A new enterprise system for your business: Dos and Don’ts – Part 3
As observed in parts one and two of this series, our business world changing, at times much faster than we want to admit. In the past, it was possible to close off your business systems from the rest of the world. The internet has put an end to that reality; the days of a business working within a closed system are long gone. We now have a plethora of innovative systems, development methods and system vendors to choose from for your enterprise system needs. The question for business leaders is this: When the time comes for you to transition your business systems will you be comfortable with your decisions? (1)
One of most common oversights is that even though a business may recognize the need to upgrade their systems, their approach isn’t forward looking. We buy equipment and plan staffing levels based upon estimated business growth and customer demand. We ought to use the same approach when it comes to our systems and ensure our assumptions about the future are appropriate. The evolution of enterprise systems (2) has been driven by the recognition that improved data-driven decision making is based on the capture of quality data to support improved information access and knowledge development. Information, like other company assets, has immense value when properly deployed, safeguarded and maintained.
Last month we looked at designing your system so it supports the new systems strategy. This month we focus on what your team needs in the future to be successful.
“At any point in time your people are perfectly developed, and your systems are perfectly designed, for the performance you are getting.”
Caution: Emphasize what your team will need to do their work in the future and avoid focusing on how your team does their work today. Your system selection/development approach should reflect the needs (and therefore the business strategy) of the future, and the portfolio of skills your people* have currently and will need in the future. Differentiating current skill sets from those skill sets required for the future helps you make important training and development choices required to integrate your new systems (3). If your team is used to working in a certain manner dictated by past system decisions, now is the time to start changing those old habits and introduce the team to the future. Remember that new accounting system purchased from vendor “A”? (See Part 2) If your team is not properly prepared they will quickly start modifying and/or requesting changes to adapt the new system to the old way of doing things – why would they do any differently? There is an old systems maxim that observes replacing a hammer and nails with a welded wrench and sharpened bolts will not get you and your business where it needs to be –food for thought. New tools require new approaches. Without a clear vision of how work will supports your business in the future, people will revert to what they know – the past.
*People in this instance are the most important resource a business has; they are your team members that make sure on daily basis that your customers are happy, your assets are maintained and that your workflows and processes are productive and improved.
After implementing a new system a company asked me to assess a recently installed ERP module that seemed to be failing. A root cause analysis quickly revealed that the opportunity to update business approaches available as a result of new system functionality had been missed. The responsible team had not been provided with, or developed, a vision of their future state to guide setting up the module. Instead of viewing customers based upon their needs and the types of products and services they purchased, the team had directly transferred old customer information (and the related after-market support information) from the old systems into the new one. The imported information reflected outmoded customer service methods dictated by the old system. The situation was made worse by the previous systems lack of access controls. As a result, there were many instances of duplicate customer information that varied only in format and not substance – these were the accumulation of years of entry errors. The resulting erroneous data were carried over and directly impacted service quality as well as other parts of the business to include purchasing, inventory control, and sales quotation.
By interviewing executives (to gather their future intentions), subject matter experts (to understand what an improved future state look like), and system users (to define what will be needed to do their work); the fix was a matter of outlining and executing a plan to reimplement the system module upon future business priorities. Within the new ERP system it was easy to configure data to allow improved information access and to get daily reports on customer needs. The new ERP service module contained data fields that had been left blank during implementation – fields which were intended to collect data about data (“metadata”) which is used to support business intelligence reporting. Leveraging the new system’s reporting capabilities to find the most frequently used information we developed a plan that prioritized and corrected frequently used information first. The old system data carried over to the new system contained inconsistent formats that severely limited the modules flexibility. To address this, upstream access to information entry and updates were limited to trained team members preventing the ongoing proliferation of erroneous entries. The team learned at each step in the module reimplementation how the new system was able to deliver what they had been identified as priorities for the future. As a result, the new module configuration eliminated about fifty percent of the time required by users to do their work.
Countermeasure – Develop your People
Provide your team with a clear vision of what lies ahead. Given access to leadership’s intentions (business strategy), system design (architecture), and how the system will set up users for success (requirements), your team members are more than capable of providing insights and advice on what they need from the system in the future. By taking part in creating the new system your team becomes integrated with the effort, and as a result their “buy-in” is increased because they will have to live with the result. As well, identifying training and development needs and providing those opportunities before they are required will go a long way to proving to the team that the business leadership is behind the effort to improve future business performance by providing users with the tools they need.
- See “Does Your Business Need an Enterprise Systems Strategy?”, in the January 2020 issue of the Southern Oregon Business Journal, https://southernoregonbusiness.com/does-your-business-need-an-enterprise-systems-strategy/
- Enterprise System: Application of complex software that encompasses and integrates business functions. Typically an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System includes modules designed to address unique business functionality (i.e., reporting, sales management, accounting, inventory, production, human resources, materials planning, purchasing, customer service, etc.). Most systems comprise standard modules (“core functionality”) and optional modules to allow flexibility in addressing enterprise specific requirements. Modern systems allow for system configuration (not software coding) at the record, module and system level through the use of user defined data fields and field behavior, data tables and table relationships, user and group level security and access rules, interface management, and audit tracking capabilities.
- See “Strategy Map: Path to Prosperity”, in the February 2019 issue of the Southern Oregon Business Journal, (https://southernoregonbusiness.com/strategy-map-path-to-prosperity/)
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Jim Myers is the principal of Praxis Analytics, Incorporated and a trusted advisor to business leaders in their quest to transform intentions into results. With experience spanning over two decades, Jim worked in manufacturing, supply chain, customer service and maintenance management roles within markets ranging from capital equipment to aerospace and defense. As Associate Dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University Jim led projects that doubled capacity, automated planning/scheduling systems and integrated best practices into school operations. He has taught graduate courses in Operations and Information Technology, Strategy Alignment, and Project Management. A former Marine, Jim credits the USMC with teaching him the value of leadership, quality people, good systems, and mission accomplishment. Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.