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:
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:
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.
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.
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.