11 tips for deploying ERP applications

ERP experts offer 11 tips to help you choose the software that's right for your enterprise

As companies become increasingly complex, finding an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that meets all needs may be as likely as finding a unicorn. Indeed, in today's global mobile environment, organizations are looking for an ERP system that does more than integrate with a legacy system.

However, with so many solutions on the market, how do you choose the software system that's right for your enterprise, that your different business groups will actually use?

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To help you increase your odds of finding and deploying an ERP solution that will benefit your organization (and to help you cut through all the marketing hype), CIO.com queried dozens of ERP experts. Their top 11 suggestions on how to choose and deploy an ERP system successfully appear below.

1. Document business objectives and come up with an implementation and support plan

"Successful implementations are all based on a well-assessed and scoped out business problem," explains Bernd Weidenmueller, vice president, ERP, Avanade, which provides enterprise business technology solutions and managed services.

"The better the business problem is defined the more likely it is that the ERP system can address the problem," he says. Make the challenges you want the software to solve "as specific and as measurable as possible and tie them to your company's overall objectives."

[Related: 13 Common ERP Mistakes and How to Avoid Making Them]

"Gather a list of your most mission-critical requirements, including functional; workflow; systems integration; governance, risk and compliance (GRC); data migration/conversion; business intelligence and reporting; and training," says Greg Pierce, vice president of Concerto Cloud Services, Tribridge, a CRM, ERP and IT services consulting firm.

Next, he says, "define your implementation approach and timeframe. How complex will your data migration/conversion be? Are you looking to migrate summary vs. transaction detail? How 'clean' is your data today? Are you looking to get started with a core group of functions and expand functionality down the road?"

And don't forget about your IT team when selecting a solution. "Do you have a well-defined ERP IT plan?" he asks. "What IT skills do you have in-house today versus skills you need help with?" By answering these questions, you will have a much better handle on what you need in an ERP system and be better positioned for success.

2. Decide on a delivery model

"Ask yourself 'What ERP delivery model is right for my company?' says John Hoebler, managing director, MorganFranklin Consulting. "The three primary options are on-premise ERP, hosted/managed service ERP and cloud ERP solutions," he says.

"Traditionally, on-premise and hosted ERP solutions provide the most flexibility to tailor packages to meet organizational needs, but they're also costly. Feature-rich cloud ERP solutions with robust development tools are rapidly emerging." But before you invest in a cloud-based solution, make sure it meets your needs and that your data will be safe (properly backed up and secured), he says.

3. Compare solutions

"There are multiple ERP vendors operating globally," explains C.V. Leela Krishnan, project director, SAP practice, Hexaware, an enterprise solution and IT services provider. "Each ERP may not satisfy 100 percent of your organization's requirements."

Therefore, it's important to "prioritize and create a matrix of functionalities required by the business and rank different ERPs with this matrix," he says. By doing so, it will be easier to "choose an ERP that provides the maximum number of required functionalities and also gives the expected ROI."

Adds Jon Duncan, senior director of Product Management, Antenna Software: "Enterprises should consider flexible platforms that ... integrate with other back-end systems to provide workers with critical information while offering a rich mobile experience" (assuming mobility is important to your organization).

Similarly, it's important that the ERP solution is configurable. "Configurability doesn't mean re-coding solutions to suit your needs," explains Tim Garcia, CEO, Apptricity, a customer-service oriented ERP and asset management company. "It means having the ability to change settings within the solution so that it fits your organization like a tailored suit. You should be able to define the user interface and how the information is displayed and what data pops up in certain scenarios."

4. Carefully vet vendors

"When selecting an ERP vendor, do your homework," advises Vajira De Silva, CEO of attune Consulting, a global business and technology solutions provider. "By engaging with industry analysts, user groups and other advisors, and by taking a look at other company installations of the ERP system, you will get a strong indication of the vendor's true strengths and weaknesses."

In addition, "Take the time to learn which ERP vendors are staying on the cusp of these trends and are investing in emerging technologies," he says. "It's not enough to solve your business pain points today. The ERP vendor should be able to demonstrate a longer-term growth strategy that can help you stay competitive into the future."

Finally, "ask vendors to provide one or more customer references that share your specialty and business size," says Derek Singleton, the ERP analyst at Software Advice. "When you talk to these references, dig in deep. Ask what challenges they faced with the system; ask how the vendor responded; and ask what they would change about the software if they could."

5. Focus on the essentials

"Avoid shiny object syndrome," warns Hoebler. "Instead of building rich dashboards or automating unwieldy or poorly documented processes, tackle the basics: financials, HR/payroll, supply chain processes and reporting," he says.

"Create a foundation from day one that keeps the business running and forces data standardization. Pie charts and scatter plots look great at board meetings, but not with incorrect data. Establish core processes and data as a foundation for additional functionality and enhancements," he says.

6. Don't go it alone

"Many organizations find that involving outside ERP experts is instrumental in making the ERP initiative successful," explains Steve Litwin, president, Litcom, an IT solutions provider. Just make sure if you do hire a third-party ERP consulting firm that it understands your business and your organizational objectives as well as the ERP system you are deploying.

"The partner your company chooses to work with is the most important decision you will make during an ERP implementation," argues Mike Oswalt, president, Algorithm, an IT solutions, services and support provider. "The software partner should be knowledgeable about your industry and fully understand your business" -- and work closely with you throughout the ERP implementation process.

7. Invest in training

Before you roll out your new software company-wide, or even to a couple of departments, "it is worth it to invest in a core team of users and train them on the tool, even though it may take team members away from their core job function," advises Gail Snider, Marketing Director -- Microsoft Relations, enVista, a supply chain consulting and IT services firm.

8. Focus on data and change management

"Most ERP delays today can be traced back to lack of focus on getting master and transactional data ready in time, or a lack of alignment around new business processes and its impact to the end user community," explains Brad Little, vice president, North America SAP Service Line Leader at Capgemini.

"Even if you build a perfect system, your go-live may not be successful without quality data and business users ready to embrace the new solution. Start early on both of these fronts to avoid unwelcome surprises," Little says.

9. Avoid over-customizing your ERP solution

While some customization is essential, too many organizations over-customize their software, to the point where "years later, they can't upgrade the system without losing all of this custom work," explains Dustin Wells, CEO, Headspring, which specializes in custom software development and consulting. "You can avoid this by reducing the amount of customizations made by your ERP vendor, or by having them written in a sustainable (vendor-neutral) language upfront."

10. Measure results

"Define metrics to determine how well the system delivers on your defined business objectives, then track progress and continue to measure -- even after implementation," says Erik Kaas, vice president of Product Management for software solutions provider Sage.

11. Keep your software current

"Make sure and stay up to date with the periodic software patches and releases your ERP vendor provides," says Little. "Getting out of date will make your system harder to support over time and will drive up your cost of ownership. It will also make it more difficult and expensive to upgrade to the next major release."

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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This story, "11 tips for deploying ERP applications" was originally published by CIO .

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