Integration Trumps Functionality for Enterprise ERP

By design, ERPs are created to act as the “source of truth”.  This design becomes a challenge when the customer has multiple ERP solutions.  Each ERP wants to be the master.  Most ERP vendors provide an integration to most popular ERP systems but these integrations are point integrations at best.  “Best of Breed” may be a viable option.  However, many ERP integration cost analyses only focus on a small area and do not calculate the true cost of ownership.  The purpose of this article is to elaborate on the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for integrating multiple ERP systems to ensure informed decisions are made by customers.

Clearing up the Myth of Seamless Integration

Seamless integration is more of a marketing label and is not a technically accurate statement that defines Out-Of-The-Box (OOTB) integrations between multiple ERPs.  This is based on my hands-on experience and scars earned from ERP implementations across on-premise and cloud deployment models.  For our discussion, I will focus on the two extremes of ERP integration maturity.  Consider the following illustration.

To create a seamless integration between different ERP solutions with different propriety data models requires each ERP solution to “think” they are the source of truth.  This requires synchronization across setup (i.e. configuration, workflow, security) and transactions (originating in source ERP system and confirmation/completion transactions in target ERP system). 

Deep integration enables the ability to synchronize and transfer data at multiple layers required for an enterprise ERP solution.  Point integration only provides the basics to send and receive business transaction data.   In general, point integration has limited support across the entire enterprise level.  Therefore, additional efforts (manual) are required to keep configuration, workflow and security data synchronized between the multiple ERPs.

ERP configuration is an integration level that is typically understated in terms of importance.  Many point integration designs leave configuration synchronization as a manual task that the customer performs. Consider the following illustration:

Given the cost of developing a deep integration between separate ERP systems, a majority of implementations go with the manual route to keep configurations in sync.  This tactical decision will have an impact to business users moving forward.

Calculating Total Cost of Ownership for Integration between Multiple ERPs

Another area that is typically underestimated is the true cost of integrating multiple ERP systems.  Most estimates focus on only one phase of the TCO for ERP integration:

PhaseDescription
Initial CostEven with ERP vendors providing SOAP/REST wrappers or web services, effort is required for configuration, testing and validation. 
Configuration CostThe majority of OOTB ERP integration does not include Master Data Management (MDM) features required to keep multiple ERP systems in sync.  This requirement is typically addressed manually.  Manual updates involve time in data entry and coordination.  Manual updates provide an opportunity for data error. 
Technical Maintenance CostAssuming a Cloud delivery model, ERP updates are more frequent then traditional on-premise delivery models.  On average, a competent Cloud ERP vendor will provide two updates per year.  In general Cloud ERP vendors will provide an update that has been tested on a “general” configuration and transaction profile.  Thus, a “mature” customer will perform some level of testing with each release.
Functional Maintenance CostThis can be an area with a potential of wild speculation.  Taking a pragmatic approach, I will only consider the additional manual effort required to coordinate key enterprise functionality including: data analysis, workflow administration, security administration, and data integrity.   I understand that there are additional software solutions (i.e. cogs) that you can add to address the gap(s).  However, I consider the additional costs as a missed opportunity to invest in innovation.  Besides, just as with a physical machine, the more technical cogs you add to a solution the greater number of potential failures you create.

Given the above elaboration, consider the following TCO analysis:

Consider what other ERP industry experts have stated:

“Integration costs, which include both year zero installation and continued operational expenses, can be as much as 40x each application’s initial cost.” IDC

“Corporate developers spend approximately 65 percent of their effort building bridges between applications.” Gartner

“Mixed-vendor environments can cost 4x as much as a single-vendor.” IDC

“In a survey of 100 CIOs and IT managers from 84 companies by software vendor intersystem, 67 percent answered “yes” to whether strategic integration project have been held back due to excessive software and services cost.” ComputerWorld

Far too often, ERP business cases only capture the initial cost(s) of multiple ERP integration, which is a disservice to key decision makers.  Yet, I want to be transparent to you the reader in stating that my above analysis is a broad, general estimate at best.   I have attached the cost model I used for this analysis.   Feel free to prove it out for your environment.

Limited ERP Integration Results in Limited ERP Functionality and Added Complexity

Implementation services are by far one of the largest costs of an ERP solution.  As such, customers will inherently look to keep implementation costs as low as possible.  Corners will be cut and scope will be kept to a minimum. The tragedy here is that decisions are made without all the facts and limitations fully elaborated.

Let’s frame our discussion around a frequent ERP deployment scenario.  Let’s say that we have a customer selecting two separate ERP systems for a best-of-breed approach.   We also assume that the customer is not interested in building a deep integration between the ERP systems and will only utilize the OOTB point-integration services.  The customer has a vague understanding that they are required to perform some manual synchronization of configuration setups across both ERPs.  Both ERPs go live and functional business tasks are handled competently by both ERPs.  The constraints reveal themselves when business activities and decisions cross multiple business processes.  In general, these constraints make themselves evident in the following functional categories:

Granted, there are plenty of technical solutions out in the market to address these functionality gaps.  However, consider the IT technology complexity considerations:

Just because there is a technical fix to solve the gap does not validate the need.  Not convinced?  Consider the following customer comments regarding the limitations that ERP integrations can impose:

“We purchased about 3 best-of-breed solutions in the areas of Asset management, Financials and Human Resource management. We have spent over ~N25M, over 12 months to implement, N2M+/yr for support/upgrades per solution, a whooping N35M for integration and it still does not do what we want.

This is the second time we have gone through the integration cycle yet our systems cannot deliver the real-time, asset-driven, consolidated information that narrows the horizon of data into seconds/minutes, not batched hours/days or a week’s worth of data whose latency effectively negates the ability to react with any effectiveness.

The CEO has asked that we look for a single source ERP that is highly flexible and extensible. He is seriously searching for a LONG TERM solution. At this point, he does not care if it is the ‘best’ in a specific area; he wants a robust, single source ERP that can meet all the needs of the company without the headache of integration.” Source:  Infoware.

The bottom-line question you need to ask yourself is “Are the additional complexity and dependencies worth the effort?”    This is a question that should be answered at the enterprise level, not the business functional (siloed) level. 

Recommendations for Customers

Customers should challenge their ERP vendors and System Implementation (SI) partners on their 3rd party integrations.    Following are key points for consideration:

  • Understand exactly what is provided and not provided with OOTB ERP integrations.
  • Quantify the effort required on the customer to address the gaps in OOTB integrations.
  • Reducing technology complexity is the greatest enabler for reducing business costs and maximizing business agility.
  • Warning!  Short-term thinking usually results in siloed thinking, which typically results in business limitations and lack of flexibility.

Challenge to ERP Vendors and SI Partners

I can appreciate that providing additional information and guidance may potentially slow down the ERP selection cycle.  However, I believe that we (including myself) are duty bound to provide complete guidance to ensure a customer makes an informed decision.  Following are key points for consideration:

  • Identify the functional limitations within your solution for a multiple ERP environment.
  • Explicitly define the levels of support for multiple ERPs across all levels (configuration, security, workflow, originating transactions, closing transactions).
  • Explicitly quantify the level of effort for customers to support OOTB point integrations for ERP systems.
  • Quantify the TCO for ERP point integrations versus ERP deep integrations.

Summary

In general, enterprise ERP solutions inherently support deep integration between their modules based on their design on a common data model.  Regarding whether to pursue a multiple ERP versus a single ERP approach, I take a results-oriented approach – whichever strategy adds the greater impact (%) to the Income Statement is the right choice.

On a practical note, when ERP vendors state their solutions integrate with competitor’s ERP products/solutions, it is important to understand to what level of integration is provided OOTB.  Put yourself in the shoes of ERP vendor.  How easy would you make your ERP system integrate with a competitor’s offering?  Due diligence is required on every party (ERP vendor, SI Partner, Customer) to ensure that a complete set of information is provided to make an informed decision.

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Using AI/ML to Build Customer-specific ERP Roadmaps

How much does it cost to create a customer-specific ERP roadmap?  $50k, $200k, $1m+?  This effort typically requires the higher end consultative guidance and advisory role(s).  It also requires a significant amount of customer leaders’ effort/time to support this activity.  What if I can show you an approach where one can automatically generate a custom ERP roadmap? If interested then allow me to elaborate.

Are you a Believer?

Before we start, I will ask you to make an investment.  I have a habit of repeating myself therefore I will ask you to review the following blog postings before I begin:

Now, if you are still interested then I will ask you to stretch a little further.

Model versus Reality

I consider myself more of a pragmatist than a theorist.  Models are great to elaborate upon concept(s) for discussion and argument.  However, conceptual models are limited in the value they provide to customers if there is no method to align reality (i.e., “as is”) with the optimal path.  Consider the following illustration:

Key Points and Observations:

  1. In a majority of cases, there is a difference between potential ERP utilization and actual ERP utilization experienced by customers.
  2. In order to promote repeatability, there should be a logical progression that enables customers to maximize ERP utilization (i.e., roadmap).
  3. To minimize ERP Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and eliminate cost constraints, ERP cloud vendors should provide customers with the ability to increase ERP utilization without heavy reliance on consulting services ($$).

The goal is to define an ERP utilization approach that is repeatable and reliable.  Far too often, customers spend thousands of dollars on a “point in time” ERP strategy that requires additional funds to revise the strategy as technology changes.  The ERP utilization strategy must start with “where the customer is at” and provide a series of ERP features and prerequisite enablement activities in order to increase utilization.

ERP Utilization Roadmap Model

Based on my experience, I recommend that long-term ERP utilization should be a series of incremental quick-wins (i.e., Business Process Management) and minimal paradigm shifts (i.e., Business Process Re-engineering).  Consider the following illustration:

Key points and observations:

  • Any deployment of ERP features that require a significant organization change is not a quick win.  People do not change overnight.
  • An incremental approach like Business Process Management (BPM) is required when deploying new ERP features at the same CMMI level for a given business process.
  • Set A includes the BPM enablement activities and ERP feature deployments required to align with the logical maturity path.  Note that only incremental change is required to implement targeted ERP features (thus, a quick-win).
  • Set B includes the Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) enablement activities and ERP feature(s) deployment required to align with the logical maturity path.  Set Y is not a quick win.

The practical aspects of this model are (1) the roadmap must start where the customer is at in their business process maturity, (2) utilize an increment (agile) approach to build organization momentum, and (3) realize that organizational momentum will carry a customer through the radical changes required for maximizing ERP utilization.

Automating Implementation Guidance & ERP Roadmap

I will utilize the following illustration to put the previous concepts into view.

There are 3 key automation players in the mix. 

  1. ERP Configuration Manager:  This is a feature of the ERP software that provides an ordered list of data and functional configurations required to implement a feature set within the ERP solution (aka table loading sequence).   A competent ERP vendor should provide this capability out of the box.  Unfortunately, most ERP vendors only provide ERP configuration manager functionality that only provides the “technical” guidance for configuration.
  2. Implementation Advisor:  The implementation advisor compliments the existing ERP configuration manager by providing functional and organizational guidance to the customer during the implementation.  The guidance is harvested utilizing AI/ML recommendations based upon findings and trends identified across the ERP vendor’s customer base.  The implementation advisor would utilize both structured and unstructured learning to provide the most relevant guidance.
  3. Solution Advisor: The solution advisor focuses on providing the iterative and progressive ERP product feature set(s) required to attain the targeted CMMI level for a business process.  The solution advisor must have access to current ERP features implemented but also how effectively business users are utilizing ERP features

The key strategy of the ERP Utilization model and the solution advisor is to provide an incremental, progressive maturity path that is risk adverse and minimizes huge organizational change.

What’s Missing? Challenge to ERP Vendors

As stated earlier, the majority of ERP vendors provide business process models that highlight how ERP vendors define business processes within their software.  The gaps I’ve observed with most ERP business models are there are no relationships defined between the business activity and the corresponding CMMI maturity level and ERP product feature(s).  Adding this metadata to the model will enable an automated approach to implementation and roadmap guidance.

Summary

Implementation costs remain the largest part of an ERP TCO analysis.  The cloud delivery model has greatly reduced the hardware/software/infrastructure costs.  Unfortunately, the ERP market places more focus on vendor capabilities and emerging technologies versus ease of implementation and customer self-sufficiency with ERP services.   No technology adds any business value until its in production.  Second, an automated ERP solution advisor provides real-time guidance to customers versus periodic, manual feedback that generally results in “leap-frog” implementations that have greater risk(s) and cost(s).   Stay safe!

P.S. – Despite my sincere attempt, I did repeat myself.

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ERP Utilization Series: Business Value Realization

Implementing a Cloud ERP solution does not guarantee business value, regardless of the Cloud ERP provider (vendor).  There are countless examples of customers that have not experienced the expected business value articulated in the sales cycle.  Why is this? 

  1. Cloud ERP software could not deliver on the business benefits promised.
  2. Customers could not adapt to the delivered public Cloud ERP delivery model.
  3. System Implementation (SI) partner could not implement Cloud ERP correctly or SI partner could not enable the customer to support their Cloud ERP solution.

Naturally, when things go wrong every stakeholder will point the finger at each other.  As each stakeholder has a share in the success of a Cloud ERP implementation, so is there a share of responsibility in the failure of realizing business value from a Cloud ERP implementation. 

A common theme I’ve observed in my ERP implementation experience is the lack of defining business value goals to be managed during the ERP implementation cycle.  The majority of time, business value goals are assumed as a “natural” result from the project.  Many consider business value an area that is managed after the initial implementation.  The inherent flaw in this approach is that the cost to manage business value is greater when the Cloud ERP solution is live.  This statement is a corollary to the rule that fixing bugs in design is 15x less than the cost of fixing bugs in production.

For example, let’s say you want to consolidate individual functions into a shared service model to leverage economies of scale and promote greater process efficiency (business value). However, this transition is not easy given that the implemented enterprise configuration only considered a “point-in-time” structure. Addressing the functional configuration limitation in production requires greater effort/discipline in a public Cloud ERP model versus an on-premise model (no more direct SQL updates in a public Cloud production environment).

I recommend that business value is front and center throughout the implementation and that business value is the ultimate indicator of Cloud ERP implementation success.  Unfortunately, the majority of Cloud ERP implementation methodologies are based on “traditional” approaches of on-time, on-budget and in-scope. 

What is Business Value Realization?

Do you know how many definitions there are for business value realization?  The number is far more than I can count!  I pride myself at being a pragmatist versus a theorist.  Therefore, the definition must support a repeatable and realistic process given the reality of resource constraints.  I am not arrogant enough to say that I have it all figured out, but the following is my working theory as I interact with ERP customers:

Business value realization is the observed evidence that the customer experiences either as a positive or a negative impact on business process execution.  Consider the following points:

  • Business value is in the eye of the customer.  I humbly believe that the vendor and the SI Partner are responsible in assisting the customer to see the business value created. Simple cost reduction does not equate to business value. 
  • From the customer perspective, business value unnoticed is business value unrealized.   Education is a key requirement in business value realization.
  • Without a baseline, how can one quantify the business value realized? As the Cloud ERP market continues to become more competitive, realized business value will become a competitive differentiation for Cloud ERP vendors. 

Now that we have defined the problem, let’s spend some time discussing how to best address business value realization during the implementation.

Business Value Realization Framework during the ERP Implementation

I have done an exhausted search of business value realization frameworks.  The majority of the frameworks do not address the implementation phase of an ERP solution.  I contend that these approaches should be updated given the apparent level of dependencies that business process execution has with technology today’s environment.  I’ve only found one framework that addressed business value realization during the implementation.

This is a great framework from an IT perspective from the academic world.  I would recommend the above framework to any IT leader looking to create more of an advisory service versus being a traditional service provider (IT should move up the value chain).   In general, I agree with the Lean Six Sigma approach to focus first on process efficiency then process effectiveness for most revenue-supporting and compliance processes.   However, for revenue generating processes, it may be best to focus on process effectiveness first to create market share/disruptance before focusing on process efficiency.

Now, allow me to provide a more detailed framework for business value realization during an ERP implementation.

Performance metrics including KPIs are the definitive “evidence” that the ERP implementation added business value.  Therefore, it is very important that you take a baseline or “snapshot” of your business KPIs before and after the ERP implementation to measure the business value.   My recommendation is to capture the baseline business KPIs during the sales cycle.  Hint: Leverage the ERP vendor to assist you in defining the specific business value you will experience with the purchase of their ERP software.

As you progress thru the Cloud ERP implementation, broad vision and objective(s) becomes specific siloed tasks.   It is important that you reassess your project progress to the agreed upon vision and objective(s).  An iterative approach is best to ensure that you have to opportunity to perform course corrections during the implementations versus more costly corrections after the implementation.

Capturing the post KPIs should be done after stabilization.  The duration of the stabilization phase depends on several factors that I addressed in a previous blog.  Once you have captured the performance metrics and KPIs, you should be able to provide an accurate picture of success and improvement gaps. 

Summary

Going live is only the beginning to business value realization.  Second, traditional ERP implementation project metrics (On-time, In-Scope, and On-budget) only have an indirect relationship on business value.  Generating business value is the primary objective of an ERP implementation, not just moving to the cloud or replacing an outdated system.  Business value must be an iterative and recurring theme in your Cloud ERP implementation approach.

Business value must be a continuous focus for all key stakeholders.  Failure to do so will result in a longer period to business value realization.

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ERP Utilization Series: Minimize Stabilization Phase

Transitioning from an on-premise ERP system to a new cloud ERP service will result in a short-term reduction in ERP user efficiency.  This is less of a theoretical discussion but a practical reality that we need to manage.  There is never enough hands-on training or testing because we live in a reality of resource constraints.   Moving to an ERP cloud service model is a business risk and no ERP cloud service provider will ever eliminate that risk!  The purpose of this blog is to provide recommendations to minimize the business risks associated with your transition to the cloud.

What is Stabilization?

I would like to define stabilization (i.e. “shake out”) with the following illustration:

Stabilization is the period of time required for ERP users to acquire the same level of efficiency in supporting business transactions.   It is more than just having the new cloud ERP service support the existing business transactions but also that the user can process the business transactions with at least the same level of efficiency and reliability.

In general, following are some of the key factors that directly influence the stabilization duration:

  • End User Training.
  • Testing.
  • Support.
  • Infrastructure.

Any competent Systems Implementation (SI) Partner must realize and plan for stabilization activities.  In the next section, we will briefly discuss how to manage this transition period.

How to Minimize the Stabilization Period

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in over 100+ on-premise ERP customer transitions to an ERP Cloud service.  I have also reviewed twice as many SI Partners’ implementation approaches to opine on their approach.   Based on this hands-on experience, I have summarized the following recommendations:

Recommendation #1: Increase User Involvement

  • Hands-on experience is the best trainer.  A single week for user involvement is simply not enough time to ensure the same level of ERP user efficiency.  Users should be involved in prototyping activities before User Acceptance Testing (UAT). Just In Time training is just plain wrong for cloud ERP.
  • “Although consultants may participate in testing to some extent, employees should drive the majority of testing.  Doing so maximizes knowledge transfer and readies them for real life under the new system.” Why New Systems Fail. Phil Simon.

Recommendation #2: Comprehensive Testing

  • To reduce testing resources and time commitments, some ERP cloud implementations may reduce testing scope to only focus on business activities that will occur in the first week of go-live (bad practice). 
  • I recommend that key business milestones (ex. month-end, quarter-end processing) are part of the implementation testing plan. 

Recommendation #3: High Volume/Frequency (Load) testing

  • Loading testing is the most accurate method to determine if the new cloud ERP model can handle the daily activities required to support the customer’s business.  If the cloud ERP provider is truly invested in the customer’s success, then this service should be a standard offering and not an additional cost. 
  • Test scenario priority should be based upon two factors: (a) frequency and (b) business impact.  This recommendation is based upon the fact that there is typically no appetite to conduct a complete parallel financials test with the current production ERP environment.

Recommendation #4: Accelerate Root Cause Analysis

  • A cloud ERP go-live best practice is to have a dedicated help desk to support.  The main purpose of the help desk is to perform a high level assessment of the root cause of the user issue (3 broad categories):
    • Cloud ERP service-related.
    • Customer infrastructure-related.
    • Training/Education-related.
  • One of the unforeseen challenges with an ERP cloud service is that there are more complexities (dependencies) with identifying root cause. 
  • The first step to issue resolution is to identify the primary area that is causing the problem.  Without this initial assessment, additional cycles will be spent to identify the root cause.  Following are key tools and resources that cloud ERP projects must have available for rapid root cause analysis:
    • Copy of Production environment: A copy of the production ERP Cloud environment to replicate and perform additional analysis on issues.   This copy environment should be updated from the customer’s production environment at least on a quarterly basis.
    • Diagnostic and Logging Tools: Customers should have access and hands-on experience with the vendor’s ERP Cloud diagnostic and logging tools.  Granted that the majority of the ERP Cloud diagnostic and logging tools are executed by the ERP Cloud service provider, there is a subset of client-level tools that is also required for root cause analysis.
    • Customer Specific Extensions & Configurations: In order to keep ERP Cloud services cost low, Cloud ERP providers will employ a shared support model where support resources are allocated to multiple customers.   The conclusion here is that customers may have to work with ERP Cloud provider support personnel that only have a cursory understanding of their unique configurations and extensions.  Therefore, it is in the best interest of customers to develop a high-level customer profile that highlights the key configurations, transactions, and extensions deployed by the customer. 

Do not assume that every cloud ERP providers’ support personnel have this detailed level of understanding.  Without this summary information, support personnel will ask additional questions which will increase the issue resolution time.  A best practice is to provide this profile information every time a critical support ticket is created with the ERP service provider. 

Recommendation #5: Continue to engage the SI Partner until the end of the stabilization period

  • Having access to a competent SI Partner is strategic for customer enablement during the go-live event and transition period.  Consulting resources can be available to augment the customer’s help desk resources, address user training gaps, assist with issue resolution and complete knowledge transfer.
  • “Maintain the project team for at least 1 month after the go-live date.” Consider, Select & Implement an ERP system, O’Sullivan, Rico, Goldensohn.

Recommendation #6: Dedicated Go-Live ERP service provide support

  • Cloud ERP service providers should provide an additional level of support during the go-live event thru the stabilization period. 
  • Cloud ERP service providers should provide a dedicated support team versus utilizing a shared pool of support resources during this critical transition.
  • Customers should validate what “24 x 7” support means.  Do not assume that same cloud ERP support resources will continually work on your product issue(s).  “24 x 7” support may also require that the customer’s users have to be available “24 x 7” to collaborate with cloud ERP support. 

Recommendation #7: Go live during Business Down Time

  • By timing cutover during slow business periods, a company can use slack time to iron out systems kinks. It also gives employees more time to learn the new business processes and systems.

Recommendation #8: Over Estimate Production Sizing

  • Capacity planning is an estimate.  How dynamic is the sizing of the customer’s production environment?  Is this real-time or batch? (i.e. if the customer has to create a service request for resizing then the resizing service is not real-time).  If batch then the best practice is to oversize at least 125% of recommended sizing.  This will ensure that you have extra capacity to spare to complete your first accounting close.

Warning Signs for Prolonged Stabilization

The stabilization phase has a huge impact on user experience throughout the entire cloud ERP service lifecycle.   It is self-evident that we have one chance to make a first impression.  While it is possible to recover from a bad experience, it will take double the effort to recover.  Given this potential impact, I will provide some “rules of thumb” that customers can leverage to highlight concerns during stabilization.

The above flags may be categorized as tactical challenges or “shake down” issues after the go-live event but do not underestimate the impact to the user experience.  Please remember that users will have the greatest impact on cloud ERP utilization.  If the above are not addressed in an aggressive manner, then the following utilization path will become more probable:

The longer the stabilization phase the less trust is created between the ERP cloud service provider and the customer.  As trust declines so will ERP cloud service adoption and utilization decline. 

Summary

I’m a firm believer that the cloud model can bring out the best of ERP.   However, there is no guarantee that the above will happen.  It requires a cloud ERP service provider and SI Partner that proactively address the challenges as part of the transition process.  Stabilization is a key phase as part of this cloud journey.

In my humble opinion, the stabilization phase not only is a technical assessment of the ERP cloud service availability and reliability; it must also include an assessment of the usability of the ERP cloud service to efficiently process business transitions. 

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Using AI/ML to create a Customer-specific ERP Business Process Maturity Model

In this post, I will define a case study where my utilization model is applied for a customer.    A key point to be made here is that the health and effectiveness of the business process is directly related to the performance and utilization of ERP features that support the business process.

Case Study – Procurement Business Process

For our discussion, we will focus on the procurement business process.  Following is a generic definition of the procurement business process.

To continue this illustration,  I will define the key business activities associated with the procurement functions highlighted.  I will also define how business activities are likely executed based upon the business process Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) level.

Legend:

  • Manual:  The business activity is performed manually.  We can assume that since the process is manual that the organizational capacity (resources) is lower for adopting mature business activities.
  • Partially Automated:  The business activity is partially automated.  Manual effort is still required to complete the business activity.  Integration is performed manually.
  • Automated: The business activity is completely automated.  However, the inputs and/or outputs for the business activity are point integrations at best.  Example of this scenario is when a customer utilizes an isolated point solution for a specific activity.
  • Integrated:  The business activity is automated with limited integration.  Integrations are limited to the immediate input and output business activities.
  • Closed Loop:  The business activity is both automated and integrated across the entire business process.  The customer has visibility to data and metrics across all business activities.

Disclaimer: Now, you may not completely agree with all the information presented in the above illustration, but please do not let that derail you from our discussion. 

A key premise of the above model is that mature business activities will provide very limited to no business value until the underlying business process maturity levels are implemented.  There are two key factors that directly influence business process maturity levels: technology and people.  Practically speaking, we can agree that reaching a CMMI Level 4 or Level 5 requires an integrated and closed loop technical infrastructure that supports the entire business process.

To complete the model we need to answer the following question: “How does this relate to ERP product features?”  There are two aspects to consider.  First, what appropriate ERP feature(s) support the business activity.  Second, to what level of functionality should the feature be deployed.   For example, a standard feature in the accounts  payable function is matching.  Matching is an audit performed for goods and services through the entire process.

Continuing the discussion, if I am working with a customer with a procurement CMMI Level 1 then my focus (scope) will be on implementing either 2-way or possibly 3-way matching in accounts payable.  For many of my seasoned colleagues in ERP consulting, this conclusion would appear self-evident.  However, to an emerging customer or a new millennial in ERP consulting or sales, this automated guidance would be insightful.

Application in the Real World

Let’s say I am a customer performing research of ERP vendors for a procurement solution. Today, I have two options:

  1. I can gather information via the ERP vendors’ websites. Generally speaking, there are at least 4 ERP products (purchasing, inventory, account payables, and supplier management) that support the procurement business process. For argument stake, let’s assume that each ERP product has 20 features and most ERP vendors provide a feature list for each of their product offerings.  If my math is right, that means that I would have to wade through 80 features to determine if the ERP product(s) are a possible fit.
  2. I contact a sales representative or presales assistant to gather information. Next is a series of business need assessment questions I have to answer before I can get the information I need.  Most likely, I would also have to involve business users in the ERP vendor’s information harvesting to get any value from the activity.

I would prefer a self-service option that would ask me two key questions:

To expand on this scenario, I provide the following information to the above questions:

  • Procurement CMMI Level: 2
  • Organizational Capacity for Change (OCC): Low

We can leverage the above information to quickly refine our ERP product focus to the area highlighted

The power in this approach is to quickly focus on the business activities and corresponding ERP product features that can mature the customer’s procurement business process.  Instead of asking a battery of questions that add little value, we can focus on the “low hanging fruit” that can generate quick wins for the customer.  However, keep in mind that the customer responded that they have a low OCC.  This indicates that we should implement ERP product features that aligns to the customer’s current business activities/maturity.  Technology alone does not mature a business process.  Keep it simple!  Keep it fast!

Value Proposition

Customers are looking for a specific, cost-effective ERP adoption roadmap that will enable them to mature their business model in a rational manner.  Today, this guidance is created by outside consultants costing thousands of dollars and time commitments from business executives.  Using the above model gives us a solid foundation that we can enhance versus rebuilding the wheel for every customer.  Automating this model and improving guidance via machine learning enables ERP vendors and consultants to accelerate guidance delivery to customers.

Summary

Even with the cloud, ERP implementation services and guidance are still the largest costs that make up Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for customers.  As the cloud delivery model continues to squeeze TCO, ERP vendors and consultants have to find most cost effective methods to deliver specific value and guidance to customers.  Machine Learning, CMMI Business Models and ERP Utilization Models can be key enablers to automate business solution guidance.

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Using AI/ML to predict ERP Utilization

There are not many methods on how to maximize ERP utilization. There are approaches that do a commendable effort in identifying some of the factors that influence ERP utilization.  What is lacking are predictability, repeatability and harmony across the key components of a business solution.  In my 25 years of ERP consulting experience, I have never encountered a single customer that utilized over 60% of the ERP software.  Given the lack of utilization and the money needed for cloud ERP implementations, I am convinced this is a problem that finally must be solved!   We are in the second generation of ERP software and the only advancement that we in the ERP implementation arena have made is to retract our initial recommendation of customizing ERP for greater customer value.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of my theory on predicting ERP utilization.  The scope of this article will focus on the cloud ERP deployment model.  I have yet to complete the rigors of the scientific method to verify my theory.  However, I would like to share my concepts with you and partner with you in growing the collective knowledge.

ERP Utilization requires all components of a business solution

ERP Business Solution

First we need to revisit the concept of a business solution, the key components, their relationship, and influence on ERP utilization.

Just as technology has a part to play in ERP implementation success, business process maturity and the organization’s ability to change have a greater impact on ERP utilization.  To elaborate on this thesis I will make use of two models:

  1. Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI).
  2. Organization Capacity for Change (OCC).

CMMI Level Characteristics

I find that Organizational Change Management (OCM) is more of a project-based effort to enable an organization to meet a specific event.  This approach works very well with an on-premise ERP solution where upgrades are measured in years.  However, in the more dynamic Cloud ERP solution model, change is more rapid.  ERP cloud updates and upgrades happen in months, not years.  What I really like about OCC is the greater focus of providing the organization with the skills and flexibility to handle known and unknown changes. 

OCC is an emerging model, thus there is limited content regarding how to assess and measure OCC for an organization. There for 4 key attributes for defining OCC levels (Saylor Academy, 2012):

  1. Organizational Trust
    • It refers to how much front-line workers trust middle managers and senior executives to watch out for their interests.
  2. Lateral Leadership
    • Focuses on getting things done across organizational units and functional areas of expertise. Fisher and Sharp (2004).
  3. Systemic Knowledge
    • Systemic knowledge is the degree to which members of an organization understand and are focused on the overall organizational system.
  4. Cultural Ambidexterity
    • Change-capable organizations balance accountability with innovation. If the organization overemphasizes accountability, innovation suffers. And if innovation is the sole focus, accountability is ignored.

Given the above definitions, I have created a level definition to support my ERP utilization prediction model.

ERP Utilization Model

With all that said, consider the following conceptual model:

Model for ERP Utilization

I propose a multivariate linear regression relationship between business process maturity, organizational capacity model for change with potential ERP utilization. This simplified model is based on the following assumptions:

  1. A set of ERP features require a certain level of organizational and business process maturity for a successful experience.  For additional information, see my article on Business Leads and Technology Supports.
  2. Based upon the CMMI level and OCC for the customer, we can infer the ERP features required for maximum ERP effectiveness.
  3. OCC has a direct influence on effective ERP utilization.
  4. Software changes will happen more rapidly in an ERP Cloud delivery model versus a tradition ERP On-Premise model.  Therefore, OCC must become an ongoing competency (versus a one-time effort) for long-term ERP success.
  5. “It is generally not fruitful to impose a very sophisticated process on an organization whose maturity is low.  The maturity of an organization not only depends on the skill sets of the individuals, but also on the chemistry of the team.” (Alexia Leon, 2012)

Based on the above model, I conclude that customer enablement must be an ongoing exercise that runs in parallel or even precedes ERP automation.

Model versus Reality

I consider myself more of a pragmatist than a theorist.  Models are great to elaborate upon concept(s) for discussion and argument.  However, conceptual models are limited in the value they provide to customers if there is no method to align reality (i.e., “as is”) with the optimal path.  Consider the following illustration:

Key Points and Observations:

  1. In a majority of cases, there is a difference between potential ERP utilization and actual ERP utilization experienced by customers.
  2. In order to promote repeatability, there should be a logical progression that enables customers to maximize ERP utilization (i.e., roadmap).
  3. To minimize ERP Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and eliminate cost constraints, ERP Cloud vendors should provide customers with the ability to increase ERP utilization without heavily relying on consulting services.

As we continue with the model elaboration, we find that there are regions that are not practical for a given CMMI and OCC values.  Consider the following:

Key Points and Observations:

  • Circles represent a subset of possible values given that the scenario occurrence is highly improbable. For example, an organization with a CMMI level 1 maturity cannot expect to utilize 100% of the features available for a Cloud ERP service.
  • The permutations of CMMI and OCC levels indicate a linear relationship for targeted ERP utilization.

What Role can Machine Learning Play?

If we can define a logical model with reliable predictive results, then we can begin the journey of providing free consultative guidance to ERP customers and prospects. Let’s start simple with a prediction formula and a structured learning test set.

Following are the assumptions that I used for building the formula and training set:

  1. Business process maturity (CMMI) and organizational maturity (OCC) have a linear relationship with potential ERP utilization.
  2. Certain permutations of CMMI and OCC does not reflect reality (ex. Business process cannot be at a high level of maturity and a low level of organizational maturity).
  3. The minimal boundary of ERP utilization is 20% and the maximum boundary is 80%.

Next, I performed individual regression analysis for each variable separate and together in order to determine if the predicting equation should use one or both variables.

Based upon the above analysis, it appears that the prediction formula utilizing both business process maturity and organizational maturity best aligns with the training set. Next step is to calculate the coefficients for both variables.

In an act of transparancy, I am sharing my data model. Feel free to review and provide feedback/correction.

So what is the application or value add this model can provide?

Summary

Even with a cloud delivery model, the implementation costs associated with ERP have not dramatically decreased.  The ratio of ERP software cost to ERP implementation cost has increased from 3:1 to 6:1.  It is only a matter of time before the ERP market forces ERP vendors to drastically reduce implementation costs while maintaining a sufficient level of customer enablement.  Given the rise and general adoption for cloud ERP services, ERP utilization is becoming more strategic competitive advantage for cloud ERP vendors.  What I see as an emerging demand from the ERP market is a reliable, repeatable method for maximizing ERP utilization.  I hope that my efforts move the discussion forward.

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