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 Application Strategy Roadmap for Maximizing Long-Term ROI

You have just implemented your ERP solution – congratulations!  Now what?  Will your ERP experience become an endless cycle of applying maintenance patches and upgrades?  Many customers only realize a fraction of the business value that ERP can provide.  Too often customers rely on their ERP vendor to provide the long-term vision and strategy for increasing ERP ROI – which is general as best. In the next sections, I would like to speak to you about internally creating the vision and strategy for maximizing your ERP investment over the long-term.  It all starts with having an ERP application strategy roadmap.

What is an ERP Application Strategy Roadmap

The ERP application strategy roadmap documents the application strategy that enables the stated business goals, strategies, and processes to be achieved given the IT goals, governance, and capacity.  Generating and maintaining ERP application strategy roadmaps will ensure alignment between business goals, strategies, and performance targets to the required ERP functionality.  In addition, the application strategy roadmap provides the framework for a shared prioritization mechanism for conflicting business and IT priorities. Consider the following illustration:

ERP Application Strategy Roadmap

ERP Application Strategy Roadmap

Practically speaking, there will always be two different  perspectives for ERP strategy and prioritization.  What is important is that your organization has an ongoing process to align business priorities and IT priorities for your business solution.  Having an ERP application strategy roadmap is a deliverable that will support the alignment process.  In the next section, we will address the activities for creating an ERP application strategy roadmap.

Creating an ERP Application Strategy Roadmap

The following illustration outlines the key activities to perform in creating an ERP application strategy roadmap.

ERP Application Strategy Process

ERP Application Strategy Process

For brevity sake, I would like to focus on two key activities that are typically overlooked during the development ERP application strategies:

  1. Step 2 – Inventory Current State Solution
  2. Step 3 – Define Gaps, Duplication, & Inefficiencies

Once your organization defines the business goals and strategies (Step 1), the next analysis is to determine what components are in place to support the business needs.

Mapping ERP Features to Business Objectives, Goals, and Strategies

Mapping ERP Features to Business Objectives, Goals, and Strategies

In the illustration above you see that the business objectives are supported by a series of business strategies that provides the first level of support for meeting the agreed upon objectives.  Business strategies are further elaborated into the individual business processe(s), people, and ERP capabilities that will support the implementation. Performing this experience is important in order to identify the required interdependencies between the components of a business solution.

Once the above analysis is performed, the next step is to conduct an ERP assessment.  The ERP assessment will provide you with the insight needed to understand how your organization utilizes your ERP system. This analysis will enable you identify opportunities to better align with business objectives and goals.   In additional to finding opportunities your organization should identify gaps and duplicate functionality that should be addressed.  Consider the following:

Highlighting ERP System Gaps and Duplicate Functionality

Identifying ERP System Gaps and Duplications

An important exercise that needs to be performed is to map business requirements to the existing ERP solution(s).  The above illustration is an example of mapping business objectives to the individual systems that would said objectives.  This exercise is very useful for identifying gaps and functionality overlap (Step 3).

The Price of Not Having an ERP Application Strategy Roadmap

Performing a current assessment (Step 2) and identifying opportunities and gaps within the current ERP environment (Step 3) is no small feat of effort.  Many times these activities are perceived as “looking back” and generate no real value of moving forward.  I humbly disagree and say that these activities are vital to enabling customers to move forward with a realistic and achievable strategy.  Without an ERP application strategy customers are “blindly following” the ERP vendor’s application strategy – which may not be in the best interest of a single individual customer.

ERP Return On Investment Analysis

ERP Return On Investment Analysis

It is important to realize that your ERP solution will have incremental costs (red arrows) throughout the ERP life-cycle.  Without an ERP application strategy in place, your organization is taking a gamble that business benefits from ERP will continue to outpace the corresponding operational costs.

Summary

Maximizing your ERP investment is a process – not a milestone.   Not only do you need to understand the ERP functionality implemented but also how that functionality supports business results.   To achieve long-lasting value from ERP you need to have a long-term strategy to incrementally generate additional value because you will generate additional incremental cost over the ERP life-cycle.

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