How long does it take to implement an ERP system?
There are two divergent streams to follow when implementing an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) System. The first one is implementing a COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) system and the second one is one designed from scratch (custom-built) specifically for business.
This article will look more in-depth at implementing the first stream as few organisations have the resources to implement the second.
Although COTS products can be used out of the box, in reality, these products must be configured to achieve the current specific needs of the business and integrated into existing organizational systems with an eye for potential growth in the future. Omni Accounts ERP Accounting Software is an example of a COTS system.
Extending the functionality of COTS products via custom development is a possibility. However, this decision should be given careful consideration due to the long-term support and maintenance implications. Such customized functionality may not be supported by the COTS vendor, and therefore brings its own sets of issues when upgrading the base product. A good example of this would be heavily customised reporting functionality.
Organisations, ranging from your sole proprietor to your large corporates, are often overwhelmed by the range of choices on the market and be bound by both time and budget constraints, can often suffer “paralysis by analysis” as implementing any ERP System takes up volumes of those precious commodities.
So, how long does it take to implement an ERP System? The unvarnished truth of the matter is that the implementation of an ERP System is a continuous cycle, as well it should be, for the sake of the future success of your business. Not the answer most business owners want to hear. It takes quite a mindset shift to recognise that any ERP System needs to be viewed as a living, growing extension of a business. Organisations need to ensure that the cycle of their ERP System is a positive one, contributing to business growth, not a downward spiral to disaster.
So how does one ensure the successful implementation and continuous positive contribution of an ERP System? The implementation of any system should follow, and continue to follow, the basic principles of an SDLC (Systems Development Life Cycle).
The 5 basic principles encompass Analysis, Design, Implementation, Testing and Evaluation in a continuous cycle.
There are a number of good SDLC methodologies available in the market place. Again, there are two basic schools of thought for system development. One is the Waterfall model, where stages are phased one after another and then only once for each system. The second is Prototyping, where the stages are reiterated, refining an initial solution (prototype) until it can be utilised as the basis for the system to be built or implemented as the system itself. Most SDLC methodologies are variants of these two schools.
Analysis and Design Phases
When choosing to implement a COTS ERP system, it is important to realise that the stages of the SDLC must be viewed in a different manner to that of designing custom-built software. The initial Analysis and Design phases are not occupied with obtaining the details of system specifications from users but instead are focused on first obtaining a set of user system requirements and then the evaluation of the multitude of choices provided by vendors which will pave the way for the configuring of the chosen software. Important aspects to keep in mind are:
- Is there a good fit between the functionality of the software and the requirements of the organisation?
- What hardware structure is required and its flexibility assessed to meet ongoing technological progress and associated risks.
- Budget considerations.
- Quality of after-sales support.
- The financial health of the vendor.
- Initial assessment of user buy-in to the proposed changes and the formulation of a plan to manage any obstacles thereto.
The main outcome of this phase is an implementation plan detailing 4 of the 5 Ws – the Who, Where, When and What is to be implemented. (The fifth W (Why) is already taken care of. The Why is due to the fact that the current system is inadequate in meeting the current and/or future needs of the business and have therefore embarked on this journey).
An implementation may be defined as the process whereby the chosen system is integrated into the daily functions of the organisation. Some of these processes may include:
- Adjustments of business process to the system.
- Implementation of any agreed customisation of the system.
- Loading or converting historical data.
- Hardware and software configuration.
- Training of all users and their roles.
- The initial phase of support and help.
This phase is considered the most challenging of all as it implies changes in the roles and responsibilities of staff as well as how various departments relate to one another.
Implementation can take a Big Bang approach where all processes are implemented at the same time or a Roll Out approach whereby certain sections are brought on-line at a time.
Testing phase (or in the case of implementing a COTS system, the Stabilisation phase). This is the phase where issues, not easily detected at implementation, rear their heads. Major pressure is often experienced at this phase for a speedy solution to problems. The two most common issues are:
- Difficulties of the end-users – any obstacles identified in the initial phase of the process have to be carefully and sensitively managed at this point. These are largely related to changes in the way people do their work and having to gain confidence in the new system.
- Problems with the ERP system – detection of errors in any customisation or configuration of the system have to be resolved.
Note: This is a good place to celebrate a successful implementation before moving onto the next phase which then leads back into the starting phase of the SDLC. This not only gives a sense of achievement to all involved but mitigates the “neverendingness” of implementing an ERP system.
Evaluation or Utilisation
This phase can only be conducted after a certain period of continued use of the software and hardware. Here the system is evaluated on how well it meets the ongoing needs and processes of the business. Again, the emergence of new ideas, change in business priorities and emerging technologies take organisations back into the Analysis phase and the cycle starts again. Irrespective of these happening, it is a good idea to have an “ERP systems health check” scheduled before annual budgets are looked at and agreed upon. This applies to all sizes of organisations to ensure the chosen ERP system continues to contribute in a major way to the success of the business.