This is an age old question and today the chicken and egg that I am going to discuss is redesign of business process versus selection of an ERP system and which should come first. If you listen to most ERP vendors and system integrators they will definitely say - Select the ERP system first. They say this because they believe that the ERP system has bulit-in best business processes so then you can redesign your business processes based on how the ERP system is designed. While I agree that ERP systems do have good process design in them, more goes into business process redesign than just how the ERP system functions. Also, the company will have much better understanding of what they need from an ERP system if they have thoroughly reviewed their business functions and processes prior to an ERP evaluation. So while you will not design processes down to the level what screens in the system are used to process a transaction, you will define the following
- what functionality will be used and the importance of each system function
- how data will flow in the organization
- what new policies and controls will be required as a result of the new processes and ERP system
- what departments will perform what functions.
Some say it really doesn’t make any difference you can do this in either order. Well let’s look at some examples and the situations that can arise from selecting an ERP system before you define business process.
Selecting the wrong ERP system.
I had a client a couple of years ago that is obtained because the owners were concerned about the rapid increase in the need for accounting personnel in their company, how long it took to complete the financial close process and the inadequacy of the financial information they had to manage the business. I spoke with them and performed a detailed assessment. The result of the assessment was that they had significant duplication of effort between operations and accounting, poor integration of systems and extremely manual processes. They were using an old version of one of the Microsoft ERP systems and an upgrade with a complete revision of processes that would move origination of transactions to operations would greatly have increased their efficiency and information. I also found out that they had purchased a new ERP system a year before I arrived and had done nothing with it. It was not implemented at all. This ERP system was a highly rated system that they had purchased because a very good sales rep from the company had convinced them it would solve all their problems. We implemented the system which was adequate. However, what solved the majority of their problems was modifying the processes and organizational responsibilities to originate transactions in operations, utilize additional functionality such as Purchase Orders and upgrading other key systems such as ADP payroll. While the new ERP system was used, it was not necessary. The company could have saved significant investment by simply upgrading the system they had and making the business process change. Had they completed the assessment and business process analysis prior to the purchase of the ERP system they would not have made that mistake.
Implementing ERP and receiving little or no benefits.
A client last year requested that I help them with an ERP evaluation. They desperately needed a new system for multiple reasons including new business process. I suggested that they redesign the business processes prior to detail evaluation because I knew there would be much contention and resistance to change in this company. They felt they needed to move forward quickly with the ERP evaluation and assured me they would perform a detailed business process design after the system was selected. So we did fairly detailed requirements analysis to support the ERP evaluation. This was critical because it did help them to select the right ERP system. After a 3 month evaluation process they purchased a quality system that would provide them the platform to make the necessary changes to their business. However, where the problems arose is that once the system was purchased, all the management just wanted the system implemented. They were no longer interested in putting in the time and energy to redesign the business process and data flow to obtain the maximum benefit from the very hefty investment in the ERP system. Instead they configured the system just the way they used the old system, they did not clean up any data and after 8 months of implementation they moved the new system to production. To their great surprise they had worse problems than with the old system. Why? Because now they were using a system that had race car like functionality like it was an old clunker. Except for solving technical problems they obtained absolutely no benefit. Now they will spend more money to fix this problem.
System Selection Done Right
A client I am currently working with has the problems that I see all the time. The company has grown dramatically in the last 10 years and has completely outgrown their systems and processes. I performed an assessment for them last year, and they already knew they were going to need a new ERP system. However, they were unsure as to what was the most important functionality and how they would implement some of that functionality like purchase order in their organization. So they agreed to embark on a business process design using lean business process techniques. They continued to prepare their ERP requirements utilizing information from the lean business process project that we coordinated. As a result they have now worked out policy issues, defined details on the impact to operations of certain new functionality, defined how they will integrate other custom systems with the ERP modules. Now they are in the process of reviewing the ERP systems on their short list. The business process project has given the executives a level of understanding of how ERP systems work and what their business will need that they would not have had otherwise. They will make a much more informed ERP decision and be able to implement it much faster with significant benefit to the organization.
My experience with these and numerous other clients over the years indicates that a company that performs a fairly detailed business process review and design based on lean business practices and standard ERP functionality will make a much more informed ERP decision and experience a much higher ROI and level of satisfaction from their ERP implementation.
For help with your business processes or ERP systems contact LJR Consulting Services at 818-709-6583 for a free consultation.