Women in ERP – October 2022
Kim Berger, Jennifer White and Katie Farrand
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 ain’t all pretty, believe me. Our initiative aims to bring together, educate, and empower women involved with ERP transformations. The main theme of this series is to highlight the contributions of women, create social awareness to enhance women’s representations in ERP teams, and highlight their stories and challenges in voicing their opinions with ERP transformation initiatives. I’m Sarah Scudder, Marketing Maven at SourceDay, and today’s show host. Our platform integrates with ERP systems, so my team and I have lived through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today, I am joined by Jennifer, Katie, and Kim. The three of them have extensive ERP experience, and I’ve asked them to share some of their wisdom, stories, and learnings with us today.
For those of you that are joining us live, we’d like to have you drop in the chat where in the world you are joining us from. So let us know what city and state, and what cool place you’re at today. And then we’d also like to have you share a story or example or something that comes to mind when you think about your most recent ERP experience. That way, we’ll get to gauge a sense about where people are on their ERP journeys. So, Kim, I’m going to have you kick off our introductions today. Would like to have you share a little bit of your background story. How did you get involved in the ERP space? And then I would also like to have you share a fun or interesting fact about yourself.
Certainly, thank you, Sarah. It’s nice to see everybody, nice to be part of this forum. So my name is Kim Berger. I am the Director of Professional Services at Pelorus Technology. We are an international global integration partner, and we’ve got locations in Berlin, Austin, Texas, and Dallas, Texas. And for me, my ERP world started many years ago, back when I was actually having my first job, which led into a career which I spent 15 years at an international bus manufacturer. So right away, it started off as a nice little position in the receiving area. Right, it started with implementing and using what they were currently using, and then getting into a very large ERP implementation.
Where I think I learned all the good, the bad, and the ugly very quickly. So it was a large implementation. It took over three years. Back in that day, to get an ERP, three years is even a long time for any implementation that I’ve heard of. It was back in the day. It was, ‘SAP,’ and again, I’m dating myself. So, I’m just going to throw myself out there. So that was my first experience, and it was a fabulous experience because of the collaboration needed, the expectations, you know what was going to happen, and again, having to collaborate with so many team members.
And the ERP implementation was in a manufacturing company, so we had a lot to do with the shop floor, a lot of interactions with the Canadian and American locations. So, my first exposure was one of the best exposures I’ve had and really led to the path that I’m still on and enjoying. But it’s something I reflect on numerous times throughout my conversations. And we did go live, which was good. I think we’ve only missed the first go-live date by a month, so we tend to end my story on that note. It was a long implementation, a very rich journey with knowledge and collaboration, and it was a success by at least meeting the goal of the go-live. Right, so that was my intro on how it all started.
And then a fun or interesting fact about yourself?
A fun fact about me is when I work at home, I usually have a German Shepherd beside me. I don’t think anybody would realize, with all the calmness that happens as we all sit here and get to talk to people during our meetings, and sometimes there’s all sorts of things happening throughout the houses we work from home. There’s usually a German Shepherd right beside me. Well, hopefully, we’ll get a guest appearance. Hopefully, thank you, Kim.
My first question for you today is around what is the most challenging part of an ERP implementation. So, what’s the hardest part, given all of your experiences? You just mentioned you were involved in a three-year implementation. Let’s start with the not-so-good stuff.”
“Right, so the not-so-good stuff. The system, right? It works, you know, it can do whatever we need. The expectations, the effective communication with that constant conversation. It’s so surprising sometimes, right? You know how much conversation is still needed in the follow-up, and just that whole energy that’s needed around the project. It is fun to go into the project, you get to meet all sorts of great people. The communication, though, is something to this day that I’m like, ‘Okay, so technology is everywhere, everybody can do anything off their phone.’ You know, and again, there’s probably more channels that I’m dating myself. It’s the communication for me, still with the expectations, because you can say what’s going to happen, you can communicate the plan, you can communicate the milestones, and sometimes there’s still just interpretation and miscommunication on who was doing that or what was going to happen. So that’s still a challenge for me, as I have learned that one size doesn’t fit all.
And many types of communication really are necessary because it just doesn’t work all the time the same way for everybody.
And then what would you say is the best thing you liked about working in the ERP space? So you’ve had worked with a lot of different people, different companies, different experiences. What are some of the more memorable things that you can think of, and why do you like working in this space so much?”
The fun part about working in the space is still what you get to learn. I can’t believe how much I, you know, I thought I know, and then I’m like, ‘Holy cow, that’s still new for today.’ And the people are phenomenal who you get to meet. So I love the interaction and collaborating with people and their teams and the business. It’s so fabulous to get a chance to work with people from other companies, and they want to change or expand, collaborate, grow, and they look to us, right, to come in and work through that situation with them. It’s a fascinating opportunity to get to be in, I think, right? So that’s the thing. As much as I think I have learned that one size doesn’t fit all, it’s still so amazing to be part of another implementation that really wants to challenge and grow and design. And that’s exciting to me still. That’s how I know I’m still probably around for a little bit longer yet, I think.
Awesome, Kim. Well, glad to have you with us and hope your special guest makes an appearance during the show as well. Thank you.
Jennifer, would like to have you introduce yourself. So, tell us a little bit about how you got into this crazy world of ERPs, and a fun or personal fact about yourself that you’d like to share.
Jennifer White, CEO of the MJW Group, and we are a performance improvement and leadership development management consulting firm. I got involved in ERPs about 15 years ago, first role straight out of college. I worked for a CPG company, and they had a huge ERP system. I had never even heard of ERP, didn’t know what it was. And so I was introduced to the operations management side, also known as sometimes the supply chain side of things, dealing with that CPG company. And ever since then, I’ve been in love with all kinds of ERPs. I’ve used the black and green screen ones, the more agile ones nowadays, so I can date myself as well, like Kim. I’ve been around them for a while. But now the way the technology has evolved, I mean, they’re so much faster and able to calculate and manipulate way more than what we were able to do years ago. So, I just love the way CP—sorry, ERPs operate. Being able to have one source of the truth is what I like to call it. It’s your end-all, be-all, and everything is right there in that ERP system.
A fun fact about me is I’m a huge pumpkin spice lover. So, around this time of the year, actually I start in August, I start collecting a lot of pumpkin spice items so I can utilize them all year long to bake.
So, I was at a friend’s house on Saturday night, and they got a new golden retriever and named the dog Pumpkin because they’re obsessed with pumpkin spice as well. So, this is their favorite time because everything is named after their dog. So, I thought that was kind of fun.
Cool. So, Jennifer, you run a consulting practice. You help advise people, organizations, teams on making technology decisions and then helping them implement those solutions. How do you advise your clients on the downstream costs and the cost of long-term maintenance? I think that’s something that is often ignored or people don’t even know about and don’t even know to factor that into a decision, right?
Here at our firm, we advise on four different ways: people, processes, data, and technology, in that order. And so, for us, we’re gonna just run until we hit a wall with the first three variables, more so around people and processes and making sure they gel well together before we even start to have conversations around the data and any particular technology that you wish to utilize. Right? A lot of times, we see organizations want to just, you know, get to that end goal of, ‘We need this technology, and let’s go get it.’ But there’s a lot of analysis that needs to be done before you even get to that point, considering all the costs that are associated with maintaining that technology.
So, a lot of times, I’ve seen in my tenure that software vendors will give you the bells and whistles, right? All of the cool features that are happening, you know, ‘We plan to release XYZ in the near-term future.’ But they don’t necessarily talk about what it costs to maintain that or every time a new release gets sent out to their earned clients, or if there’s going to be an upgraded cost, right, to even house that new release in the version that you have, the version of that software.
So, I think it’s important to really ask those critical questions of the vendor, of the expectation around what costs are. How often are we looking at price increases for new releases or, you know, is this something that’s going to be fixed? Is there a total cost of ownership per each user, or what does that look like for our company? Because a lot, a lot of software vendors base their pricing on user access versus just, you know, like a fixed cost on your whole organization, specific modules that they could be utilizing. So, it’s important to ask those critical questions when you’re in the early-on designing phase or, you know, before you even let the ink dry on the paper with getting involved in implementation, to make sure you understand all of the downstream ramifications of new releases, new versions, upgrades, things like that, and even production support that you will need going forward in that system.
Are there any red flags that you’ve seen that people should look out for when they’re negotiating or they see a copy of a contract?
Oh gosh, yes. Everything I just spoke about, if that’s not outlined in your contract, that’s a huge red flag. You don’t want to sign off on anything you don’t have a good feeling about the expectations or the support that is required from the vendor, as well as your own implementation team, to carry forward. Sometimes that may evolve the organization in more resources, right? So, you want to make sure you understand that because you might have—you may have a need for a super user or an administrator type of person that you didn’t have on your team before or data governance, right? So, you want to make sure that resources are accounted for. You understand what your responsibilities are and the software vendor’s responsibility as well. All those things should be clearly defined on an SoW.
Yeah, thank you, Jennifer. Excited to have you on the show today.
Katie, you are up for the intro and a fun or random fact about yourself. All right, well, I work for Synergy Resources, and currently, I’m the Manager of Operational Excellence for one of our groups, which is called the Manufacturing Center of Excellence. So, Synergy is really dedicated to helping all things manufacturing. We sell, support, implement ERP software. My group also works on continuous improvement and process improvement activities, as well as lean manufacturing and, you know, team-building work with manufacturing organizations. So, I got into ERP—my first job out of college, we used the Data General, which was a DOS prompt, you know, screen. And I think in 2004, we went to something more modern. I was part of that core team. And then the company I worked for, who made non-destructive testing equipment for industrial use, ended up going through a series of acquisitions. So, I was part of that core team that helped bring each site live until we were all in a single ERP system. So, I got a lot of experience. And then about 10 years ago, I went over to the consulting world.
Let’s see, and a fun fact about myself—I recently, this summer, got into paddleboarding, and I’m a little sad in the Northeast, so we’ve just had our first few cold days. So, we’re shelving it for next summer. But, so, I moved to Austin at the end of last year, and paddleboarding is really, really big here. There’s a place called Ladybird Lake, and when you walk around the path or downtown, you’ll see all these people paddleboarding. So, it was something that I had not seen a lot of, but it’s very, very popular here in Texas. Yeah, it’s really fun.
So, Katie, one of the challenges that I know people struggle a lot with when they have an ERP is getting people to actually use it and then getting the most out of it. So, what is a critical area to focus on in order to get the most out of your ERP system?
I would say that it is the business processes themselves. An ERP system is a great tool. It takes care of a lot of, you know, just day-to-day tasks, functions. It automates a lot of work for us. But if you don’t have a good, solid business process to back that up, a company is still going to be spinning their wheels and not really feeling like they got what they thought out of it. So, I think taking a look at that business process—you know, we do process mapping with customers, looking at how do we facilitate getting something that’s a little bit more streamlined. What are your current opportunities for improvements? And I think people are often surprised that—I don’t know—half, two-thirds of the time, they have nothing to do with software, right? It’s we’ve always done this this way, nobody really knows why. It’s a 20-year leftover practice. So, getting that kind of consensus on, yes, we can do things a better way, whether you do that as part of your implementation or you’re already using an ERP system and just want to look at, you know, how you get more out of it. I think that foundational business process is really the area to focus on.
We’ve got a comment in from somebody on LinkedIn, Jennifer. They said, ‘As a consultant myself, Jennifer discussed such a key component to so many growing companies, and established companies do not take into consideration in their budgeting for their current and future technology organizations.
Ken, you’ve worked for companies who have gone out and actually selected an ERP, gone out and done kind of an RFQ RFP process and selected software to implement. And now you are trying to get those people to see the value in charge of these new systems. What are some of the big differences in mind shift that you’ve seen?
It was a little more fun to be on the selecting side. It’s just the fact that, you know, when you’re in a business, the value that you have to bring and drive, right? You have to deliver, you have to see some change in the organization, right? You have to be able to drive the value, right? So that perspective, when I’m now meeting the companies, I understand that, right? I’m like, you have to have value, and that’s where that conversation starts to get a little bit deeper now, right? Because I know that there needs to be… They’re looking for software for a reason. And sometimes it’s a few different reasons, right? Because, you know, production needs something, Finance needs something, sales needs something. So it’s a collaborative approach, right? And that was interesting for me now because meeting people and meeting the clients and starting to engage with people, there’s so many different reasons why people look and why companies look, I think. And it’s really hard to get into the reason and the expectations about that. And that’s something I learned when I was on the other side of the table because I had so many different people to talk to and update and so many people to actually, you know, make happy. Think of the simplest way to say this, you know. So that’s something now… And you know, I meet just a few people or one person from a company, I’m like, well, where’s the rest of the company? Like, who else is going to do this with you? Where’s the buy-in? You know, what are you looking for? What do you need? Because it’s not just one person. So that helped me because I was always running around trying to make sure and having meetings and talking to as many people as I could, you know. So now when I’m approaching the businesses and our customers, I’m like, okay, so where’s the rest of the team? What are we looking at here? And it’s just an interesting perspective because it’s not that easy to internally pitch and internally sell. So I try to make sure that I let our clients know that, you know, what do you need? Like, what do you need? Do you need some documentation? Do you need a meeting? How do we make this a well-designed and collaborative approach again? Because it’s not easy to walk in and say, ‘Hey, you know, like, we’ve got all these great things to offer you.’ But what does the company actually need? So… Yeah.
And Kim, I would argue that internal sales is some of the hardest sale… selling… every day you are in the office, you see them on Zoom, doesn’t mean they’re just going to agree and say, ‘Yes, we’re absolutely going to make this expensive purchase and use this new platform.’
Totally agree, Sarah. That’s exactly what would never happen. So it was always… always a challenge. So I know there’s usually more than one question or two questions when you meet up with the client now, right? There’s got to be such an amount of people behind them. So agreed, yeah. The whole buying group process has really become the norm. So instead of talking to one or two people, there may be 10, 15, 20 people now involved in a buying decision. So much more complicated, much more. And everybody, again, not one size fits all, right? So everybody’s interpretation and collaborativeness is different. So what works for one person, if it’s the PowerPoint slide, if it’s a phone call, so that level of engagement now has really changed, I think. And it makes sense, except now that that whole process has grown so much. So it’s… it’s interesting, as you know, I’m meeting with you today, which is great, and the platform never used, so you’re constantly trying to figure out a way to communicate better and more effectively with as many people as you can.
So, Jennifer, companies spend a lot of time and resources implementing an ERP, but there’s a lot that happens after the implementation as well. So what happens when suppliers aren’t clear and transparent about support after the implementation?
Hmm, gosh, where do we start?
Yeah, there’s… there’s delays. There’s a lot of hands up. I… I don’t know why we… you know, went to this… this system, this technology. There’s… there’s a lack of adoption for the technology, right? The morale can… can reduce right in the organization, and then people tend to revert back to the manual ways of doing things, as Katie was mentioning as well.
So again, if you aren’t clear with the buyer and the software, right? The organization and the software vendor, if you aren’t clear on what needs to happen all throughout the engagement with that vendor, this is where you run into those obstacles and road bumps. And I would say the hardest piece of any implementation I’ve ever worked on, been a part of, you know, beginning, during, or the ending, is the organizational change management that comes along with it, right? So it’s one thing for normal change management of the business process, right? We’ve… we’ve never done this before, as Katie mentioned. Now we’re gonna do XYZ. Now what does that look like for the business? But there’s a mental component throughout the organization, the branding, its reputation, that has to transpire at the same time. And that’s the result of OCM. And a lot of times, organizations don’t factor that into the long term of the implementation of the technology. And it’s something that really, really needs to be discussed and talked about the whole length of the engagement because you will lose people. People will leave the organization. And if you have not taken the time to document all of the knowledge… You know, sometimes people refer to it as KT, right? The knowledge transfer that needs to happen, you just lose all that knowledge. And then your business processes… They become… They don’t be… They’re not existent anymore at all. And it’ll be like a free-for-all. So you want to be clear with that with the supplier. You know, what does this mean? What have you guys seen as best practices for organizations of our size going through this type of implementation, utilizing your technology? They’ve seen it. They have a lot of use cases over time if they’ve implemented enough times. So lean on your vendor. Like, it should be a collaborative working relationship, you know, throughout your whole engagement with them.
Katie, where do you find that organizations struggle after an ERP implementation?
A little similar to what Jennifer just said is the change management and also the continuous improvement. I think an ERP implementation project is a big deal. It could take, you know, four to six months. It could take three years, as in Kim’s experience. And so people, when they’re done, there’s generally the sense of, like, ‘Oh, that’s behind us. Don’t have to worry about that anymore.’ And then I think over, you know, as time goes on, you really lose either individuals that had key knowledge or things with the business or technology change. So we really encourage customers to come up with a core team, a business process owner from every process, and make that group meet regularly, starting right after that implementation. Because you’re really creating a foundation with an implementation. You’re not going to nail it perfect. You just really want to get a strong structure that you can build on. So I think having that team take a look at where are their improvement comments, what little things can we do as we go along, when do we need to sort of take a bigger step back and reassess our process, or is there tools out there that have been developed that can help us, is really important. And so baking that into just your everyone’s regular lives helps it stick. Because before you know it, 10, 15 years have gone by and nobody knows why why they’re doing things, and and they’ve got another big project on their hands.
Any advice for people for things that they can do during the implementation that will set them up for success afterwards?
Yeah, I would say coming up with your company’s way that you’re going to document your standard work. It might be training videos, it might be work instructions, it might be PowerPoint slides, but you really need to have it. It could be flowcharts, some combination of those. Those step-by-step, ‘This is how we execute this process under these conditions. And hey, if you’re new and haven’t done this before, this is how you navigate in the tools that you’re using.’ And I know it’s hard because a project is already taking a lot of extra time, and everybody has their day job to do. But it’s really something you have to make yourself make time for. And if the organization you’re working with to help you implement has some starting points, you know, some kind of guides that might be generic but you can build across to save yourself some time, then that’s even better.
Kim, what’s the biggest ERP nightmare you’ve lived through?
Well, I think I have one where we had issues on the shop floor. So let’s just say the office was operational but the shop floor wasn’t. So that was a major ‘aha, bad’ moment because the project was for the shop floor and the office. So that taught a lot of lessons learned with regards to the full project and how much you can be sitting in a meeting room all the time, meeting with people. But if you’re not meeting with the people who actually do the processes and actually are the recipients of the process, you might not be doing a good job. I’m happy to say that was in my younger days, so I’ve learned that now to have the full participation that’s required in a project is key. You say that easily, right? Because you have to have people participate, you have to have the SMEs, you have to have the business owners, but you really need the people that use it. You really have to have that. So I’m happy to have lived through it because when you stop production on the shop floor, it’s one of the worst things that can happen. Again, learned a lot, but never do that again. So I’m happy to say I came out of that one alive because I was quickly on the shop floor fixing everything that I could.
And how did you fix that?
Literally working with the user, literally working then with the consulting team, literally walking through that process then to make sure it was completed right, and then changing like Katie said, right? Documentation is key. It’s so hard because it takes time, but if you don’t have the documentation, whether it’s a video, whether it’s a flow, you just don’t know, and people interpret things so differently, literally communicated, documented, for a few days.
I think that another story or lesson in your story is gonna go wrong in every ERP implementation. You can’t plan for everything. It’s how you react and handle it, which is really what matters, and acting quickly and taking care of the stakeholders and being very open about it. It’s important to be aware, and if it’s a… if somebody’s hearing something about it now, it’s going to become quite a story by the time it’s four o’clock in the afternoon, typically.
Jennifer, what should teams do when their requirements are not met?
Definitely raise their hand and speak up, right? So again, if you’re working with your vendor, you want to make sure expectations are crystal clear. Because when the invoices start coming in and you’re questioning, ‘I don’t think we got that. I don’t think that was done. I don’t think we met this requirement,’ but they’re expecting payment, you’ve got to be able to find that answer, right? So you’ve got to be able to make sure expectations are clear. Initiate toll gates throughout the implementation. If the vendor isn’t setting that up right, that’s why PMOs and project managers are so important, with having them involved from day one. You want to initiate toll gates, sign-off points, to where both sides are very clear on the requirements, what was done, what wasn’t done, what needs to come back and, you know, version 2.0, what are we pushing out? All things of that sort should be ironed out when it comes to requirements, because there’s any requirements, there’s data functional requirements, there’s now we have so much cyber requirements, all right? We’ve got to make sure the information is protected in all these systems and the way they’re integrating between one another. So you want to make sure the requirements are clear again, documentation with the BRD or business requirements document, that’s what it is, is visible to everyone. So again, it could be PowerPoint, Word document, it can be in Slack. I mean, however the company organizes and puts that documentation together, once it’s signed off on, you should be able to tell, ‘Yes, we got this, check it off. Yes, we got that, check it off.’ If not, then have that concerned voice, that concern with the supplier.
Jennifer, what does an ideal org chart look like when you’re going through an ERP implementation?
Depending on how big the scope is, you want to arm yourself with enough, I like to call it blockers and tacklers, right? So if you think of a football field, everybody has their role. You want to think of it the same way when you’re creating an implementation team. So there’s going to be your technological components, resources on that side, there’s going to be your operational components, resources on that side, and then you may have the business who’s in between, and they’re talking with both sides. So you want to make sure you have enough people that are blocking, tackling, again, your PMOs, the project managers, business analysts, as well as the folks on the technology side that are working with the data, the data governance, applications programming, who can have that deep technical conversation with the vendor to know where to troubleshoot in case something goes wrong, are they troubleshooting as the end user troubleshooting as well as the key stakeholders, the business users as well. Getting that input from them. Kim spoke about that, being embedded in their process for really doing a gimbal walk, right? Gimbal doesn’t just necessarily mean going to the shop floor. It can mean going to this person’s computer and desk and looking, overlooking it with them. So all types of folks, resources that are involved to make that implementation work. When it comes time for go-live, that’s what a good org chart is.
Katie, when should a company use an outside firm or resource to help with an ERP implementation versus trying to manage it internally?
Would you say Katie or Kim? Sorry, Katie.
You know, I think it really depends on the resources that an organization has available to them. You need to look at what’s going to be required for that implementation. You’re going to need project management. You’re going to need individuals that can do things with your data. And you can never get away from having your own core team and process owners available. But when you need that outside resource, it’s really where you might say, ‘Well, we don’t really have the technical staff that’s required, and we need a lot of support there. We haven’t done a project like this before, and we need some… You know, we may have our own internal project manager, but we need an external project manager as well that really understands the flow and the different gates of this kind of project, as well as, you know, data transformation. If you don’t have those individuals that sort of, you know, know how to pull the data out of your current system and load it into the current one, we’ve got a question from the audience.
Katie, I’ll have you tackle this first and then see if Kim or Jennifer have anything to add. Why aren’t folks using enterprise architects to solve many of these issues? And I guess maybe we could clarify on enterprise architects.
If the person who put this question in could clarify exactly what you mean by enterprise architects.
All right, we’ll come back to that question once we get some clarity on exactly what they’re looking for there.
Katie, one of the things I know your firm primarily works well exclusively works in the manufacturing space, so all of your clients are manufacturers in some capacity. What challenges are you seeing during your visits when you’re actually going on site and meeting with manufacturing companies?
It really, what I’ve seen in my visits over the last six months to a year, is it still continues to be about labor, shop floor labor, but also front office labor. People are still dealing with a lot of attrition because they may not have documented their standard work. They’re a bit in a pickle because they lost some of their key individuals from knowledge transfer, and they’re just having a problem finding qualified individuals to do the work. So, I think it really points to the need to focus on how do we get more done with the same people or fewer people, and that’s really a combination of process improvement and digital transformation tools like SourceDay, where you can look at how do we really automate some of these administrative tasks, give ourselves some more time to focus on where we need that human element, same with machine monitoring, equipment things that can apply on the shop floor, looking at how you might go paperless. You know, my company deals a lot with small to mid-size manufacturers who I think are always like five to ten years behind the time, sort of what people expect where you’d be with technology. And so, there’s still a lot of offices run by pieces of paper triggering activity and all that stuff, even though it seems little, really adds up. And so, I think just focusing on efficiencies as much as you can and documenting your work so it’s easier to bring new people on is important in this labor crunch.
We’ve talked a fair amount about change management, which I personally think is the hardest part of any sort of software implementation: actually getting people to get excited and use it. What should companies do to get their teams excited about using a new ERP system?
Fair. What’s worked in the past for me is a lot of the whether it was quarterly, monthly, weekly meetings at a lot of the company departments were having already, right? You know, you start to get involved with the company, you start to communicate what’s happening, you start to talk to the department leads, you start to get that fury, that kind of fire kind of building with people to get excited about it, you know, because it is a couple of jobs. Like Katie, I think had mentioned, right? Like so many people have to do so many different things, but you want to get them excited about what’s coming. So, collaborating with them, being part of what they’re going through, talking with between the SMEs, the business users, and a lot of just even the department workers, right? So, get that energy going. But you have to communicate, you have to understand what the challenges that they have are right now. And a lot of them obviously we all, you know, work during the day period. So, if you’re going to give them another job to do, you know, what is that going to look like? What’s their benefit to it, right? So, you’re really getting their buy-in, but through collaboration and just that level of engagement, I think pays off in the long run. It just is a lot of work up front because it’s a lot of communication, which just takes time.
We’ve got some clarification. So, again, the question is: why aren’t folks using enterprise architects to solve many of these issues? This person says enterprise architects can connect the dots between top floor and shop floor process and tech scoping. Any of the panelists want to tackle this question?
Sure, from our perspective, we have enterprise architects for the overall solution, as well as technical architects. There’s just sometimes some things that just get misinterpreted and, or, you know, they weren’t part of the original scope. You know, so you’ve gone through something that you kind of get to. I think Jennifer mentioned you want to go through as many as fast as you can, bump into walls. So, they certainly do help and they are part of most projects, smaller scoped projects. Sometimes we don’t need an enterprise. But it’s hard to see everything and you just can’t plan for everything. So, good question, very fair. I think that’s a huge part of a project for that architect design is the solution architecture. In, what is it, engineering architect, they do bring into that. They do bring valuable enterprise architects, right? Yeah, they do bring valuable insight into the projects. It’s just hard to see everything all the time. So, I don’t know, Katie or Jennifer, if you have anything.
Yeah, I would agree with that for sure. I think the, you know, typically that team of project consultants are aware of this is best business practice and this is how the software works and work with the customer to connect the dots. But it also depends on the current state, right? Sometimes it is a matter of budget and if it’s a smaller company and they need a little bit more support than is typical, but they might not be willing to spend it. They might find out along the way, oh, that this is actually going to pay off and do a change so that they do have a little bit more architecture in there, yeah. Yeah, and I agree as well with Kim and Katie. Sometimes on smaller projects that aren’t necessarily enterprise, there may not be a lot of applications that are involved in that implementation that would warrant a solution architect. And I mean, honestly, that term is, it’s relatively new. So, a lot of organizations may not even know unless they’re in the more technological space of what an enterprise architect does.
Jennifer, question for you. One of the biggest complaints I hear from friends who are involved in ERPs or their company has gone through an implementation is that they go way over budget, and not just by a little bit. We’re talking way, way over budget. The other big complaint is it takes way longer than we were told or than expected. Why is that and what can people do to try to stay within budget and stay within time frames that have been set?
Yes, I was alluding to this a little early on about people, processes, data, and technology in that order. So, when you’re evaluating, you know, what technology are we going to use and the business processes aren’t existent, this is why that can cause downstream impacts later on during the implementation. People tend to just want to implement a future state without really understanding the current state of the organization, what’s happening, all the inputs and outputs. So, when they get to that implementation, it causes delays, it causes bumps in the road because the software vendor cannot understand and they’re having a hard time articulating to the vendor how the processes work today to be able to exist in that technology. So, there’s usually a delay when that happens. And so, to combat that on a time perspective, if you can have someone come in that is hefty and nifty on the business process side with that documentation that can translate between the business and the technological teams, that helps the vendor understand. Sometimes the process mappings help if it’s drawn out or a lot of the documentation that we’ve continuously mentioned today is very warranted and needed. From a budget perspective, again, being clear when you’re scoping what is included in our packages that we’re buying, the different modules, the different upgrades, when are these upgrades going to happen, what type of resources are you all helping us with, you know, from a supplier standpoint, and what resources do we directly need to make this implementation work? So, the collaboration, being clear on expectations and alignment is what can curtail a lot of the over budget and over time when an implementation is going.
The user who asked our previous question said, ‘Lesson learned from 25 years’ experience, a good enterprise architect is important to multi-site implementations.’ So, whoever that was, thank you for that insight and for that question.
Katie, we’ve talked a lot about what happens during an implementation or after, but not as much about people getting started in the selection process of saying, ‘Okay, we need to go out and source a new ERP’ or our first time ever having an ERP. What do you invite? What advice or recommendations can you share about key things that people should prioritize and focus on in the selection process?
Sure. I think the first thing is to really, actually make sure that you need an ERP system or a new one, because it’s expensive and it’s a complex project. We’ve had customers that have come to us saying, ‘We need an ERP system.’ And you ask why, and they just say, ‘Well, because that’s what we’re supposed to do.’ And we’ve even worked with companies to delay that, saying, ‘Hey, let’s work on fixing these other things.’ You know, your shop floor is really efficient, you are using up all this space, and we could, you know, bring things into a much more compact footprint before you start automating what’s happening right now because it’s a little chaotic. But assuming you already have an ERP system and you’re looking to go to a new one, I’m going to pause you there for a second. Sure. How does somebody know if they do or don’t need an ERP? Whatever are the things to look for? I mean, they may need some guidance from a partner, they may not have the experience themselves to know it. But I think, in general, on a business process standpoint, you need to look at how you’re executing activities. And if it’s the way that you’ve done things for the past 20 years and you haven’t really given any thought to how do we make that better, that’s the first thing to look at. People will often blame their existing ERP system for why something’s not working when it’s actually fully capable of doing the job. They just don’t know what they don’t know. So, sometimes it’s very helpful to have your partner or a third party come in and just do an assessment for you. Right? See how you’re using the current system, see how your processes flow, and get an unbiased recommendation. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re really in the thick of it yourselves.
Okay, so let’s say somebody’s decided they need an ERP system for the first time or they need a new system. What are the key things to focus on or prioritize in the selection process? Because there’s a lot of different solutions out there, it’s a pretty crowded market. There is, and you could, you know, there’s RFPs you can download online that have, you know, 20 plus pages of all these different variables. And I think it’s most important to think about your organization’s strategy and objectives and what are the most important things to you. If you can come up with three to five critical objectives you want to achieve and use that as really your litmus test against each demo, each solution. There’s certain things that every ERP system is going to do from quote to cash that you don’t need to spend everybody’s time going through the nitty-gritty detail. So, focusing on those differentiators that are really going to make a difference in your organization, that might be scheduling, it might be the way that you need to process your financials for projects, it could be a host of things that are unique to your organization. But if you can get that in a three to five bulleted list, that really will help you steer your direction and make the most efficient use of your time. And just quickly rule companies out that aren’t going to work for you. How long should a selection process take? I’d be interested in Kim and Jennifer’s input on this as well. You obviously don’t want to make a decision too quickly and you don’t want to drag it out. But, you know, I think if you think about things in the I don’t know, two to four month decision window, probably a good amount of time to gather your information, you know, reach out to people, see demos, and make a decision. Any other thoughts on that, Kim and Jennifer? Yeah, Katie didn’t want to leave you hanging there, sorry. I agreed, right? Because you do want to go through a selection process, like you do want to take your time and evaluate the software, like you said, right? Like, what do you really need, you know? And that will just take some time, like the two months range makes sense, depending on the size, like somebody had commented about the EA, depending on the multi-sites, that could take longer, right? Just to evaluate the true need of the company. But, yeah, also, six to 12 weeks is usually the sweet spot that I’ve seen.
Okay, my closing question for the three of you. So, I’ll just open this up to the floor. What technology or innovation are you most excited about in the ERP space? What’s something that’s really stood out to you that you’re like, ‘Wow, this is awesome’ or, ‘This is, you know, really going to be helpful to our clients?’
Um, I can start. I think just what is happening today with optical character recognition and what that potential might be, so to, you know, teach our computers how to read things, do the all, do the process, the easy stuff, and then spit out the exceptions for individuals to deal with. Same thing through, you know, reporting and data analysis. I think those kind of things are really going to help individuals focus their attention where it’s most needed.
I agree on the reporting and data analysis, being able to extract and even upload right into an ERP system, but being able to extract that information real-time when the business needs it to make decisions quickly, it’s something that has totally shifted and evolved over the last couple of years. And there are so many other BI players now that are integrating with the ERP systems to make that happen.
Absolutely, the analytics is phenomenal. You should be expecting now in the automation, right? It’s so funny to still hear, it’s not funny, but automation should be almost in your main department, right? Like shop floor, you know? So, I’m interested in automation, how things can be leveraged just outside of AP and AR. I think there’s a whole world out there that we can do for our companies and our businesses that help automate things, almost paperless.
Katie, right? I agree, getting to paperless is phenomenal. You know, and helping with that ERP selection, you know, there’s tools out there we have, a tool which for me is phenomenal to actually offer because selection is difficult. How do you actually know what you need, right? Like that’s such a broad question, you know? And I’m really happy that we have something to offer that helps companies. It’s called insight, and that’s something for me to offer out to other companies, is something I’m really proud to be a part of and excited to be able to work with other companies like that. So, I think it’s a good time, it’s a good time in our space right now to see what we can change and help people change, help companies change.
Our next show is November 1st at 1 pm Eastern Time hosted by Kris Harrington. We’ll see you all again next month.