Women in ERP – June 2023
Michele Thompson, Lindsey Walker and
Welcome to our Women in ERP show! Happy Tuesday, and thank you all for joining us. For those of you new to Women in ERP, this is a show that Sarah Scudder and I host on 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 for those of you who have been in the world of ERP, we know that can be a big roller coaster of a ride—lots of fun times, lots of things to celebrate, but often lots of challenges too. So, that’s what we’re here to talk about today.
I’m Kris Harrington, the CEO of GenAlpha Technologies and your show host. Today, I’m joined by Michele, Jennifer, and Lindsey. They have a wide range of ERP experience, and I’ve asked them to share their wisdom and stories with us.
To kick off our show, I want to send a big shout out and thank you to our sponsors: Source day, WBSRocks, and GenAlpha. I also want to ask you to engage with us in the comments throughout the show and post your questions anytime. Please say hello and let us know where you’re joining us from. We have a variety of locations with us as panelists today. I’m joining from Wisconsin, just to let everybody know.
So with that, let’s get started. Michele, I’m going to start with you today. Please tell us a bit about your ERP experience and share one fun fact about you.
Okay, great! Thanks so much for having us, Kris. I appreciate it. So, I’m located in Michigan, and one fun fact about me is that I love any type of racket sport. So, I’m currently on a ping pong league, and I just started my summer tennis league. Anything racket-related, I totally love. And my ERP experience is with Oracle and SAP. So, I’ve led two major ERP implementations for a large global company, and the company grew by acquisition, so it was highly fragmented. We had a lot of different challenges. The company was located in over 110 different countries as well.
Oh, nice! Oracle and SAP experience, great. I have both of those experiences as well. So interesting. I’m curious, are you watching the Roland Garros matches that are on right now as well?
Yeah, yeah, I am catching that here and there.
Okay, good. Me too.
So, the first question for you today, Michele, is what are the most important things you should focus on once your ERP system goes live?
Well, I believe, just like in a contract negotiation, you’re always going to start with the end in mind. So, as far as post go-live, how do you want that to look? There are a lot of things really that you need to focus on. So, I would say a couple of things. You’re going to be in that hypercare mode, so really making sure that you have the proper resources lined up and that they have access to what they need. And that means possibly making sure your supplier has a hypercare team available to you too and making sure they’re lined up. So, it’s going to be really your ERP expert from your business, from the supplier, the business analyst, process specialist, potentially change management champions.
Another thing too, I notice once people go live, they’ll continue the communications maybe for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, and then they kind of trail off. I remember after my first implementation, the director that sat next to me, she walks into my office, writes on the whiteboard, “This ERP system does not work,” and walks out. And so again, it was more of a training issue, and you know, I stand by training and communication being so important to your rollout. So, you’re going to have your super users, your ambassadors, maybe if you have locations, you know, you’re going to possibly have a super user or an ambassador at each of those locations. So, you’re going to do some train the trainer and really keep that constant communication up.
And one of the things I would say too to think about is your old system as well. So, how long are you going to need access to that? Limit who has the access. Maybe have a flat file too that you’ll ultimately end up with. But you know, I think all those things are big takeaways. And then once you do migrate, keeping that data clean from the start. When I used to be an accounting manager, sometimes I would do surprise audits and you know, myself or my team, is everybody entering stuff okay? So, we can actually find and get spent when we need it.
Oh, these are really great pieces of advice here because you know, starting with the end in mind, I really like that. And then thinking about the data side, I know so many companies do start a project and the data isn’t clean, and it is something that they have to do later. But really defining the process of how information should be loaded, what’s the format in which it’ll be loaded, here’s how we’re going to put company descriptions, whatever it is, have some consistency about that. Great advice.
Jennifer, I’m going to move to you next. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in the ERP, and one fun fact about you?
Yeah, thanks Kris. So, I’m just outside Rochester, New York, so it’s one o’clock my time. And a fun fact about me is that for the last three years, my family and I have been fostering puppies for a local rescue. And the last count, we were at about 62 puppies that we have fostered over the last three years. Yay! And we’ve only kept two, so we do have three dogs, but two of them are our fosters that could not leave our family.
A little bit about my ERP experience. I think the first day out of college, I touched an ERP system in one way or another. Probably date myself, but it was way before internet days, so you know, you’re really working with on-prem servers at that time. I didn’t know what an ERP system was, and then throughout the years, I realized that the process, the business process of when it starts with a customer asking for a quote and then watching the transactions actually convert product out the door, was amazing to me.
So I’ve always been intrigued by ERP throughout my career. I think I’ve touched five different ERP systems in one capacity or another, and my current role as a product manager. So now I get to actually influence how those ERP systems behave to organizations and customers, which is really, really exciting to me. To be, you know, behind the scenes working on all of that, awesome! Well, thank you for being with us. It’s some great experience that you’re going to bring to the show today. And thanks for being a foster mom to so many dogs. I think that’s great. If you’ve been able to rehome 60 of them, that’s awesome. I could see us at our house that we wouldn’t be able to get rid of any, so that would be a very hard thing for us. It is very hard.
So the first question for you today, Jennifer, is how did you navigate through the ERP space over the years, and what made you successful? So early in my career, I found a mentor that, you know, he’s still with me today as my mentor on the leadership side, and he continued to push me into, I would say, avenues I wasn’t comfortable in, pushed me into outside my comfort zone. And then very quickly, I realized process was one of the key successes to ERP, being able to document it and then just teach and coach and mentor from your own space. And throughout the years, as I’ve built ERP teams, you may not know that you are an ERP expert if you’re siloed in a shipping or receiving or purchasing role, but you can support an ERP as part of that bigger organization because you know all the inputs and outputs of those processes. So a few companies I’ve worked for, I’ve built an ERP team from the ground up just by bringing some of those folks on from different areas of the organization. And then, you know, you give them a little bit more access than what they’re used to, and they can run, you know, they can build their own queries and manage security and help support and train. So it’s been great to always, you know, be that leader-manager behind the scenes and watch your team flourish and really grow that ERP experience across the organization. And also, you know, once you have, honestly, a favorite ERP, you know, really latch on and follow them and, you know, be supportive and however you can help sell and nurture their environment and their space and any, you know, added software or integrations or anything, you know, being supportive of that really helps you stay in the niche of ERP and, you know, continue to grow your career in different avenues and outside your comfort zone.
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting because you mentioned in your opening that you didn’t know what an ERP was when you left college. I didn’t either. I hope that’s changed today, honestly, when people leave because it was a word that just came up so fast, right, when I went into my manufacturing career, where they just kept throwing this word out, ERP, ERP, and I was like, I just left university, how come I don’t know what they’re talking about? But such great advice to really, you know, find a mentor and, you know, be a part of the process of writing processes and creating processes because I think those are the things that, even if it’s a different ERP system, often the process is very similar, the doing the things right, there is an overarching way to do things, and then you learn how to do it in the ERP system that you’re working in. So I think there’s a lot of application there. So thank you, Lindsey. I’m going to move over to you next. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, your ERP experience, and one fun fact about you?”
Sure, thank you so much for having us. And following these two women is really inspiring to me. So I’ll start off that I am based in Atlanta, the southern half, and an interesting fact about me, I am a baseball mom. So we’ve got tennis and a dog foster mom. I’m going to combine the love of sports and motherhood in some form, and I’ve got two kids under five. So my summer is going to be spent at the baseball field. I have two baseball-obsessed boys. So whether it’s the Braves stadium that’s really close to my house or our Little League field, it will be a lot of baseball. So that’s an interesting fact about me. I am the founder of Oakmont Supply Solutions, so we’re a supply chain consulting firm, and a lot of our work deals with ERP integrations. So what we’re doing with our clients, small to mid-sized manufacturers primarily, is working with them on supply chain processes and how to integrate those processes back into their ERPs. So that’s a lot of what we do on a regular basis. I started Oakmont after 11 years in corporate supply chain functions, so I’ve had experience with Fortune 50s as well as mid-sized manufacturers. I started my career in software implementation, so I got a taste of ERP from my very first project coming out of school, predominantly on the supply chain side, and then have worked on the business side with integrations ever since. So it’s been a fun ride. ERP is the backbone and foundation of a great supply chain, so I’m pretty passionate about making sure the selection is the right one for the business.
Ah, that’s great, and you know, it’s amazing we have a lot of panelists who come from the supply chain industry, and I think the tool that is most often used by supply chain leaders is an ERP system. And I find so many great experts come out of that area, so really, really wonderful. First question for you, Lindsey. I’m curious when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, have you ever experienced a situation where ERP integration with a newly acquired company didn’t go well? I think everyone who’s been working in ERP for any semblance of time has probably experienced this, but yes, more often, we see them go sideways versus going really well. And that’s kind of when we get called in, unfortunately. I think Michele mentioned bringing in someone to clean up your data beforehand, extremely helpful. I would completely agree. Cleaning up after you implement is significantly more expensive. It is a lot more cumbersome. It’s really difficult to do, candidly, after you implement a new system that you’ve just spent all of this money on. It creates an emergent situation versus being proactive and doing that at the beginning. But yes, specifically, I can think of a couple of integrations where SAP, being the foundation, that’s the ERP I’m probably most familiar with. I’m quite familiar with some other smaller tools as well. SAP has pretty good customization out of the box, but everyone’s favorite thing is to customize. So the more custom you get, the harder it is to integrate. And when you have, a lot of times, as an ERP evolves through an organization, you have leaders that make decisions five, ten years before that are no longer with the organization. So the organization itself doesn’t even understand how custom their solution is. That’s been a big challenge that I’ve seen throughout my career. So again, having someone come in and assess the level of customization needed, and then that dictates your level of change management and your champion needed in the organization, is pretty helpful. So yeah, and I won’t ask a follow-up question yet because I know we’re going to ask some questions about out-of-the-box and then customization a little later. But you know, GenAlpha works with companies to integrate ERP systems to launch a customer-facing digital commerce portion. But I think integrations are the key for the future, right? So being able to map new technologies to your existing ERP system is a big part of what you’re going to continue to do from now and into the future, if you’re not already doing it multiple times with other solutions. So to your point, ensuring that your solution is easily able to integrate is really, really important. And I’m sure we’ll kind of touch on that throughout. So thanks for bringing up integrations right at the beginning. It’s an exciting topic. It is, and I would attribute any of the, I don’t know if I want to call them delays or the length of time that increases for us with most of the manufacturing clients we work with is because there are challenges integrating to the ERP system. Sometimes it’s a basic resource challenge. They just don’t have the people to do the work because they’ve assigned it to somebody that already has a full-time job, and now they have to support the integration.
So that’s a challenge for them. Other times, it is re-understanding what decisions they’ve made, where data lies, and then what should they do with their integration. Should they keep the data like it is today? Should they make some modifications before they map to that field? And decisions like that. So, I totally agree. And if I could add one thing, I would recommend this is probably outside of the scope of this conversation, but this should be part of your M&A due diligence process before you make an acquisition. You should understand the level of customization. You should understand the level of use and utilization that your acquisition is using your MRP, yeah, or ERP, excuse me, MRP here. Yeah, and it might not change the way in which you go about the acquisition, but at least your eyes will be open and you’ll have an understanding up front of what work might be required and how much investment you need exactly to support the ERP. You’ve got it. Very good. All right, Michele, I’m going to come back to you. What are some key elements that are often missed during the planning phase of an ERP implementation? I’m going to go back to what both you, Kris, and Lindsey touched on too, is the integration because I think sometimes, as far as the planning phases, people don’t think about sometimes how complex an integration can be. Some of your really companies have old systems. How are they going to integrate? How much is it going to cost to do that integration? So, I think understanding that complexity and taking a step back and do we want to integrate this system is also key. And then I’d say a lot of items as far as budget, budget tend to be missed. And so again, you know, a lot of that’s going to take place in your business case up front, but you know, I think that’s a tough one where again, you’re including or you should include, you know, Finance early in the process and really think through a lot of different elements because, you know, change management is often missed fees for that. It’s always underestimated. Another thing too, I would say during the planning phase that tends to be missed, I’ve noticed that companies don’t do a lot of rehearsals or trial runs of their cut-overs. And you know, I think that should be baked in. I think that one’s a huge one and really understanding, hey, did we reach out to all the right people? Are all the proper stakeholders identified? And you’re going to do a stakeholder mapping exercise and really dig into that. And you’re going to really kind of classify everyone and figure out who are my stakeholders that are going to make a lot of noise, who might need hand-holding. There’s even those people too that might create one PO a year, you know. You might, you know, granted you’re going to focus on them less, but again, they might, you know, how are you going to handle them? So, there’s folks like that. And then again, there’s people that may have complex processes too. So, you know, you’re going to need those people too to make sure you’ve got all of your test cases and scenarios and really your ERP system is functioning in the right way. So, I think those are some of the top things that I’d focus on in the planning phase that you know, we just don’t want to lose sight of. Yeah, no great suggestions. And I know, you know, even in my experience, test cases are things that are often the things that we think about, but encouraging people to try to break it, you know, in the test environment, just try to break some things, do things that are off script and see what happens. Even things that you think you’re going to do anyway once it goes live in production. So, try it, see if you get the right path that you were supposed to get or the right response. And yeah, and always encouraging that. I’m curious, both Jennifer and Lindsey, I think this is a good question. Are there any, you know, key elements that are often missed during the planning phase of an ERP implementation that you would like to share that you come across? I would add also resourcing documentation so that you can always use that when you break a test case. You know, well, this is how we our desired state, we wrote that down, and then testing, it’s either meeting our desired state, maybe we need to go back and rethink the process, or maybe the software isn’t working as intended or as we thought it was supposed to. And then that’s where, you know, we’ll get into it, but customization and all of that. So, you have that baseline documentation, expectation, and then when you’re doing train the trainer, that’s the basis for starting education. And then when you get to the end user training, usually a few weeks before go-live, you’ve already fine-tuned all of that user documentation. In my experience, many of my go-lives, documentation seems to be an afterthought. So, trying to back up six, eight months of the project plan to really start resourcing that really helps with a success. Can I just add something to that too? I’ve actually seen a couple of situations too, as far as documentation where the team that’s writing the documentation, they’re using a test instance or a sandbox. And then I’m like, well, wait a minute, this documentation doesn’t match what our end users see in production. So, I’ve actually encountered that a couple of times. So, something to be mindful of. Yeah, great. I would say if I had to add something to that, I think you guys have listed a lot of the things that I commonly see that are missed, but the biggest one for me is organizational champions. I think that’s over, people just don’t view that as important as the tactical development of a cutover plan or of your tactical milestones, things like that that are more measurable. But the reality is, no one in your organization, besides you maybe, your director of I.T., is excited about an ERP. That’s just the reality, right? Nobody is sitting there saying like, “Oh, I can’t wait for that new ERP. I can’t wait to be able to do my job differently than the way I’ve been doing it for the last 5, 10, 15, 20 years, right?” So, an ERP is only as good as the adoption rate that it sees within your organization. And if people are still going to use their Excel spreadsheets, they’re still going to use old tools, old tactics, old communication strategies, you may as well save your millions of dollars and put them back in your pocket. So, for me, that organizational champion, being someone that is respected within the organization and that emphasizes, not always in a positive way, but in a forceful way, “This is the way we’re going, this is the train we’re on, this is the decision that the business has made, and we’re all going to hold hands and go through it together.” It can’t just be your CEO that thinks that’s a great idea. You need to have operators in each department that are well respected and tenured within your organization to help lead your organization through them. And you cannot have too many champions of the tool because you will have way more people, regardless of how many champions you have, you will have way more naysayers than champions, and those champions have to outshine your naysayers. And I think, too, you know, it’s a given that, you know, the champions are there to help with the change management and, you know, this is a good thing and it benefits the company because of XYZ. But also, ensure that they have realistic expectations and when they talk to people, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s, you know, might be, you know, a little bit tougher. Yeah, it’s going to be, you know, a learning curve, but we’ve got the resources to help you. It helps temper leadership expectations, too, because if those people are trusted by your key users, they’re trusted by your leadership team. So, it’s an anchor point both ways. It’s a great developmental opportunity for high-potential employees who aren’t yet in a leadership position. Love that. To be able to go back and, you can’t have somebody in a role in one of these champion roles that isn’t willing to give feedback both ways. So, you’ve got to have people that are willing to give feedback to the CEO and say, “Hey, this isn’t working right here. “Here are the places that our users are getting really frustrated “and they’re putting the tool down. “I’m doing the best I can, but I need your support in ABC.” So, picking those champions well is really, really important. Yeah, Michele, that feedback both ways is so true. Great discussion, ladies. I, you know, to summarize, we, without adoption, you don’t get your investment that you’re looking for. And without the right champions, who are influencers both up and down your organization, you’re going to struggle with the adoption. So, you gotta get those things right and have the right documentation, back to Jennifer’s point. So, awesome. So, Jennifer, how do you create and make an internal ERP support team successful? You know, where did you start?
So, I started positively, saying I just poached people from other organizations. So, I mentioned earlier that, you know, there’s hidden ERP talent amongst the organization, you know, the receivers, the shippers, you. So, most of the time it was just myself supporting the ERP. So, you’re either designing reports, writing queries to pull, and then eventually, you know, there’s more work than a person. You need to start growing your team. So, without adding headcount or without adding more overhead to the payroll of the company, I would start branching out and doing almost like dotted line reporting. So, leveraging what Lindsey said was creating that group of accountability, those group of liaisons. They would be my starting point and start using them to help champion within their departments. And then eventually, sometimes they would just reach out and say, “Well, I want to do more for you. I want to do more ERP.” And those are the ones you want to latch onto and just add to your team because that’s an easy add. And then, you know, over the years and over the time, the team’s grown. Eventually, you can’t do it all. And, you know, if it’s been so many years since I’ve written any type of reports or programming, and, you know, even a basic… As you grow, you know, just tapping into those various organizations. So, my first company that I started at, I had moved around to a couple different organizations, and it was more just, “Hey, we have a problem. We need you to solve within our MRP system at the time. So, figure out the process, out-of-the-box functionality, do that.” And then, when we decided to implement a new ERP system, that’s when we needed to create that group of champions. So, then over the years, I moved back to IT and then was able to grow, you know, grow the team from there by adding a few folks from different organizations. Yeah, hidden talent right inside the team is absolutely, you know, when you can find those diamonds in the rough that are actually interested in ERP, and they pay attention to the process and they care not just what goes in, but what is the output, and that it’s correct. They exist throughout every organization. So true, and you can find them on every project. You just have to be open to hearing from everyone. So that’s great. And maybe just to build on that, Lindsey, building trust is so important. So many businesses run their supply chain and manufacturing processes in Excel. How do you encourage adoption of a new ERP in an environment where there’s a lot of hesitation around reliability? Yeah, it’s a great question, Kris, and something that we face a lot. Hesitation is normal with a tool, especially going from an Excel-based environment to an ERP. You find less hesitation when you’re moving from ERP to ERP because people understand the value, even if they didn’t love what their previous ERP was doing or how it worked. They understand there’s value in taking the manual workload off. So the first thing we generally start with is a time study. So it’s really documenting how are you spending your time right now from a functional perspective. And that’s not just supply chain. That would be every department that interfaces within ERP. You would document your time and point out how much manual effort is being done. So if leadership hasn’t already done that, oftentimes that is the impetus for an ERP selection, is the time study or it’s a portion of it. But if it hasn’t been done, do your time study, understand how much manual time your teams are spending using their Excel-based tools or the current reporting. Once you have the time study done and the organization has chosen that we’re going with an ERP, then a lot of it is explaining, using the consultants that come with that tool, but also finding people that are just experts within your organization that have worked with that tool in other places. So SAP, for example, SAP is a very universal ERP. If your organization is going from no ERP to SAP, if you have more than 50 people in your org, I can guarantee one of them has worked with SAP. It’s just a fact, right? So find that one person in your org that has worked in the tool and pump them for information, the good, the bad, the ugly. What do they know? And then use that person and turn around and start creating a champion for that tool and then creating the awareness organization-wide of what you’re doing and holding hands through each step in the process, right? Keeping a really tight selection on your vetting committee to figure out what tool you’re actually going to use, to the RFP process, and then all the way through implementation, widening that net as you go, but making sure that you’re purposeful and that you have a really clear communication plan for your organization. That’s probably my number one piece of advice: their communication plan.
Yeah, I, you know, it’s really interesting, the idea of a time study. It hasn’t come up in this discussion before. I’m curious if Michele and Jennifer have been a part of a time study in the past. I guess a question that popped in my mind is, thinking about that and how it’s executed, how often do people give the right information when it comes to how long they spend on something? And then, is that something that you would recommend a third party assist with, that’s kind of unbiased, and who would document the time? Just curious, kind of how that goes, because again, it’s very interesting. I think it could be extremely valuable to companies that are thinking about a lot of different processes, right? Especially those manual ones that are still not done in the ERP system. You know, if we can catch those and identify where people are still doing something manually or with spreadsheets, doing this time study, but could you just expand on that a little bit?
Sure. So, the time study, we usually recommend that it’s multi-purpose, right? Especially for your managerial team to understand what your tactical day-to-day looks like for your team. That’s really hard to get a pulse on. I’ve been a manager myself. I understand it’s tough when you’re doing your day job to understand what people on your team are doing as well. So, the time study, you can do it internally if you have a rather agnostic role. So, for supply chain example, if you had a dedicated SNOP coordinator, they’re not necessarily in your day-to-day supply chain activity, but they’re aware of what your activity is. They’re not responsible for any of those specific functions. It makes it pretty easy to have someone go in there and help conduct a time study. If you don’t have any kind of agnostic role within your larger team, it does help to have someone external come in and help facilitate the time study.
What it looks like, you don’t generally… I mean, this is the way that we do it, so take that with a grain of salt. You don’t go down to the hour or the minute. You’re looking at chunks of time. So, you identify the main processes that you have to run your business. So, for example, if you’re an inventory planner, you need to understand what your inventory levels are. You need to evaluate your safety stocks. You need to understand your cycle stock, your lead times. You need to understand your inventory targets and how we’re setting those. So, each of those would be a bucket within the time study, and understanding what tools, processes, and time those are taking. Each main activity and tenant of your role. Otherwise, you get bogged down in the “I spent 30 minutes responding to emails” or “I spent 26 minutes responding to a firefight email,” right? But that’s generally how we recommend doing it. It is not an easy ask. It seems very straightforward when you say, like, “Go conduct a time study,” but getting the right level of detail is critical. You don’t want to be in the minutia of the day-to-day, but you need to understand the core processes, tools, and time that it’s getting them to execute the main tenets of your job. And frankly, like, running that up against their job description. It starts there and saying, “Is what you’re doing aligned with what I want you to be doing?” And then that informs, once you figure out how much time you’re spending on those manual processes, then you take that to your ERP consultant and say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing now. I want you to do a time study. So if you don’t know, you can ask your ERP consultants to do this. I want you to do a time study and tell me how much time I’m going to save by implementing this ERP.” And then, when your leadership team says, “Hey, this two million dollar price tag that’s going to require this ERP implementation,” you have an actual ROI for what that’s going to yield in employee resource time savings. So that’s a long-winded version to probably a short request for expansion, but no, I appreciate the details. I think that would be really helpful for everybody. I know it was helpful for me, so thank you.
Absolutely, good. Yeah, I don’t know if Michele or Jennifer have ever used this before. Go ahead, Jennifer.
I’d say I’ve done a time study in a smaller scale when I was trying to convince leadership to buy and add-on shop floor software to the existing ERP. But we looked at it as, you know, we’re making an investment in hardware and software, and, you know, when we’re up against the ERP system and Excel spreadsheets.
So, if the data is entered in Excel and it’s quote handed over at the end of the day, and then whatever transacted in that Excel needs to translate into the ERP system, you know, the inventory isn’t accurate, the transactions aren’t correct, jobs aren’t closed correctly. But if we had a handheld barcoding and as soon as you scanned the barcode, it automatically closed the job if it was at the last operation. So, you know, I took it as like a transactional type time study, so we went a little deeper than the, you know, the high level you were looking at. But that was, you know, so I could sell a hundred thousand dollar software, plus 50,000 in hardware. It worked, you know, we did win it, and when I left that company, we were about halfway through implementing at that time. So it’s definitely a valuable step and worth putting that effort into like Lindsey said, to get that ROI. It’s an easy, I’ll say, it’s an easy win if you have the real data.
Yeah, well, so many people on this call will be looking to understand how to show ROI for their ERP project. So, you know, both of you reference having this data helps you in that process. That’s great. Michele, were you going to add anything as well?
Just that I think this is a great additional data point, right, wrong, or indifferent. Sometimes Finance or CFOs, it’s harder for them to get their arms around that, though because, again, you know, they’re looking more for hard numbers. And I would say most of my experience is around just, hey, we don’t know what our commitments are or what our risk is. We have to stop using an Excel spreadsheet or the first time really you have a large surprise expenditure, you know, come up. I, you know, all of that really is, you know, driving you towards that ERP system. Yeah, so there are additional things that can prove out ROI, and risk being one of them, you know, risk of error or mishandling of information, of course.
Yeah, to know, Michele, like how do you quantify that risk? Because you’re right, I mean, the first time you drop a million dollar purchase order instead of a hundred thousand, right, that’s an organizational nightmare for a small company. How do you quantify that risk mitigation piece?
Difficult to quantify, that’s for sure. You know, you have to go in with some assumptions based on your business, and you kind of go from there with your finance and your stakeholders and your sourcing group.
Okay, yeah, that’s understood. Yeah, yeah, and I would say unless there were errors that have already occurred that could be shared and the impact of those, I think that would be one other thing as well. So if you know the organization well, or it is your organization.
Alright, so Michele, who or which groups, and I know we talked about champions, so we’ve kind of covered that, but which groups should be part of your implementation team? So I’ll just kind of go through like a handful of them, if you will. So we’ve touched on most of these, but I think executive sponsor is huge, and you may have multiple executive sponsors depending on the size of your company or the importance or complexity of certain groups. If you were a company that didn’t grow organically but grew by acquisition, maybe there’s a CEO or a supply chain leader from that acquisition that you’re now bringing into the fold of the new ERP, the new ERP system that you’d want as an executive sponsor. But I would say a project owner, project managers, your super users and champions, of course, your functional team members, meaning those people out in the business, your sneeze, your domain experts, and then there’s your technical team, your report writer, how are we going to get meaningful reports out of this thing, you know? And that’s where, too, you’re gonna, you know, get your input from, you know, sourcing, but also your stakeholders, your end users, and the rest of your technical team, of course. So your sys admin, your program hammers, the people doing the configuration tester, your trainer, your end users, and your change manager will be huge too. So just kind of a quick list, if you will. And then I’d also say external support is a big piece too. So making sure you’ve got the right people from your ERP supplier, but then also maybe someone like Lindsey as well, the right consultants to help too.
Yeah, it’s almost like in any ERP implementation, everybody has a role, yes, right? In the successful adoption of it, but some might have slightly advanced or very defined roles that add to the project and the adoption. But, you know, you almost have to say that everybody in the company has a role because there are very few, maybe the security guard isn’t using the ERP system. Yeah, but the rest of them are, right? So, you know, it’s important. He’ll have to be there later for the weeks that they’re implementing. So everyone, that’s true, that’s true, overnight weekends, and everything else.
We’ll go to the question that we were, you know, we’ve been talking about a little bit. We’ve been touching on customization versus out of the box. So why do you think it’s critical to use an ERP software out of the box as much as possible with minimal customizations?
I’ll start with most of my career has been upgrading the existing software that, I’ll say, I have acquired responsibility for. I’ve helped implement a few, but most of them in upgrading and, you know, over the years as those customizations accumulate, it makes upgrading even more difficult. And the theme of today’s conversation is, you know, clean data, make this easy for everybody, internal and external stakeholders, you know? And as we get more and more into the world of BI, that clean data becomes important data points for businesses to make decisions. So limiting those customizations means there is not a usually defined field to capture data, and if there is customization, making sure it’s in the hands of someone who understands the risks and consequences of that customization to put parameters around it. So you don’t want a free-form text box of 100 characters that anyone can put any kind of information in. If you want to create it as a drop-down so that there’s limited options, now those can be reportable and, you know, better data points from a BI perspective.
So, you know, we as product managers try really hard to build an ERP system that meets a lot of the needs of many of the customers in our space. So, you know, manufacturing, for example, or distribution. And, you know, there’s, we allow, there’s certain tools that we can use to create those customizations or modifications. Everyone calls them differently. But, you know, being able to, you know, just keep that in mind that it’s not you that’s entering the data that ultimately is going to have the results of that data. It’s really the business owners, the strategic leaders, the managers that are going to be analyzing that data or, you know, the data teams that are putting the BI dashboards together that you will use in the end, you know, normalizing that data.
So, you know, and I’ll put a plug in, use those ERP software channels to submit ideas and updates to the software because we do use them to help so that it helps you minimize your customizations and modifications. So I’ve always been an advocate since the very first day of, “Why are we customizing this? Why aren’t you following the process?” So, you know, minimize those customizations so then upgrades take three to six months instead of nine to twelve months, and it’s not an event. It’s just a routine operational activity that happens for your company.
If I could add, I think everything Jennifer leaves it is spot on, right? I think the only thing I would add to that is the support that you’re getting. So, this is something the more customized you make your tool, the harder it is for your ERP provider to support it. So when you’re talking about upgrades, when you’re talking about just functionality within the tool, if you’ve upgraded it to the hilt, or, I’m sorry, not upgraded, if you customize it to the hilt, your support team is gonna have a really hard time helping you when there’s a real issue with the tool. That’s something that we’ve seen a good amount of, so that’s another plug for and we find that sometimes people are attached to a name, right? Like, I’ll use SAP again. SAP is a great tool, but it’s not a great tool for every company. So make sure you understand your business requirements before you select the tools. You can select the best out of the box, like, hey, evaluate your processes upstream and see if those are really the processes you should be following. But generally, these softwares, they reflect the best-in-class processes that are out there. So if you’re trying to customize something and they’re reflecting best-in-class, it kind of can be a conflict sometimes. So it’s a good time to look at your own processes upstream.
Yeah, yeah, I would also add that the additional customization, quite frankly, just makes sometimes the system harder for your end users to use too. It’s, it tends not to be intuitive, it’s hard to keep training materials up to date, and the biggest item is that it’s super expensive. And, you know, one to do the initial customization and then just to keep that going. And then I thought something that Kris mentioned early on was key too, that Kris, you mentioned it might just be some VP that worked here 10 years ago that wanted this customization and wanted the system to work this way, and no one knows why. And so, I’m a big proponent too of, you know, again, the process drives the system, not the other way around, with limited customization. But, as I was gonna say, I’m a big proponent of, you know, have a third party, a consultant, just come in and do like an overview of your system again, where you’re not investing a huge amount of money. Maybe talk through your customization with them, pros and cons, so that can be helpful, and again, you’re not investing a ton.
Yeah, all great stuff. You know, I worked for a CEO in a manufacturing company, and we were upgrading from Baan to, well, it was a new, so we were re-platforming, essentially, from Baan to SAP. And he started from the CEO position, “We are using SAP out of the box. We are using SAP out of the box.” And he would say it in every meeting, and it came right from the top, and everybody had heard it multiple times throughout the process. So, to Jennifer’s point of minimizing the number of customizations, you know, it does sometimes require leadership for your champions, your stakeholders, to be very vocal. And it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any customizations, but at least everybody is looking out for following the best practices, you know, Lindsay, that you’re mentioning there.
And, you know, Lindsay, I’ll, I’ll go with you here to the last question, which is, how many customizations is just too much? Is there a way that we can, how do we know that it’s too much? Is it because, I mean, at that point, we haven’t really triggered the support challenges that you mentioned, so we don’t know that side of it yet. How can we tell? Oh man, such a hard question to answer, but I would, I would actually defer to the solutions consultants that you’re working with within the tool that you select. You’re going to have an implementation team that comes in and supports you. Generally, even if you’re transitioning from one ERP to another, they’ll tell you. And I would say maybe 10 more than what they tell you, right? Because they’re going to be emphasizing ten percent. I, I, there is no number.
I think every business is different, and I think everyone on this call, all the participants, know that. And out-of-the-box ERP is not going to be a fit for everyone, and you’re going to have to have, Kris, to your point, some degree of customization. I think auditing your own business processes to understand what is truly custom to your industry and your product line, what is truly custom and requires a different perspective. But I would say your Solutions Consultants can really help you narrow down what is needed and what’s nice to have, and then start with just what is needed to keep your business running and figure out the rest as you go. You can always add customizations. You can add them along the way. You don’t have to have everything done out of the gate. That’s right.
Yeah, to stay on time, within budget, and I think it was Jennifer that mentioned some of that earlier as well. You know, start with as close to out of the box as you can, and then when you realize something’s really not working for you, then customize. So at least you’ve given it a shot. But wow, I mean, this went really fast. What an hour! Thank you for all the great advice. We talked rackets, dogs, and baseball. We talked start with the end in mind, you know, have a mentor, do a trial run of the cut over. Some things that I found, you know, really interesting in our discussion here. Champions and an executive sponsor, how critical those are. You talked about a time study and a lot of the different ways in which you can actually execute a time study. So great advice there. We talked about the upgrading challenges and the support challenges to really get people thinking about minimizing customizations as you’re working with your ERP system. So great program today. Thank you, ladies, for joining us. Appreciate you and all your support. And I just want to say thank you to our audience as well. Thank you for being here. Our next show will be June 27th at 1 pm Eastern, and my lovely co-host Sarah Scudder will be with you. So I hope that you will all join us on June 27th. It would normally be our July show, but because I think it falls so close to July 4th, we are having one more in June. So hope to see you all then. So everybody, have a beautiful day, and we’ll see you in a month.