Women in ERP – August 2022
Mayben Omollo, Aimee Hiskett, Katie Parris and Pam Hamingson
This is a show Kris Harrington from GenAlpha Technologies, and I host the first Tuesday of each month to bring women together in our industry to talk about what really happens in the world of ERPs, and it’s not all pretty, believe me. Our initiative aims to bring together, educate, and empower women involved with ERP transformations. The main theme of our series is to highlight the contributions of women, create social awareness to enhance women’s representations on ERP teams, and highlight their stories and challenges, and voicing their opinions with ERP transformation initiatives.
I am Sarah Scudder, CMO at SourceDay, and today’s show host. Our platform integrates with ERP systems, so my teams and I have lived through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today I am joined by Aimee, Katie, and Pam. Maryben will hopefully be popping on as well; it’s evening late time for her. All of them have extensive ERP experience, and I’ve asked them to share some of their wisdom and stories with us today.
I’d like to kick off by welcoming our audience. It’s really fun to see; we typically get representation from around the globe, so we’d love to have you drop in the chat and tell us where in the world you are joining us from today. And then if you have a word or phrase that you could also pop in the chat that describes the last ERP implementation project that you worked on – so, where are you joining us from and a word or phrase to best describe the last project that you worked on?
So, Aimee, I’m going to go ahead and have you kick off our introductions. I’d like to have you share how you got involved in this crazy world of ERPs and then a couple of fun and personal facts about yourself.
Well, I’ll start with the personal facts because that’s just the fastest and easiest. I grew up on a dairy farm in the Midwest, so that doesn’t quite fit what I do today, but it definitely helped me with my hard work ethic. So, there’s that. And then I love to ski but afraid of heights. So, those are some of the cool things. But how I got into the world of ERP just, you know, kind of became a happenstance type thing.
I worked in the customer service arena of transport topics, and basically, as I was working in that arena, I started doing different projects. In regards to every six months, we had to give information in regards to nonprofits, and once that came up, it became part of my job. I then transferred over to Time Life, and that’s where I got exposed to ERPs and procurement, and basically just, you know, how does how do we feed our information among our employees to where we have the best reporting? So that’s how I got into ERPs. And then as I worked in ERP that’s no longer existing, I then went into PeopleSoft and Oracle, and I really enjoy it. And as individuals saw that I liked working on different projects, I got moved around a lot. So that’s how I came about in the ERP realm.
So Aimee, my first question for you is about the change management aspect of ERPs. So, who are the individuals or team members that should be involved in the change management of an ERP project?
I’m going to speak to a specific project I worked on, and it was procurement-related. For us, the change management we had – you know – brought in the working partner. They had a change management specialist. But inside our organization, we did not have the support of the managers, and so for me, if you don’t have the direct support of the managers of the individuals that have to do the everyday work in the ERP, you’re not going to – you know – have a good change in adoption of what needs to be done.
So, in regards to change management, you have to have buy-in from the managers – not just upper management, not the SMEs, but the managers that it directly affects. And if they’re not buying in or they’re not involved, your change isn’t going to go very successfully.
So, Aimee, do you have any other specific stories or examples that you can share? I know you’ve worked on many, many different projects where it was done poorly and maybe the outcome, or a counter example of when it was actually done correctly and the change management piece worked.
I would say the same organization, but two significantly different projects. So, I was on an – I’m going to say EAM, but it’s basically an enterprise asset management system, and it was a success in the change management because the IT director was the one that was actually the one that was working the project or heading the project. And he basically put together SMEs in different departments that have worked in the software, and then with those SMEs, we worked directly with the managers and the directors that were affected. And with those SMEs working directly with their management, it became such a great buy-in that that particular group stayed successful in working together for many years after the project went live and met weekly, and we all worked as a cohesive group and it worked out really, really well.
So, in that instance, it was extremely successful. It was an operation side of the business, the operations people were very close, so I think it really does have to do with how you treat your colleagues and counterparts. And then another poor one was – and then it was finance-related – but basically, we didn’t have as much of a cohesive or SME group put together. So, I find the SME groups and then working directly with their management or directors was the success that we found worked for us. So, but the finance aspect was a little rougher going, and it could have gone better if we would have had more of an SME setup.
Awesome, Aimee. Well, thanks for being with us today.
Katie, looks like you are joining us from the office. Would like to have you introduce yourself, share a little bit about your background, and how you became the CEO at The Part Works. And would also like to have you share a fun fact or two about yourself – maybe something that most people don’t know about you.
And you’re on mute still.
Still can’t hear you.
Huh, yeah. We can’t hear you. It looks like you’re muting and unmuting. Do you have headphones on?
All right, yeah. Let me… I’m gonna move over to Pam. Katie, maybe try logging back in and out again. I’m not sure why it’s not picking up your sound.
Pam, lovely to have you with us today. We’d like to have you introduce yourself and tell us about how you have become involved in the ERP world, and a couple of fun or personal facts about you. Sure, well thanks Sarah, I appreciate the invitation today. So my name is Pam Hammingson. I currently work for Fortrex Technologies, and but prior to coming to Fortrex, I spent over 20 years working directly in the financial services industry, primarily here in New York City. I actually work out of my home in Brooklyn, so um, yeah, so that’s so that’s a bit of my background. So I spent a lot of time in highly regulated industries and working for a variety of domestic and international banks. Uh, fun fact, I’ve traveled to Cuba and was actually there at the same time that Obama was there, so that was really exciting. There was a real buzz around the entire island as we traveled around; everyone was very excited to see the American president on their soil. So, that’s a fun fact about me, one of my fun facts. Another fun fact, and actually this is how I, you know, as I think oftentimes, I think maybe women in particular find that their journey into their particular career is not necessarily what they started out as or what they were appointed to do. In college, I was a dance major, and uh, you know, through a series of twists and turns in my life, wound up working on Wall Street and in financial services. So, you know, you just never know. But one of the things I think that I’ve found, I like puzzles, and so I find that, you know, taking processes apart and putting them back together again has, um, has served me well and has really, it speaks to one of my strengths and it’s also been, uh, been a good, uh, been a good skill set as I’ve traveled through my career. So, you just never know, right? From a dance major to ERP, here I am.
Pam, if, if you think back a little bit, what was the first ERP project that you remember working on?
Oh my goodness, um, probably, well, it was probably a good 10-12 years ago, and really getting a… it was an international bank, and the mandate from head office was, ‘We want you to write letters to all of your vendors or suppliers, and we want discounts of 10% off whatever we’re paying today; they’ve got to drop it by 10%.’ And that didn’t, that didn’t ring well. It’s like, well, no, you just can’t go to somebody and say, ‘Give me 10% off.’ Where’s the, you know, what’s the value in that? Where is the um, you know, what’s… how do I create a win-win situation? Because I don’t just want, I’m not just buying at the lowest cost or with the lowest cost, but I want to add value at both monetary and, uh, some intrinsic value to the effort. So, that started me on… I think that was my first true ERP effort, and I learned a lot. I knew instinctively that just asking for 10% off wasn’t the way. That’s not the way to go and not the way to build a program, and was fortunate enough to have local support that pushed back against head office and said, ‘Well, maybe that’s how you do it on your side of the Atlantic, but, you know, in the States we proceed a little bit differently.’ And yeah, that’s that was my first. It wound up being a rough start, but then we, we… we really made some gains and built relationships, and I think that’s at the core, that’s a lot of what you want in your ERP program. You want relationships, not just, you know, how many purple widgets can I buy for a quarter.
Pam, what’s the biggest obstacle that you have faced throughout your past 10 years working in the ERP space?
So, oh, so one of the things Aimee said really rang true, was change management. And I have learned time and time again that if the different departments that you’re working with aren’t open to change and are not willing to listen, you’re going to have a really hard time. They may go forward with the new ERP program, but one of the things I learned was that you – if they’re – if that group is kind of stuck in 1982, uh, they may want to re-engineer the 1982 methodology into your, you know, your 2022 multi-million dollar ERP program. And that’s, um, that’s not what, uh, that’s not the, that’s not what you want. You don’t want to re-engineer the old way. There’s a reason that we’re installing this new software, this new platform, this new way of doing business, and it should be helping you and supporting you, not keeping you held back.
Awesome. Well, Pam, thanks for being with us today and sharing some of your stories and experiences.
All right, Katie, we’ve done a mic switch. Let’s see if this works this time.
Okay, perfect. Awesome. You’re good. Well, thank you so much.
So, um, I’m Katie Parris. I’m the Owner and President of The Part Works in Seattle, which is a plumbing distribution company. A little different than a technology company. Plumbing was high tech about 150 years ago. So, I took over my business about 10 years ago. I’ve been working in it for over 15, but took it over as Owner and President about 10 years ago. And my initial plan for the business was to modernize it. We were doing everything very manually, very paper-based. Tribal knowledge was our motto – if you weren’t here 30 years ago to remember how we did it, then too bad for you. And I was looking forward and saying, ‘This isn’t scalable in any way.’ So, I spent probably my first five years in the business modernizing all of the technology platforms. And along the way, also modernizing the culture to come come along with the improvements we were making to the technology. Fun fact about me: I love to travel. I’ve also been to Cuba. I’ve been to more than 30 countries and five continents. And now that my kids are old enough to travel too, we’re starting our first international adventures. I took them to Ireland this summer, and that was a great time.
So, Katie, I have to ask, how did you get into the plumbing business?
Sure, well, as is a typical story in these types of blue-collar businesses that I’m in, it’s a family business. And I did not go straight into it out of college. I went and did other things for six or seven years, and then as my parents were looking out and saying, ‘How are we going to exit this business that we started and have built?’ I was finding myself saying, ‘I really want to be a business owner.’ And so we came together and decided we would give that a try and see how it went. And it was fantastic. I loved working with my parents. I loved getting to know them as business partners and getting to see their… it’s so, it’s so interesting to see your parents in roles where my dad was a real giant in the industry, even though we’re small and we’re, you know, in this outpost of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. My dad made a really big impact on the plumbing industry, and he had great relationships with manufacturers all over the country. And it was… it was really, really cool to see what he’d built and this space that he’d built for himself. So, I’m lucky to be sitting on his shoulders. That is awesome. My dad comes from a very large family, and two of his siblings are entrepreneurs, and I’ve loved following their journeys and one of them is in the roofing business, one is… yeah, and she’s business… yeah, yeah, these are great businesses. You can’t outsource them. We’re gonna employ Americans forever, fixing plumbing and installing roofing. And so, Katie, you have real hands-on experience because you were selecting, implementing, kind of doing many different roles as you’ve been rolling out and modernizing the technology at your company. My question for you is, what is the best way to hold people accountable when doing an ERP implementation?
Oh, wow. I don’t know that there’s just one way, I think with people there’s probably not a one-size-fits-all. Different people need different styles and maybe even frequency of accountability. I’ve found that the more communication, the better, across the board. And so setting up structures for communication is has been one of the challenges I’ve faced and also one of the, you know, kind of best practices that I’ve stumbled into learning along the way. As much as people don’t like meetings, if you meet regularly and you walk away from the meeting knowing exactly what’s expected at the next meeting, then you can hold accountability on whether it got done or not or what adjustments need to be made.
Katie, thank you for joining us today and for sharing your wisdom and experience with us.
Maryben, she was able to log in, so awesome. It’s late; she’s in another part of the country, so excited for her to spend her evening joining us. Maryben, would like you to introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this crazy world of ERPs, and then a fun fact about yourself.
Hi, guys. I’m sorry for being late. Apparently, I’m actually on transit. I’m at the airport. I got a last-minute call to Kigali. I’m actually in Kigali and about to go back to Kenya
I’m Maryann Omollo from Kenya. I’m an entrepreneur, a mental health activist, and also a speaker. And I run a cleaning and pest control company, and I’m also involved in women empowerment a lot. So, that’s what I came to do in Kigali this time. Yes, so I ended up, yeah, I ended up getting myself into ERP because now I was the founder and I ended up being the operations manager at that time. And you know, starting a small business, you end up running everything on your own. You have to learn the systems, you have to learn marketing, you have to learn the sales, you have to be in operation. So, that’s when I started now developing interest in ERP, inasmuch as I didn’t like it, but so far it has been a good journey.
So, Maryben, my question for you is, ERPs cannot cure everything and solve every problem, as much as we may like to think when we look at how expensive and how long some of the implementations take. What are the limitations of an ERP system that small and medium-sized businesses should be aware of before they make that journey and that investment?
All right, we maybe will come back to her. All righty, we’re gonna go ahead and we’ll come back to her when she gets a better connection.
Alright, Katie, my next question is for you. How many ERP system environments are needed to develop, test, and move code into production on business requirements and changes? I know that seems a little technical, but I know you have a pretty technical role and have been kind of in the weeds in a lot of implementations.
Okay, yes, it is very technical and yes, it’s in the weeds. Maryben, do you want to go ahead and answer Sarah’s question, then I can go back and answer?
So, my experience is, you definitely need a couple of different non-production environments before you go into production. What I have found in my exposure as a business SME in different implementation projects is we had a development, QA environment, a UAT environment, and then production, and that seemed to work out best for us. With the QA environment, we basically kind of changed the business in a way where it was basically one in. QA and UAT were in the same environment, and when we found that we segregated them, we got to see the migration of the code from development to QA to UAT to production go a lot smoother, and we realized we were actually saving on problems going from one environment to another as we were doing the validations and testing of code and the migrations of code. And it also kind of gave everyone a look into the environments to say, ‘Hey, if it wasn’t if they weren’t refreshed at the same time, we found that there were some discrepancies as well.’ So, we had to kind of run the environments to where they were refreshed at the same time, whether it be QA and UAT that could not be refreshed at different times, because it did affect how the migration of the code would work based on what we were doing. So, for me, from my best lesson or exposure to these environments, I think you need three non-production environments at a minimum to go into production. And one of the things that we also found at this organization I worked at is every week, we did a refresh of production in addition to those other environments I was speaking of. So, if there was an emergency concern that happened in the code, we had a quick way of doing a fix, and we had a copy of production that was literally hours old or just a few days, versus all the other environments. And we basically found that that saved us a lot of headaches and concerns as well. So, we basically, at this organization, had like four different environments that we’ve worked in, to make sure that all the code and production was, you know, code in production. We weren’t, you know, trying to, as they say, don’t test in production. I’m not a big fan of moving anything or doing anything in production unless it’s been fully vetted. And again, I know that’s very technical. I know that I’m speaking to that, but again, you want to make sure that everything is to the best of its abilities in production, and you’re not affecting production.
So that’s just my exposure and my recommendations. Any questions?
Pam, question for you around supplier adoption.
Sure, so we often times I think failed to not only focus on the change management piece of the end user, but there’s a huge, huge component and change management piece on the supplier side as well. So, what have you seen as some major challenges that companies have experienced that you’ve worked with getting supplier adoption, and what solutions have you seen work to be successful?
Sure, so going back to the one of my first statements about working for the international bank that said, ‘Oh, just go out and get 10% off of everything.’ You know, that really takes the relationship down to basically just a commodity, and it’s not a relationship, right? So, anytime you make a change in your environment and you’re asking the supplier to shift the way they traditionally have done business with you, you know, if you don’t have a relationship in place, then they’re, you know, they may not even care that you’ve changed and that they now need to, you know, put put it, you know, log into a portal and respond to RFIs and you know, three bids and a buy and all of that. So, it’s so, again, go so the successful implementations and the successful deployments have all been with organizations that are that you have real relationships with and you know the folks there and you both value the relationship. That being said, the other time that you catch the supplier’s attention is it before you sign the contract, right? We all know that, right? As soon as the supplier or the vendor knows that there’s an opportunity for them, they’re going to jump through all sorts of hoops to get you what you need and to agree to work in whatever way that you want to work. But again, getting back to the relationship, having a real relationship with people and and understanding the more you can understand on their side, maybe some of the challenges that they’re facing, I think, and particularly when it comes to more complex relationships, the better you can, your teammates, right, your partners as you go through these engagements. And again, it’s not just buying you know x number of widgets, but it’s really developing a relationship and and keeping the lines of communication open. When a quick side story, I years ago was was tasked with bringing down the price, right? It’s always about bringing down the price. And one of the things that we found was that part of the original contract that had been put into place, say, 10 years ago, had a component in it that said that these supplies had to be delivered overnight. So, as we’re talking through the new deliverables with the supplier, we saw that there were there were surcharges for because it cost money, right, to make things show up overnight. And we recognized that this new engagement did not require overnight delivery. If anything, you know, we had a couple of weeks to get things delivered. So, we were able to shrink the cost, the ultimate cost of doing business with this particular supplier because we were in a position to have a discussion with them, recognize that the components of our relationship, so 10 years ago, they’re delivering everything overnight. That the situation had evolved, they could save money, that they were then able to pass along to us as savings because we did not need everything overnight. So, so that’s, again, going back to the relationships and the more you can understand and engage human beings as human beings, I think, is really your key to success.
So Katie, I would love to have you walk us through your selection process. When, how, what did you do? What were the steps you took to make a selection about which ERP system you were going to use?
Sure, the ERP that my business is running on now, we’ve been on for about six years, so it’s been a while. But I’ve also added a number of technologies to that platform over the years, which is one of the reasons I wanted that platform, because I wanted to be able to expand and build off of off of the base, rather than having to custom create every single thing we might want to improve.
So in selecting that software platform, which is NetSuite, we started—we actually ended up coming into the project and looking at switching software because we had done some lean consulting projects, with the intention of reducing our labor investment and improving our work processes throughout the business. So, in picking and packing material in our warehouse and getting customers on and off our sales counter faster. And it became really clear that we couldn’t improve our processes without getting onto a modern software platform. The software we were on was older than me, it had some fundamental architecture flaws that were never going to be fixed and really couldn’t be fixed. And so we ended up switching software in order to pretty dramatically make those process improvements that were where we started.
And so what so what we did to begin, which now looks really smart but it was kind of unintentional, was we documented exactly where we wanted to be. We said, you know, here’s our current state, here’s our future desired state. And then when we went out and talked to software companies, we were able to sort of map what they were offering against you know what we wanted our future state to be. And that was great. And of course, you still don’t know what problems you’re buying into with the new platform you’re looking at. So, we did a lot of testing. We pushed really hard to get kind of a, you know, test access platform. Like, let us go in and poke around, we want to know what it’s actually going to feel like to create orders, to kind of do some of our basic business processes. We talked to a number of references, both offered references from NetSuite and also others that we found who are using NetSuite but were not necessarily provided directly through them. And in the end, you kind of just have to like leap off the cliff and you know, pick something and go with it. And so you try and write contracts that allow you enough flexibility to do what you need to do. So yeah, it’s, I think the selection process, you know, we’ve probably gotten better at it as we’ve added other pieces of software. We’ve gotten better at asking a lot of questions, a lot more questions. You think you’re asking a lot of questions and there are still all these surprises. And asking for more, you know, more references, we want to talk to more customers along the way. So yeah, I don’t know, I don’t know that there’s a perfect way to do it, but I think taking your time, taking your time and really understanding your overall business needs are, are going to be the best drivers.
Katie, follow-up question: What are the most important things to do when working with software partners? So, you’ve made your selection, you’re implementing, what’s important once you are working with somebody?
Yeah, well, especially in ERP, it’s never a finished product. Business needs are always changing, software is always improving and changing. And so, I look at it as an ongoing process improvement. You know, really the continuous improvement model is how we look at our software platform. And so, we’re always working with software partners and trying to add and expand. And one of the biggest things that I’ve found is that it’s really best to start with what you need the business outcome to be. So oftentimes we want to start by saying, ‘Here’s the improvement I want you to make to the software.’ But if you start by saying, ‘Here’s the business improvement I want—I want to reduce the number of times that my warehouse person has to touch a piece of paper,’ or ‘I want to improve my customers’ visibility into their account through my customer portal,’ if you start with like here’s where I’m going to either save money or make money as a business, then the software partner can often help you get there in a much cleaner and more streamlined way than if you start by telling them, ‘Here’s what I want you to do to the software.
And a really good software partner I’ve found will even push back on us and say, ‘Okay, I hear what you want done. Why don’t you walk me through how it’s going to save you money or save you time or make you money? And you know, before we start to think about a solution, let—we want, we as your software partner, really want to understand how this is going to improve your business. And those are the best, best partners.
Maryben, going back to the original question I had asked you earlier, what are some of the limitations that people should be aware of when looking at ERP solutions?
Yeah, for me, the limitations I had were the total cost. You know, when selecting ERP systems, you can get it at a lower cost per capita, the IT and all that. You can get it at a lower cost, but the fact that you can get it either at a lower cost or at an expensive cost doesn’t mean that the system is going to work for you. One thing about us Africans, we normally say ‘cheap is expensive,’ but we’ll still go for the cheaper cost. Because probably you get a very expensive ERP system and you feel that it’s too expensive, you can’t afford it. So, you go for a cheaper, yes, ERP system. In the long run, you get every three months or two months the system collapses, you have to redo it again. And then another challenge is you can buy a system which is way costly and it still collapses. So, you don’t understand what really happened or how can you even handle that. So, I normally tell people before you literally pick on that, you need to read the testimonials. What are people saying concerning that my ERP system? You don’t have to buy it because it’s your friend who is selling it to you. You don’t have to buy because somebody else was referred to you. It’s always good to just hear other people out and then customization. It can be costly to customize it. I remember when I was trying to customize my system, I wasn’t—I never did ERP, I never did anything with the enterprise. I didn’t know anything with the software. So, each and every person keeps on telling me, ‘You need to do this, you need to customize it like this, you need to make it look like this.’ I had no knowledge about it, so I had to go back and start reading more about the ERP systems. Another challenge I had was data migration, being that I travel a lot and now I have to muddle the data all together. And being that I didn’t have a background, or that it became quite a challenge. But I believe all of us go through that challenge of data migration. It’s one of the biggest challenges that we all go through in ERP systems. So, those are the things I had to—the challenges I had to endure.
Aimee, Maryben mentioned customization. How much should an ERP system be customized?
So, I have to say from being involved in selecting the vendors and basically putting requirements out there so vendors kind of had like a starting point to bid on the project, I will be truly honest with you. If you can stay as much to the out-of-the-box features or the modules themselves and you know, write your business processes to kind of use what the software has to offer, it makes it a whole lot easier. The more you customize, the more you change things up, it just affects the—and I’m just going to say—if the testing and the validation and the reporting. Because then you’ve got to now redo everything and do it in such a way that it’s only customized to your group and your business versus you know, as an overall business and best practice. And I’m just going to go off on a little bit of a side point. One of the things that happened to me recently, I was doing some testing for a tools upgrade on the specific ERP software, and we all know that Internet Explorer got decommissioned. And so now, you’re using Edge or Chrome or Firefox, depending on your organization. And we had customized so much that when we went off of Internet Explorer, we had some things break.
So, we had to go back to the group and say, ‘Okay, I know we’re on a limited time frame with this tools upgrade, but we now need to make some business decisions. We either go back to the out of the box, or we basically say that you have x limited references to take care of this.’ And we did the tools upgrade, and we had to go back and change some of the code because it was so customized that it literally broke in this release upgrade. So, if you can write your business or work your business to meet what the software offers, you’re actually better off because then when the new releases come out, specifically cloud does about every six months, it is easier on your groups in your organization to upgrade in a timely manner or release in a timely manner on the new software. So, yeah, I’m a big fan of working it to the right business process versus trying to customize the software.
Pam, what are your best lessons learned from doing system integrations?
So, you have an ERP. Katie mentioned earlier one of the reasons why she selected Netsuite was she wanted to be able to have other solutions that would integrate and tie into some sort of central hub, right?
Yeah, well, and so that actually, that question ties I think really nicely into what Aimee just spoke about about customization, and I— a few years ago, it was drilled into me by an implementer who pushed back and, I mean, that’s huge when the implementer pushes back and really challenges you, you know, professionally and nicely and all, but they say, ‘Why are you doing it this way, customization versus configuration? The more you can configure your software, your implementation, I think the more it’s going to, more it’s going to play nicely with all the other systems that you want it to integrate with. Because out of the box, it may integrate with, you know, a dozen, all 12 of your systems that you want it to, but once you start manipulating it behind that, once you start manipulating and customizing things behind the scenes, it may, as Aimee just said, things make so… You know, ask your questions of the vendor, of the supplier up front. You know, ‘I’ve got these 12 systems that your software is going to need to integrate with over the next 18 months. We’re going to roll it out.’ And then don’t spend too much time fiddling with, you know, the levers and the gears underneath the hood because it can have, it can have unintended consequences downstream and… And unintended consequences downstream that even the developers of the software may not, may not know. And then, you know, then you’re forced into a spot where everybody’s troubleshooting and now you’re behind schedule and it’s costing more money and… Yeah, I think it, in my other piece of advice that I give to our clients is that, you know, let’s walk before we can run or let’s crawl before we try to walk and run because we’re going to learn so much as we go along. And you may find that you thought you wanted this piece of software to integrate with, you know, system x. Maybe once you get things up and running, it doesn’t need to integrate with that because you’ve got, you’ve learned things along the way. So I think it’s really important to keep checking in with, with, with your stakeholders and making sure that you’re progressing down the path that you want to progress down, but be open to new opportunities that may present themselves along the way.
Katie, we had a question and comment from the audience from Joseph Noll that I’d like to direct to you. He says, ‘Our key process owners and functional experts included in outlining the needs of the business from the initial brainstorming through final selection and tailoring of the software. This is absolutely critical, really include all inputs early and throughout, because once an implementation once implemented, once implemented and you can’t find, it doesn’t work.’ Yes, a simple response would be yes, absolutely.
My business is, you know, relatively small, and so on the one hand, it’s fairly easy to include everyone who needs to be involved, and on the other hand, everyone has line-level responsibilities to take care of customers and ship product, so it’s hard to carve time out to do planning and to look at a process level when you know you’ve got a hundred packages sitting out there waiting to get shipped on the dock.
So, one thing, one thing that I would say is having, having your business processes be clear and documented, even when you’re small, even when you have, you know, three warehouse employees or six warehouse employees, if everyone one of them is working off the same SOPs, then when you go to make business improvements, whether it’s software or process improvements or other things, you’re all working from the same playbook. Do you then need everybody’s input on how to improve things? Yes and no. Yes because everyone has creative ideas that you know are going to surprise you. I mean when someone’s actually doing the work they’re the best ones to identify what work seems redundant or unnecessary. But also, if they’re all working from the same playbook then you probably don’t need to include everyone on every piece of the solution.
Maryben, what was the biggest train wreck that you lived through during your ERP implementation, and what did you learn from it?
Actually, my biggest trainwreck was not knowing the systems at all. My background is in marketing. I’m studying a company. I made a lot of mistakes and I didn’t understand it so much. I kept on struggling when I went to, I’m using Oracle, when I went, they kept on explaining things that I didn’t understand or that the names they were using and everything, nothing seemed to work for me. So I had to start improvising. I had to get people patent who understood the system that listened to help them. And one of the things I understood so much was to get a system that is mobile-friendly. Mobile-friendly completely for myself, for my employees, something that they can work with right now during reliance, during coffee that working from home can really work well with us. During that time actually I started improvising on the systems in late 2019 and 2020. So that’s when I realized the importance of a mobile-friendly system.
After getting a mobile-friendly system, I realized even my employees need, they need to be in the business. You see, I cannot walk alone.
The times I tried, like I said earlier, I travel a lot. That time that I’m in Kigali, I’m, and if I don’t work on that, if I don’t create good systems, the company would literally go down. So I had to be able to get the mobile-friendly system integrated with my employees, and it was just a very nice workflow. The data was flowing easily across me and my employees. Another thing I also realized I needed something that is flexible and scalable. When I went there, like I said earlier, when they were explaining, I didn’t even understand it. So the first step was for me to ask them. I need something that is scalable, some a system that is fully accessible and needs the entire organization. Present time, being a small company that we are, working with pest control and cleaning service, and at the same time, our system of the cleaning service, we are doing it both like a non-governmental project. So we have ladies that are being trained. So we have to look at how we’re going, how we’re going to integrate both the non-profit-making and the profit-making business. How can we integrate both of them? So I needed something flexible, and it really worked for me. It really worked. So I actually had to learn that too.
Aimee, what limitations should people be aware of when they’re selecting ERP systems?
The limitations when selecting ERP systems, a lot of times, I’m just gonna go back to a lesson I learned, is not having enough information or, I should say, not having enough information based on what Katie said, you know, ask everybody’s thoughts throughout the organization or at least your department. So one of the limitations I was exposed to was I had a manager that made a lot of decisions on behalf of a department, and then he ended up leaving. And when we went live with the software, a lot of the individuals that actually had to use it were basically like, ‘I was never asked about this. Why? Why are we doing this? What’s going on?’ It just felt like the communication was broken. So I want to say one of the biggest limitations or one of the biggest exposures that I’ve been exposed to is communication, as Pam had said early on. And relationships are just an absolute key. I just, I kind of feel like that was one of the things. And then when you’re selecting your ERP, I have to say, some of the presentations were pretty funny when we had narrowed it down to the smaller groups to see what we were going to select. But it can, as I said, I’m going to go back to communication. When they present, you know how good it, they are presenting, you know how much homework have they done about your systems, have they asked about your organization as a whole, that kind of stuff is one of the things that I found was a limitation or a non-limitation in regards to selection.
Katie, what’s next for your ERP journey?
Oh, that’s a great question. For us, it’s actually, we’ve just gone through a period in the first half of this year where we’ve done a number of improvements on our inventory management and purchasing communications and relationship management. And so now we’re shifting towards looking at improving our marketing automation and customer, you know, customer relationship management. There’s such a focus on personalization and especially in B2B, where it seems like you’re selling to a great big business, but actually, we have a relationship with, you know, the plumber who’s spinning a wrench who has an office down in the basement of that hospital. And so what we’re looking at is how to better engage with customers, but in a way where we can provide lots of support and content and useful information that doesn’t rely on a human walking it in the door. So that’s where we’re going next.
Well, I want to thank Katie, Aimee, Pam, and Maryben for coming on the show today to talk about your ERP experiences. Our next show is on September 6 at 1 pm Eastern Time, hosted by Kris Harrington. Looking forward to seeing you all next month.