8 steps for a successful ERP implementation process

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To help your business function with efficiency and ease, enterprise resource planning (ERP) is crucial. An ERP system encompasses all the tools you use — usually in one software suite — to manage major business processes. (Read: It impacts every part of your company.) But before your ERP system can streamline your processes, you must first complete a successful ERP implementation.

ERP projects aren't easy to take on, and they don’t happen overnight. Some stats show that the ERP implementation failure rate is around 75%. Whether you're implementing software for the very first time or switching to a new ERP system, you're making a significant change for your entire organization.

To make this transition as seamless as possible, use this step-by-step guide that takes you through the complete ERP implementation process. You’ll learn what to expect, and ensure your software rollout is a success.

1. Define your scope and goals

Before you move forward with any software implementation, you must understand your specific business needs.

To begin, identify why you're taking on an ERP implementation project in the first place. Did your situation analysis reveal a need for a new ERP solution? If you're using ERP software already, what isn't your current system helping you achieve that a new one could? As a related part of this step, you'll also want to identify your end goals — including key performance indicators (KPIs) — that would make your implementation a success.

Do some research to understand what the scope of your ERP project may look like. Who needs to be on your project team? What software features would help you achieve your goals? Also, make sure to get a general idea of how much all of this would cost.

2. Build an ERP implementation team

Once you know which direction to take for your ERP project, you can start building your ERP implementation team. These team members will prepare your selected ERP software for launch, and pave the way for your entire organization to start using the new ERP system.

ERP implementation teams commonly include roles like:

  • Executive sponsor: This team member leads the overall strategy of the ERP project, ensuring everyone hits key goals.
  • Project manager: This person manages the entire process, helping to coordinate all tasks and communication.
  • End users: While not all of your end users will be on your implementation team, having a few involved from various departments will help you get better feedback. For example, they can help you decide if software meets business requirements, or if training needs to be adjusted.

You may also want to pull in some team members with expertise in app development, finance, and other areas to get more perspectives that help your project move smoothly.

Some organizations work with an implementation partner, which is a third-party team with expertise in your soon-to-be selected software. However, this isn't always necessary if you can build a capable internal ERP project team.

3. Select and install your ERP software

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Next, you'll want to make your final ERP software selection and begin installation.

In this step, it's critical that you do thorough research before you buy any product. Keep your ERP requirements in mind as you chat with ERP vendors and perform Google searches to get the information you're looking for, including key features and costs. 

Consider any industry-specific solutions that may be available to you. Take advantage of as many relevant demos and free trials as you can. Doing so allows you to navigate through an ERP software program so you can see if it offers what you want and can achieve what you need. Oracle ERP Cloud and Acumatica Cloud ERP are just two popular ERP software vendors that offer free trials or demos.

4. Migrate data

Once you've installed your software, you can begin the data migration process, which involves moving all relevant records into the new system. This step can take a while — especially if your company has been around for years — but it's a crucial step in a smooth ERP implementation.

Prioritize your most important data first, and make sure all of the data you need to migrate is error-free and as organized as possible. You don't want to speed through this part of the ERP implementation process — missing errors and losing data can be extremely costly for your business.

Consider bringing in a data scientist or application analyst in this stage of the process to avoid any critical issues.

5. Test your ERP system

You don't want to make your new ERP system go live without smoothing out all the potential bumps in the road first. Make system testing a part of your ERP implementation plan to ensure your expert team checks for issues, as well as important steps to include in the user training program.

System testing can also help you identify any customizations that your team needs to make ahead of time to create the best experience for your end users. At the same time, be cautious about how many customizations you make. Too many can result in an overly complicated ERP system, hurting your implementation project.

6. Train your team

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This step gives all relevant employees — beyond your ERP project team — their first taste of the new ERP software.

Invite all your end users to a thorough training, perhaps dividing them by department to ensure each person gains the most relevant knowledge possible about the system. As you’re setting up training sessions, consider whether in-person training or an online webinar may be most effective for your team members.

Just like your data migration, your team training is a step you don't want to rush through. Well-trained end users are essential for a successful ERP system, and the more complex your ERP software is, the more thoroughly trained they'll need to be. Take time to answer all your team members' questions, and provide resources that they can revisit as the full rollout begins.

Another thing to keep in mind is that people are often resistant to change. To make the transition easier for your employees, be clear about why the change is needed, ask for feedback, and offer them encouragement along the way.

7. Launch your ERP system

Now that your ERP software and team are ready, you can move forward with your launch.

While you can roll out your entire system all at once for a fast ERP implementation, taking a phased approach — in which you slowly deploy one part of the system at a time — can be the better choice. A phased approach allows you to keep a close eye on what's happening, and efficiently tackle issues as they occur. On the flip side, rolling out your ERP system in one go can cause more (or larger) issues in your business operations that are harder to repair.

As you launch your ERP system, make sure you have an IT team available to your end users to help them navigate the process. In addition, start tracking KPIs to understand how your new software is helping (or hurting) your team's decision-making, productivity, and more.

8. Practice change management

Your ERP system implementation doesn't end at the point of launch. Along with providing continued support to your team, you'll also want to practice change management.

As mentioned, your team will probably be resistant to change at some level. This is normal. Your job is to ensure the change is easier. 

Inspire your team by showing them how the new ERP system can benefit them, demonstrate what good use of the ERP software looks like, and — most importantly — never forget to listen to feedback. 

Make sure your ERP implementation team is chatting with end users about their experiences, sending out surveys as needed, and figuring out solutions to any prevalent issues that weren't caught in the testing or early launch phases.

It's particularly important for your ERP project team to get all managers fully on board with new processes, as that enthusiasm can trickle down to every employee.

Nail your ERP implementation process

The ERP implementation process involves a lot more strategy and attention to detail than you may think. Because your new ERP software will have such a broad impact on your business, success is dependent on your implementation team's level of care before and after the launch. With the right ERP, team, and process, you may soon be reaping the benefits of your brand new system.

As your transition is finalized, you can start looking at new ways to take advantage of your ERP. Learn how you can seamlessly connect your ERP and accounting systems to continue improving your business results.

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