My "lesson learned" as a former Controller and CFO who's been on both sides of the table
An ERP implementation has never been known to be an easy process. In fact, if you’ve worked through more than one, you’ve likely experienced the moment when the words “someone should have caught this before” run through your mind with frustration. More often than not when a company hires a consultant for an implementation, the consultant does not fully
understand what the company actually wants to get out of the new software. Because ERP implementations are infrequent and time consuming, you don’t want to spend years saddled with a system that does not meet all of your needs.
So, what’s the solution? After taking the time to define exactly ‘what’ your company
wants and needs to get out of the ERP system, it is essential that you are able to see ‘how’ you
will get there. This means walking through the details of each area of concern with your
consultant, shining light on potential stumbling blocks that could arise, and finding the solution
that will be implemented to not only fix your problems, but to enhance your overall system.
My Personal Experience
Before I joined the consulting trade, I spent over 15 years as a Controller and CFO doing
the same things as many of you. I worked for multiple organizations and most often was in a role
to lead an ERP implementation. Because of this, I have seen the good and the bad several times
over. My broad experience both as a CPA and MBA has led me to understand the overall process
flow and financial impact rather than as an expert to a specific software or single industry.
While working for an organization, an SAP consultant who had worked with one of our
largest suppliers convinced us that they understood our industry and knew exactly what we
would need to make our operation run at its best. Unfortunately, the vendor was primarily a
manufacturing and distribution company whereas we were more of a retail and merchandising
company. The consultants, however, did not understand the differences and assured us they
would be able to help. We started the implementation and began reviewing the expectations and
reporting when the issues started occurring. While discussing our need to have a new reporting
system where we could report on both the product line as well as the sales channel, the
disappointing answer of “we can’t do that” was given. Ultimately, we had to break our
engagement entirely. We were forced to remain with our already existing and limited tools in
order to minimize our losses.
After reviewing what went wrong, the blame rested on us for the failure. We had selected
the consultant and did not dig deep enough into the ‘what’ and ‘how’ that we needed to get out
of the implementation. The consultants went into the project with blinders on, thinking they
understood our company simply by association with our partners, and led us nowhere other than
where we already stood.
The key takeaway from this experience was learning how important it is to thoroughly
discuss with your consultant exactly what it is you would like to accomplish through the
implementation. This includes discussing what you currently do that is essential to your business
and what new solutions you would like to add. Having experience from both sides of the table, I
have seen that not properly defining the scope of a project is the biggest cause for frustration,
cost overruns, and delays. In order to define your scope, it is important to ask questions about all
facets of your operation. The following are good examples of questions to ask:
- Do you struggle with managing data from your website or inventory tracking
software back into your accounting system?
- Is your budgeting process taking too long and ultimately not tied into your
- Are you spending too much time (and money) on manual processes when you feel
your staff are not giving you the most value?
- Do you have a problem that no one has seen before?
In addition, list out your pain points and identify the most important ones you’d like to solve.
After doing this, your consultant will then be able to help you find the solution to each and
include them in your project scope.
Most functions that are not implemented by the end of the engagement are unlikely to
ever be added. There are likely additional capabilities with the new software that are not
available in your current systems that could enhance your ERP implementation even further. You
won’t know what you don’t ask, so it is critical to discuss with your consultant which other
features the software has to offer and how they can also be integrated to ensure that you are
getting the most out of your implementation. While one new feature that another company is
using may seem appealing, evaluating whether that feature is feasible within your business
process will lead you to only focus on those that are vital, beneficial, and profitable.
Implementations often do not go according to plan. Unexpected road-blocks appear along
the way, miscommunications occur, and frustrating moments are experienced. Spending the time
up front to thoroughly understand your project and expectations will not only pave the way for a
successful ERP implementation but will ultimately also pay big dividends on the back-end.