ERP Project 101: Challenging ERP Requirements

I am not arrogant enough to believe that ERP software vendors are the guardians of best practices.  Nor do I blindly subscribe to the notion that the customer is always right.  What I do know and believe is that a good implementation partner will balance customer needs and wants with the fundamental value proposition of the ERP software to ensure customers have relevant information to make informed decisions.  The following blog posting will discuss some practical guidance that implementation partners can utilize to vet business requirements.

You must be given permission to challenge customer requirements

Regardless of your previous experience or how smart you think you are in order to be effective as an ERP implementation partner, you must be given permission by the customer to challenge their ERP requirements.  It is rare to receive this permission automatically but rather it must be earned by the implementation partner.  Following are core principles I use to earn that permission:

Vetting ERP Requirements

Earning the Right to Challenge Requirements

 

Knowing ERP functionality is simply not good enough.  A competent implementation partner is able to advise and influence their customers to draw the right conclusions and make informed decisions.  Next we will discuss how a good consultant guides the customer towards making an informed decision.

Lead by asking informed questions

In my early days of ERP consulting, I was taught to ask open-ended questions to prompt the customer to provide as much information as possible.  I agree with this approach as long as the information is value-add and guides the customer down the right path.  Too often I see ERP consultants mindlessly ask the customer 100+ ERP functional questions that focus more on “how” than “what” and “why”.  The following illustration provides key concepts that questions should drive customers to consider: 

Asking the Right Questions

Asking Informed Questions

 

Use questions to educate.  Use questions to persuade.  Questions should lead your customer to challenge assumptions and perceptions in their current environment.  A perceived requirement may be a limitation of the current system or organizational structure.  Just remember that asking the right questions is just the beginning to changing minds.

The best pressure is peer pressure

As a third-party external resource with limited knowledge of the customer’s business model, there are limitations implementation partners will have on generating customer ownership and adoption.  What consultants should do is facilitate and promote a process where relevant information is presented and evaluated.    Do not evaluate business requirements in functional silos but as part of the larger business process across all business stakeholders.  Visibility across the business process creates accountability – especially with peers within the customer’s organization.

Results of Business Requirements

Understanding the Impact of Business Requirements

 

The basic value proposition of ERP systems is providing the automation of best practices – that is common business practices – across a broad market/industry.  A direct contradiction against this key benefit is when a business requirement has to be addressed via a software customization.    Additional scrutiny listed above should be undertaken to validate the additional investment required.

Not challenging business requirements is a disservice to customers

A fundamental expectation that customers have for ERP solutions is to have a flexible and cost-effective business solution.  A key assumption required for cost-effectiveness is that ERP “out of the box” functionality addresses the majority of the customer’s business model.  Customizations have both a short-term and long-term impact on cost effectiveness.   I am not arrogant enough to state that ERP software addresses all the best practices a customer may be utilizing.  However, I have observed too many ERP implementation partners take the easy option of catering to user requests without leading the customer through a critical analysis to determine both the short-term and long-term implications of a specific customization. There are legitimate needs for customizations.  It is not an ERP implementation partner to prevent customizations but rather to ensure that customers have appropriate expectations and conclusions as a result of their implementation decisions.

Summary

In my humble opinion, good ERP implementation partners educate their customers in how to best utilize ERP software to support their business.  This not only requires ERP software knowledge and but more importantly requires the business acumen to understand current requirements and advise on future requirements.  Customers, if you are looking for an implementation partner that can act as a leader then you will have to pay a higher rate versus a staff augmentation partner.   ERP vendors play a very important role during an implementation - especially where it comes to best practices that are not delivered out of the box by the ERP software.  ERP vendors should provide multiple processes and examples of working with customers to influence software roadmaps and/or co-develop automated solutions.  Action speaks louder than words!  True partnership requires an investment from every player.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,410 other followers

%d bloggers like this: