“A new ERP system?! Really?!”…
From there, the feedback from business users could either go…
“Finally! We are going to have the applications and technology to help us do business better”
“Oh dear, a new system implementation? Is IT going to finally give us what we want, or what they THINK we need, 6 months late, followed by another 6 months to stabilize?”
Implementing an ERP system is probably one of the most critical IT projects an organization can take on. When done right, the business will be given new tools and technology that can supercharge their performance, but when things don’t go according to plan… the results can be disastrous.
So… what is it that makes (or breaks) such critical projects?
As with most IT projects, there are 3 necessary aspects to success, and they are… People, Process and Technology.
Whilst the “People” aspect is likely the most challenging, I believe that if we get the “Process” and “Technology” right, we can overcome many of the things that makes “People” part so difficult.
That’s because I believe that most people do want a better system or a better way to do their work, and almost no one sets out to sabotage a project that could benefit them.
In this first part of our two-part blog, let’s explore what makes a ‘right process’ and what are the benefits it can bring. In part 2 we will then dive into greater detail on what technologies are available and how they would support this proposed process.
So, what makes a ‘right process’?
For a long time, the right “Process” involved spending large amounts of time upfront finalizing requirements before even a single line of code is written or configuration is done. This approach made sense back then because computing power was expensive and there were not many tools available to make re-development / re-factoring code easy. So, the impetus was on making sure that we knew exactly what we needed to build before we started building it.
The issue with this approach was that the business didn’t get to see or touch the system until much later in the process, i.e. when it has already been built.
It’s all good if the business loves it, but history has proven that many of these projects fail because most of the time, the final deliverable is not what the business wants. The fact is, humans can better relay what they really want when they are able to see, touch and try things out first! The idea that we can perfectly capture all of the requirements of a system upfront is flawed.
Also, let’s not forget that the world is a constantly changing place and what business wanted 6 months ago, may not be what they want today.
The ‘right’ process therefore needs to be able to address these particular challenges.
And lucky for us… the commoditization of computing resources and the proliferation of tools and technology in software development has now opened up new opportunities for a more collaborative and agile approach to delivering systems.
Instead of trying to make sure that all the requirements are captured completely and accurately before a build commences, IT teams and business users work together throughout the entire implementation, refining requirements even as IT delivers small pieces of functionality for quick feedback.
This results in short loops between requirements and deliverables, which also means that if business priorities change mid-way through the implementation, IT can easily accommodate this new direction.
This approach – which broadly speaking we call agile development – has largely been proven successful in the non-SAP world, and we believe it is time this approach is adopted in SAP – including for implementations.
The Benefits of an agile process to ERP implementation
1. Deliver what the Business wants, not what IT thinks they need…
An ERP system’s main function is to provide a single platform that powers and runs the business. It has to support the numerous business processes that involve various people across the entire organization, by providing them with facilities that helps them do a better job than today.
What does that mean?
Well, for a salesperson, it means an easier way to configure, price and generate a quote that can automatically be converted into an order when a customer decides to buy, perhaps with some intelligence to suggest upsells, cross-sells and the latest offers.
For an order fulfilment specialist, it would be having the ability to quickly process and fulfill that order, as efficiently as possible, with minimal re-keying and repeating of tasks.
The key to delivering what the business wants is therefore about the ability to engage continuously with business users throughout the implementation project to ensure that their needs for the system are captured and validated frequently.
Whilst this may seem like a given, the reality is that for many years, changing requirements and scope creep have been among the biggest challenges to delivering IT projects on time.
An agile process supported by the right technology enables IT teams responsible for delivering an ERP implementation to address this problem, leading to greater customer satisfaction and overall success.
2. Deliver it fast and early…
We live in an “instant on” world. So do our business users. The question that always comes up after we tell them that we are implementing a new ERP system is “when can we get it?”
We live in a highly connected world. So do our business users. When we tell them they will get it in 6 months, you can bet the response would be something like… “You know… my friend who works in so and so company, they got their ERP system in 4 weeks… Tell me again why you need 6 months?!”
We live in a world of short attention spans. So do our business users. Giving them something they can see and touch as early as possible is way better than telling them to imagine how it looks and how it feels.
With an agile process that is supported by the right technology, IT project teams can deliver the SAP system early, which in turn gives the business two great benefits…
- Business users will be able to give you feedback early so that you can deliver more of what they want, and not what you think they need.
- They will be happy that they’re now ahead of their friends who work in so and so company!
3. Deliver it with high quality…
There is no surer way to lose trust and sour relationships than to over-promise and under-deliver. So, when IT teams promise the business a new ERP system that is going to help them do their day to day jobs better, they better make sure they over-deliver on that promise.
How can they do that?
The first thing they can do is to make sure that the implementation of the ERP system is done with the highest quality. That means no unexpected issues, slow-downs, bright-red-flashing lights with alarms blaring… “System Down! System Down!”.
If you’re thinking the way to do this is to Test, Test and Test… you will be almost right, but how do you Test, Test, Test and Test when you also need to deliver it fast and early? There’s also the additional element of cost to consider, especially when the CFO is breathing down the neck saying “You IT guys are spending too much money. Please cut back!”
An agile process has a quality component built-in and the concept of shift-left, particularly when it is backed by the right automation technology, can really help to eliminate technical issues and accelerate testing.
4. Deliver with a high degree of governance
The world of business was changed by financial scandals like Enron and WorldCom, which is why governance is at the top of mind of the CxOs of any business today.
Implementing an ERP system is no small project. If this is going to be the system that powers the business, then it means that it’s going to be the system that contains the organization’s most critical information, like financial data.
Financial data and its associated systems need to be audited and by extension, anything you do with the ERP system needs to be auditable.
With an already short-handed IT team who also need to deliver the new implementation fast, is it too much to ask them to also make sure that every little thing they configure and build into the system is documented and auditable?
Of course, it is! Contrary to popular belief, IT teams are made up of human beings and not robots. They are, however, highly skilled with technology and automation.
That is why with an agile process supported by the right technology, IT teams can deliver ERP systems that are highly auditable and meet the high governance standards of today’s world.
5. Deliver it with the right foundation for growth
The last point of benefit that I’d like to bring up is about growth. The successful implementation of an ERP system is just the beginning of a long journey.
Over the next 5, 10 or even 15 years, the ERP system will grow, and it will continue to support the business even as it evolves to support the ever-changing market conditions.
In other words, the ERP system is akin to a living thing, which means IT will need to continuously improve, update and make changes to it.
Just as it is important for parents to instill the right foundation in a child as early as possible, and continue throughout his or her childhood, the best time for IT to instill high standards into managing an ERP system is to do it as early as possible and then evolve that approach as the ERP system evolves.
If you think about it, an agile process is, in reality, a much more evolutionary approach to delivering changes when compared to the traditional approach.
By embracing agile for the implementation of an ERP system, the team is effectively setting up the right foundation to support future ways of working, including the adoption of DevOps.
Implementing an ERP system is a big deal for any organization. It means the business is growing and it needs a better system to support it.
The system is meant to power the business and that means in IT we have the responsibility to ensure…
- That it does what the business wants, not what we think they need.
- That it is delivered as quickly as possible
- That it is done with high quality
- That it is done with high levels of governance and
- That it is set up with the right foundation to support many more years of growth and change
An agile process will enable IT to do this. However, as I’ve mentioned, the right process alone is not enough. It has to be supported by the right technology. In the next follow-up post, we will dive into the technology and how it can support this new approach to implementing SAP systems.