only at the product level (example: we are implementing the ERP’s Purchasing module).  How can I tell what business activities and features are out of scope?  Developing focus is much harder to develop and maintain. 
Implementation Partner Constraints  Every implementation partner has constraints!  It is a just a reality that should be factored into any ERP estimate.  For example, how much lead time should be given for an Implementation partner to replace a consultant?

You can never hope to create a realistic estimate without having valid information on the drivers that influence scope, schedule, and resources.  The next step is to understand your level of comprehension of the information that drives the ERP estimate. 

 Rule #2 – Understand the type of ERP Estimate you are calculating

Per the Project Management Institute’s Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) there are three types of estimates for a project.  These estimates are based upon your level of understanding for project scope, constraints, and assumptions.

Levels of ERP Estimate Accuracies

How Understanding Drives Estimate Accuracy

Simply stated – the more you know about the task(s) at hand the greater the probability of calculating a realistic estimate!  The trouble is that too many ERP implementations do not generate a definitive estimate.   A majority of implementation partners generate estimates during the sales cycle where estimates may approach a budgetary accuracy – at best.  To compensate for the estimation accuracy (-10% to 25%)  many implementation partners incorrectly utilize contingency reserves and management reserves to plug the potential estimate gap.   This is just a bad estimating practice which will most likely result in budget challenges further down in the implementation.  Fortunately, there are steps we can take to develop better ERP estimates.

Rule #3 – Drive to validate and refine your ERP estimate

Estimates can and should change as you learn more about the project.  However, there is an expectation out there that estimates should be defined once and they should be completely accurate.  Here is where I see the process break down.  Once an Implementation partner communicates an estimate too often the customer will latch and consider it an iron-clad promise.  The key driver for this phenomenon has more to do with the Implementation partner setting the wrong expectation when an estimate is communicated.   Customers encourage this behavior by focusing on cost as the key competitive differentiator.  Also, there is a perception in the market that if an implementation partner cannot provide a single estimate then the Implementation partner does not have the experience.  Customers, this may be the case but do not blindly jump to that conclusion.

Best Practices for obtaining ERP Estimates from your Implementation partner

Over the years I have been asked by customers what is the best approach to get a reliable, cost-effective estimate from Implementation Partners.  When should a customer request a fixed price estimate versus a time & materials estimate?  Following are some general guidelines I would like to communicate based upon my experience:

  • Fixed Price versus Time & Materials: Have the Implementation partner provide a Time & Materials estimate for project planning, requirements gathering, and fit/gap.  Once the Fit/Gap is performed you should know exactly what you are up against and then ask for a competitive bid/fixed price estimate to complete the remaining work.
  • Complete Information:  Always ask the Implementation Partner to provide an estimate with the following information
    • Product Scope
    • Project Scope
    • Assumptions
    • Constraints
    • FTE Hour Requirements for both the Implementation Partner and customer resources
    • Estimate accuracy – let customers know up-front that the estimate will change
  • Quantify Reserves: Ask the implementation partner if the estimate contains either a contingency or management reserve.  If so then ask what % of the total estimate is for reserves.  If this % is greater than 10% then this is a sign that the Implementation partner did not gather enough information to generate a realistic estimate.  If the implementation partner does not calculate a reserve then consider this estimate suspect (red flag).
  • Knowledge Transfer:  Just as important it is for an Implementation partner to perform knowledge transfer to enable customer resources to support ERP, it’s as important for the customer to educate the Implementation partner on the unique aspects of their business model.  The better the understanding the better the estimate.

Summary 

There are many of my peers who would consider ERP estimation more of an art than a science.  In my humble opinion, this is a bad philosophy that either results in generating an unrealistic estimate or the customer spending more money than is required.   Customers should also be realistic and understand that estimates created in the early stages of an ERP implementation will change and focus on making the right decisions for mutual success.  Level of effort estimations for ERP implementations are based upon the current understanding of the ERP implementation.  Some ERP estimates are easier to calculate given a predefined implementation scope, however, there will always factors unique to a customer that must be explored, defined, and refined during key milestone implementation activities.

Developing a Business Case for ERP Customizations

To customize or not to customize – that is the question which continues to be a source of contention and confusion.  On one hand, customization(s) can result in an expensive ERP solution.  However, ERP software enhancements can provide a competitive advantage or cost reduction that is customer-specific.  The challenge is not in the question itself but rather how the answer is justified.  Unfortunately, many business cases for ERP customizations are either too short-sighted or do not fully comprehend the impacts to the ERP investment.  In the next section we will discuss the key components required for an ERP business case for customization(s).

 Business Case Overview

 Following is a business case template I’ve used as a consultant to justify ERP customizations. 

Valuation and Justification for ERP customization

Business Case Format

Let’s briefly discuss each section in greater detail.  The Problem (or Opportunity) section should clearly define the issue(s) as well as the target audience who will benefit from addressing the problem.  The problem section should also explain the compelling reason (s) why the problem should be addressed.  The Solution section should speak directly to solving the problem or addressing the opportunity.  The solution section must include the method(s) used to validate that the proposed solution solved the defined problem.

The Approach section details the viable methods available to implement the solution.  The approach section should not be a theoretically exploration of all possible options.  Too often I have observed where unrealistic approaches were defined, which did more to confuse decision makers rather than create a focused, compelling argument.  In general, I typically provide three approaches when pitching an ERP customization:

  • Full Customization (Extreme)
  • Partial Customization (Middle of the Road)
  • Out Of The Box (OOTB) (Extreme)

Following is a generic example of comparing the above options:

Possible Approaches for ERP Gaps

Possible Approaches for ERP Gaps

Moving back to the business case, the Risk Assessment section outlines the risk(s) associated with each approach option defined in the previous section as well as identifying the risk(s) of doing nothing to address the problem/opportunity.  The final section is the Value Analysis section.  The key challenge I have noted is that short-term value methods (examples: benefit/cost analysis, payback period) are used to support a decision with a long-term impact.   In the next section we will discuss the unique considerations one must address in developing a valid ERP software customization value analysis.

Value Assessment Considerations for ERP

In addition to the short-term costs associated with ERP customizations one must consider the following areas to calculate the long-term costs:

  1. Impact to Upgrade and Maintenance:  What is the impact that the customization will have to the ERP maintenance and upgrade process.  Is the software customization intrusive? – Meaning is it an add-on enhancement or a fundamental change to how the ERP software works?  The more intrusive the customization is the greater the costs required for ERP support and upgrades.   Frequent ERP upgrades are a key strategy for driving additional business value.
  2. Impact to IT Resource Sourcing:  The more you customize the ERP software the more customer-specific ERP knowledge an IT resource requires to provide an effective level of service.  Additional customizations will have a shrinking effect on the IT resource pool and may have the potential of driving up related IT support costs. 
  3. Cumulative Impact to the IT Footprint:  Too often we consider customizations individually and not part of the total ERP software changes made.   A field change here or a new application page may not seem like a big deal but you must remember that you must support everything you customize.

The above areas will ensure that you generate a holistic set of information for an informed decision.  Too often, short-sighted decisions are made to customize ERP without completely understanding the potential impacts.  The next section will shed more light on some of the less obvious risks associated with not having a holistic business case.

 Risks of not developing an effective ERP customization business case

Incomplete information results in incomplete decisions and more importantly – missed expectations and business results.  Following are a few of the key risks generated from over-customizing your ERP software:

  1. Greater operational costs:  There is an additional cost associated with customizations –typically required from the IT organization to support and manage the software changes. 
  2. Slower deployments of technology:  With additional technology dependencies generated by ERP customizations come the additional planning and testing activities required to deploy new ERP functionality.
  3. Lost opportunity costs:  This is an area that is typically overlooked in customization value analysis.  It is more than just comparing one ERP customization to another but also identifying the potential reduction in flexibility ERP software can provide to the business. 

Summary

ERP is a long-term proposition and requires a long-term business case and value analysis for any change in the ERP’s value proposition.   Too often decisions on ERP customizations are based upon partial information and are made in isolation.   ERP is only one component of a business solution.  Business processes and People have a greater impact on business results. 

Key Drivers for Business Results

Key Drivers for Business Results

Granted, the full impact of a customization decision may not be fully appreciated in the short-term but poor decisions will build into a formidable wave that will keep you from experiencing value from your ERP investment.

 

Business pain can be good for ERP

Instinctively, we all try to avoid or minimize pain.  This is true for individuals as well as business organizations.  However, in our attempts to reduce pain, we too often focus on eliminating the symptoms without addressing the underlying root cause.  We may feel temporary relieve but our short-term decisions only lead us to a point were the pain resurfaces and the available options to address the pain become more limited and costly.   In the next sections, we will discuss how to address business pain by effectively utilizing your existing ERP investment.

Step #1 – Take an appropriate problem solving approach

Following is a standard problem-solving approach as defined in the Project Management Institute’s Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).

Root cause analysis

Root Cause Analysis

Seems easy enough!  The challenge I’ve observed is that many organizations do not execute the problem-solving process effectively.  To compound this challenge many customers believe that having an ERP system somehow accelerates or simplifies the problem-solving process.  Following are some of the common misconceptions that cause ERP customers to miss the mark in solving problems.

Missing the Mark

Missing the Mark

The misperceptions and inappropriate expectations surrounding ERP can cloud your view of the real problem.  However, the greater hindrances to effective problem solving are the views that (a) pain is bad, and (b) quick-fixes are more desirable (demanded) than permanent solutions to business problems. For an ERP perspective, the typical end-result to quick fixes will be more customizations.  Greater customizations result in less flexibility and more costs. If unchecked, your organization can build band aid fixes on top of one another,which may ultimately result in a catastrophic event.  The key to eliminating this quick-fix mentality is to change the perspective of how pain is viewed.

Step #2 – See business pain as an opportunity

My daughter loves to play volleyball.  Recently, she has experienced some pain with her ankles as well as experienced some falls that caused my wife and me to have concerns.  I suspect that I’m a little over-sensitive given that our daughter has Type-1 diabetes.  We took our daughter to see a sports physician specialist to identify the problem.  “Your daughter has a good problem to have.,” said the specialist, “she is still growing!  Your daughter is still figuring out how to coordinate her changing limbs.”  Whew!  What at relief yet what a good life lesson.  Too often, organizations can’t see past the present pain. We focus only on the symptoms (negatives) without looking for the opportunities (positives).

Many times, IT organizations are motivated by addressing problems by taking a “triage” or ‘fire-fighting” mentality.  IT performance metrics can support this mentality if the focus is only on cycle-time and response-time metrics.  Don’t get me wrong, if a production system goes offline unexpectedly, you can bet that a quick response is warranted.  A red flag to look for is when ERP support problems are seen as an inconvenience rather than an opportunity.  This can be especially frustrating to IT when the problem is a recurring issue.  When viewed as a hindrance there is the natural human tendency to deal with the issue as quickly as possible to move on to the next problem. To get out of the above support rut  first we need to eliminate or minimize reoccurring problems through effective problem solving.  Once performed the IT organization can spend the time to evaluate viable options for greater ERP value generation.

Step #3 – Use business pain as a driver to increase ERP value generation

During my career as an ERP consultant, one of the key challenges I faced with every one of my customers was how to drive additional value from their ERP investment.  As I did additional analysis, a common theme across my customers was that they did not realize the rapid deployment of new ERP functionality.  Based upon my experience, I have identified the top three strategies that support long-term, rapid delivery from ERP.

Strategies for Rapid Delivery via ERP

Rapid Deployment Strategies for ERP

As seen from the illustration above the single largest driver for long-term, rapid delivery of addition value from a customer’s ERP investment is frequent upgrades. However, in the effort to address tactical business pain quickly IT organizations built customizations as quick fixes instead of allowing these opportunities to drive the value proposition for an ERP upgrade.  It is important that the internal IT organization resist the temptation for a quick win and illuminate the IT roadmap that will provide the opportunity for greater value from their ERP investment.  In the next section, we will briefly discuss the price to be paid if one uses ERP as a means to a quick fix.

 The price of ERP quick fixes

There is a price associated with every decision made.  In the case of ERP, the short-term gains will eventually result in limiting your ERP strategy.  ERP quick fixes are typically implemented as customizations.  Customizations require a greater level of support from the customer’s IT organization (because ERP vendors do not support customizations).  IT spends more time performing support activities (indirect business value) versus building new enhancements (direct business value).

Second, customizations add to the upgrade effort.  Third – and most important – performing quick fixes send a signal to customers that counters the basic value proposition of ERP (packaged) software.  The price of ERP quick fixes may be small at first but they will have a compounding effect on the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

 Summary

Pain is the way our bodies (and organizations) communicate that something is wrong.  It defines the gap between where we are and where we want to be.  Effective root-cause analysis is the first step to correctly diagnoses the pain and identify viable solutions.  ERP can play a positive or sometimes negative role in addressing business pains.  The key to understand how to correctly apply ERP technology to transform business pains into opportunities for greater business value.

Best of Breed vs. Integrated ERP

We have all heard the proverb “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”   Applying this concept to business software, we would conclude that a business solution is only as strong as its weakest integration.  Usually overlooked and underestimated, integration is one of the most important factors to consider as part of a best of breed vs. integrated ERP solution.   The benefit of richer functionality is limited by partial integration.   In the next sections, we will discuss all the factors to consider as part of making an informed decision regarding best of breed vs. integrated ERP.

Best of Breed versus Integrated ERP

The typical value proposition for best of breed software is the deeper and industry-specific functionality provided.  This advantage is especially important for generating competitive advantage.   It is vital that an organization’s revenue-generating business processes are competitive.  However, it is not strategic to an organization to be competitive in non revenue-generating business activities.  Consider the following:

Advantages and Disadvantages with Best of Breed vs. Integrated ERP

Advantages and Disadvantages with Best of Breed and Integrated ERP

Allow me to expound on a few key facts expressed above:

  1. Integrating a best of breed application with ERP software will result in additional cost and maintenance (ex. dual upgrade and maintenance cycle).
  2. Developing integration between a best of breed application and ERP software will not be as robust as the delivered ERP integrations between its applications.  Part of result has to do with the total integration cost over the life of ERP and the other area is the simple fact that the underlying data models are different.

The question I challenge my customers with is “Will having a best of breed software versus integrated ERP worth the cost?”  Will the additional investment generate a significant impact to competitive advantage?

Allow me to provide a real life example.  I was working with a large insurance provider with their ERP implementation.  As part of the ERP implementation, the customer was considering a best of breed software package instead of utilizing delivered ERP functionality to support IT project management activities.  Following is the case I presented to advise the customer in making their decision:

Outlining considerations for best of breed and integrated ERP

Building the Case for Best of Breed vs Integrated ERP

Ultimately, the business makes the decision but as business technology advisors (IT, Consultants) it is our responsibility to present all the relevant information in the appropriate content so an informed decision can be made.  There is one area in particular that is generally not fully elaborated – the true cost of integration.

The True Cost of Integration

When we think about integration between two different software packages we usually only focus on transactions.  To continue with the example I provided in the previous section, following is a representation of the required integrations between ERP and the best of breed packaged software.

Integration points for Best of Breed with ERP

Integration points for Best of Breed with ERP

Each packaged software has business rules and control data (ex. Project types) that govern how software functionality supports business activities.  Also, consider that the underlying data models for each packaged software are different.  There must be a process (either manual or automatic) in place to keep the respective business rules and control data in sync.  Business transactions must also be replicated between the ERP and the Best of Breed packaged software.  It is worth considering the amount of data that must be replicated between the two software packages.  I understand that replication sounds much worse than integration; however, when we need to integrate transactions between different data models, replication is typically the approach taken.  Even when an ERP vendor indicates they have delivered integration with a best of breed packaged software we need to ask whether the integration is services-oriented or data-oriented (replicated).

There are also strategic considerations for a customer’s IT organization.  Consider the following sources:

Costs required to integrate a best of breed software with ERP

Total Integration Costs for business software

Making the decision to implement a best of breed approach for supporting business activities will increase the total cost of IT as well as put the underlying technical architecture is not flexible and adaptable to meet emerging requirements.

Does Best of Breed Make Sense?

Let me say this loud and clear “ABSOLUTELY”.  ERP can be a good integrated solution to support revenue-supporting, compliance, and generally accepted best practices.  However, ERP does not support competitive practices (if it did then the business practice would no longer be competitive because it is generally available to everyone).   Generally speaking, a best of breed software vendor may be more open to active collaboration and co-development with customers in developing solutions for emerging requirements – which is the nature of revenue-generating business processes.   Yes, there will be the additional cost and support but the payoff is far more significant in terms of the potential for increased revenue and market share.

Summary

Business processes, not individual business functions, generate business results.  Too often, we only focus on business activities and the specific software functionality that supports these activities without holistically addressing the entire business process.  This limited view typically results in a short-sighted decision resulting in a higher Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and a less flexible software solution.

Best of breed software may be the best decision for supporting revenue-generating business processes.  There are times were integrated ERP is the right choice given the potential return.  What is most important to consider is which choice will enable the customer to be in the best position to take advantage of future opportunities.

Creating a Flexible and Adaptable ERP Solution

Every customer I assisted in their ERP implementation wanted an ERP solution that would be flexible and adaptable.   One of the key challenges and disappointments customers have with ERP are around flexibility and adaptability.  We also need to address the common misinterpretations associated with the concepts of a flexible and adaptable ERP solution.  Referring back to a previous blog we know that ERP is only one component of a business solution.  There are three key areas to address as part of developing a flexible and adaptable business solution.

Know The Limitations

Technically speaking, there are two key methods to enable packaged software like ERP to be flexible and adaptable:

  1. Programming (addresses flexibility or the ability to change)
  2. Configuration (addresses adaptability or the ability to easily change)

Each of these methods has inherent advantages and challenges associated with them.  Configuration has been a key area of focus for ERP vendors to create greater software adaptability.  Configurations enable less technical, business-oriented users to determine how ERP behaves to specific events and conditions.  Configuration provides the opportunity for cost-effective flexibility to meet the unique business requirements.  However, where there is no option for configuration then programming must be used to enable ERP software the flexibility to meet the unique requirement.

Programming provides an exact prescription to address a specific business event, condition, or activity.  There are programming techniques and add-on utilities that provide some level of technical flexibility (examples: object-oriented programming, services-oriented architecture) but business flexibility is extremely limited at best (unless an ERP vendor can devise a practical means of applying artificial intelligence – fuzzy logic to their software).   There are limitations with the amount of flexibility and adaptability you can create via software.  What is important to remember is that there are other components of a business solution that better suited to address flexibility and adaptability.

Know Your Strengths

Let’s revisit the components of a business solution along with their inherent strengths.

Strengths of Business Solution

Business Solution Strengths

Too often we do not effectively utilize the strengths of the key components of a business solution.  ERP software is good at automating consistent, repeatable activities based upon a prescribed logic (business rules).  ERP software is not a sustainable, cost-effective option for dynamic activities based upon fuzzy logic (business rules).  People are more flexible and adaptable than ERP software.  Please do not take the above statement to an extreme and infer that every customer should conform their business activities to the ERP software.  ERP implementations should include software enhancements to address the unique value-add requirements of a customer.

Flexibility and adaptability only have value within the context of enabling ERP to position itself optimally in supporting key business drivers.   Next, we will discuss the common drivers that must be coordinated as part of addressing flexibility and adaptability.

Finding Balance

Every customer will have unique business drivers that must be managed in a balanced approach.  Given my implementation experience following are what I consider the common business drivers that we might address as part of an ERP implementation

Balancing ERP

A balanced ERP solution

Can we have a flexible and adaptable ERP solution?  I believe that the answer is yes.  Can we have an efficient and effective ERP solution?  Yes.  Can we have a scalable and efficient solution?  Yes, however we can only experience both characteristics to a certain level.  The challenge I observed is when an extreme position is taken in one of these areas.  Like a ball on a flat table once we start tilting the table (taking an extreme position) the ball will roll off the table – - along with your ERP implementation.

Finding balance is an ongoing exercise to find the right level of applying the influence of the specific business driver upon the ERP project.  It is also important to know and understand at what level of influence will business drivers start conflicting with one another.

Summary

Flexibility and adaptability are reasonable expectations for a business solution.  The key challenges in this area tend to be around inaccurate expectations and not effectively utilizing the individual components of a business solution.  What is required is a practical analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, and business drivers to develop a balanced approach for success.  This analysis is not a one-time event but a continuous effort that is triggered when emerging pain is experienced.  Experiencing pain provides the opportunity for rebalancing your ERP solution.

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