IT to Business Alignment for ERP implementations

You’ve decided on the ERP software you need, the Business side has bought into it, and you’ve even picked your Implementation Partner. Now the hard work begins: Making sure that your software deployment strategy sets your company up for success, and that means making sure Business, IT and the Implementation Partner are all speaking the same language.

 

Increasing knowledge transfer and collaboration between business and IT

Driving IT to Business Alignment

First, we need to understand that Business, IT, and the Implementation Partner are coming from different perspectives.   Every party has a knowledge gap to address.  Business best understands their existing business model and the underlying success drivers.  The Implementation Partner understands the ERP software and has multiple years of implementation experience.  IT best understands how technology supports the existing business model as well as how best to utilize existing corporate IT technologies.  Alignment is generated only when a common understand of the business model, ERP software, and technology capabilities are shared by all three parties.  When this alignment occurs there is effective communications and faster decision-making.  Decisions move implementations forward. 

Following is a recommended set of steps to develop a common understanding for effective collaboration:

  • Document existing business processes

It is an area that I see many ERP implementations lack.  The typical challenge I hear is “Why document my existing business processes if I know they are changing?”  Here are my reasons:

  1. Business users usually do not have a consistent understanding of their business model.   Going through the exercise of documenting business process will highlight these differences and drive deeper understanding.
  2. Documenting the existing business model will enable you to highlight the EXACT organizational changes that will occur.  How can you manage organizational change when you do not have a clear understanding of what’s changing?
  3. Business process maps can be a key source of information to quickly educate IT and the Implementation Partner on the existing business process model.
  • Educate IT and the Implementation Partner on the existing business model

Business should take a formal, iterative process to educate IT and the Implementation Partner on the existing business model.  The entire project team should be involved in this training and should progress from a solution-level overview to a detailed business-role level.   Following is a suggested approach for conducting this training:

Level Description Suggested Duration
Business Solution Provide an executive overview of the existing business processes, systems, and organizations that make up the existing business solution. 4 hours
Business Process Provide a work flow of business activities that result from a business event.  Key variations and exceptions should be noted. 2 hours for each business process
Business Activities grouped by Role Provide a “day in the life” experience for key roles that support the business solution. 1 hour for each role
  • Complete ERP software training BEFORE the Implementation Partner arrives

Just as it is important for your Implementation Partner to understand your business model and your language it is important that Business and IT have an understanding of the ERP software and its language.  Effective communication is a two party effort.  Taking the required ERP training before the arrival of your Implementation Partner will enable you to more effectively work together.

  • Have the Implementation Partner conduct supplemental ERP software training

Education is an iterative process – you will never learn everything you need to know for supporting ERP  in one training class.  ERP vendors only provide foundational training.  I always say that the Implementation Partner completes ERP training for the customer.  Implementation Partners have hands-on experience with configuration and maintenance of ERP solutions. 

  • Implementation documentation should be more business-oriented

Nothing encourages alignment more than being able to think like your end customer.  Too often we create project documentation that focuses more on technology than business reasoning and justification.  There are times were I am guilty of moving too quickly from what needs to be done to how will it be done without understanding why does it need to be done.  At the end of the day we build software to drive business results.

 Summary

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.  Implementing ERP software is an opportunity to generate greater alignment by developing a common language for effective collaboration.  When alignment is achieved then decision-making is effective resulting in a greater opportunity for success.

From the book “Maximize Your Investment: 10 Key Strategies for Effective Packaged Software Implementations” by Brett Beaubouef.

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Accelerating ERP Implementations

Accelerating ERP/COTS implementations have been an elusive goal of vendors, implementation partners, and customers. For five years I worked for the #2 business software maker focusing on accelerating implementations. During those five years I chased the dream and learned many lessons along the way. Following are some of the key lessons I would like to share with you.

If you did a search on accelerated or rapid implementation you would most likely find the following enablers for rapid implementations:

  • Software with built-in best practices
  • Industry preconfigurations
  • Implementation tools and templates (Needs Assessment, Fit/Gap summary)
  • Deployment (ex. SaaS, Hosted)

Notice anything missing? It’s interesting to note that these accelerators are software-focused. Not to say that the above tools/templates are not important, however, there are more important factors that can have a greater impact on accelerating implementations.

Customer

It’s a known fact that the customer needs to provide the right resources (Business, IT) with deep knowledge and experience with the existing business solution. What I see lacking is guidance to customers regarding what they need to do to prepare for a rapid implementation. If the implementation partner and software vendor is serious about accelerating implementations then they will provide customers with a preparation checklist that enables the implementation partner to “hit the ground running” with the customer. At a minimum the customer should perform the following:

  • Take all required software training BEFORE the implementation partner arrives. This activity will enable the customer to effectively and clearly communicate with the implementation partner.
  • Document your existing business processes. For effective collaboration with the implementation partner the customer needs to EDUCATE the implementation partner on their current business solution. A picture is worth a thousand words and accelerates knowledge transfer!

Implementation Partner

Consultants that are successful at accelerating implementations are an elite group. These individuals are business solution experts that are both functional and technical. They have the ability to help the customer make both software and business decisions. At a minimum the consultant should understand how the ERP/COTS software supports an ENTIRE business process (Order to Cash), not just a specific business function (Expense Reporting).

Decision Making

The ability to make decisions quickly is one of the most overlooked aspects of accelerating implementations. Decisions move implementations forward. Following are the recommended methods you can use to speed up decisions:

  • Conduct prototyping during the sales cycle to define core requirements, validate software results, and eliminate options. The more questions you can answer during the sales cycle the faster the implementation can move.
  • A rapid implementation approach requires full-time dedication from business owners. Business owners will be the key decision-makers and must be empowered to make decisions within hours, not days or weeks.
  • Need to have a clearly defined scope. This includes (a) what’s in scope, (b) what’s out of scope, (c) and who’s doing what. Just as important to scope definition is to define constraints and assumptions.

At a minimum the ERP/COTS scope statement should contain the following sections:

  • Packaged software features in scope (product scope). This also includes restrictions on software features in scope (example: only five customer types will be included in the rapid implementation).
  • Packaged software features out of scope (product scope).
  • Implementation activities and party responsible (project scope).
  • A clearly defined scope allows the project team to focus on the activities that have a direct impact on the project objective(s) while filtering out “out of scope” work.

Methodology and Approach

I have observed two areas that slow down ERP/COTS implementations: customizations and evolving requirements (even with a predefined scope). From my experience my approach has been to minimize these areas by the following:

  • Only implement the software functionality that supports the business activity the customer performs TODAY. New business activities typically result in evolving requirements because the customer has no detailed experiences or agreed-upon expectations.
  • Take a solutions-driven approach to gathering requirements. Using a traditional requirements-driven approach will result in identifying more gaps (both value and non-value-add).

Summary

Not every project or customer is a candidate for a rapid implementation. Implementation partners and software providers should conduct an assessment to determine the FIT for a rapid implementation. One thing you can bet on is that there is no such thing as a STANDARD rapid implementation. Each instance is unique and requires an experienced implementation partner that understands rapid implementations.

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