When It Comes to ERP, Just How Special Are Your Processes?

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I'm planning a summer vacation to Disney World, a place neither my husband nor I would go if we didn't have a 10-year-old son. He's been a few times before, thanks largely to the intervention of my sister, a bona fide Disney nut who views not taking your kid to the Magic Kingdom before he/she hits puberty as an act of child abuse. I suspect we would have gone anyway by now, even if it wasn't for my sister. A Disney trip falls under that category of "stuff you do because you're a parent."


It's the same reason I've found myself sometimes making crayon availability a valid selection criteria for a restaurant. One parental behavior I've tried to avoid is making my son the subject of one of those "my kid is so special" stories. Seriously people, unless your child is a reincarnated lama, chances are he/she is not really all that different from his/her preschool classmates.


I sometimes get the sense that many companies harbor this same kind of feeling about their business processes. And I wonder if this doesn't lead to unnecessary customization of enterprise software.


Though excessive customization is rarely considered a good thing, it's sometimes downright disastrous when it comes to ERP implementations. There are valid reasons for customization, as I mentioned in a post titled "ERP and the Customization Question." But avoiding customization when possible is an ERP best practice as I noted in the same post, offering the example of TNG Worldwide, a supplier of beauty products to spas and salons that successfully implemented an SAP ERP system in eight months.


I passed along several tips from Craig Zampa, TNG's VP of technology solutions. Among them:

  • Choose a system with an architecture that can often be modified with relatively simple configuration changes rather than code rewrites.
  • Look for a system that is popular with developers, so you'll have plenty of choices if/when customization that can't be done in-house is required. In switching from a proprietary tier-2 ERP to SAP, Zampa said the bidding process for development work became much more competitive, yielding some $650,000 in savings in the first year.
  • Evaluate your processes. You may find many of them are unique - but don't need to be. TNG used a best practices model when possible. Said Zampa: "... We wanted to look at a best practice workflow and figuring out how closely we could mirror it, determining whether some of our processes were actually creating competitive advantage or just built as conveniences over the years."


Zampa's third tip meshes nicely with a suggestion offered by Dan Aldridge, president of consulting company i-app, in a Manufacturing Matters article. He advises companies to compile a list of customizations, then prioritize and question them in the context of a business process review. Often, he writes, his clients end up dropping many customizations off the list.


Zampa also told me it's important to do this kind of a deep dive into business processes at the outset of an ERP implementation.


Among Aldridge's other excellent tips:

  • Upgrade your system to the latest version to gain new functionality and interface enhancements that may cut down on the need for customization. And, he added, you'll have a much easier experience when it's time for another upgrade.
  • Use workflow and middleware technology to build logic outside of the ERP, a step that will cut down on time required for testing and development costs, and will reduce the risk that core applications will fail when you retrofit customizations.
  • Use business intelligence to help users create their own reports.