ERP Change Management in a COVID-19 World

December always tends to be a time for reflection but as 2020 draws to a close, we felt it was apt to make our own observations on what has, for most people, been something of a challenging year.

From a business perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions have created significant challenges and a need for businesses and their employees to adapt quickly to new ways of working.

Not surprisingly, for businesses considering selecting or implementing a new ERP system, this has also required significant changes to both the ERP selection process and ultimately the ERP implementation process.

Our experience during this time, as independent ERP consultants, is that, whilst projects and decision making are taking longer, the technology is in place to overcome the challenges of selecting and implementing ERP systems, even in these difficult times.

A key part of the ERP evaluation process involved demonstrations of short-listed potential ERP systems. Back in happier, pre-COVID times, such demonstrations would have generally taken place on site within a client business.

However, for the large part of this year, this has not been possible due to COVID lockdown restrictions. Therefore, ERP demonstrations have had to take place via web conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

This obviously has its disadvantages, not least in the ability to engage more effectively when in the same room as your audience.

An effective ERP Change Management plan is a key ingredient to overcoming these challenges along with some other basic guidelines:

Fully define your requirements and quantify the opportunity

Don’t fall into the trap of undertaking generic ERP demonstrations from vendors or expecting them to be able to tell you what you need.

Yes, in an ideal world you will implement a “vanilla” or “out of the box” ERP system with no customisation. However, every system will still need configuring to your business’ needs. There will also inevitably be nuances within your business and challenges that need to be overcome when implementing a new ERP system.

Make sure that you have fully defined your requirements and aligned your thinking before engaging with prospective ERP vendors. Document this thoroughly. In this way, potential ERP partners will have a good understanding of your business from the start.

This will ensure that you are able to effectively evaluate potential ERP systems and vendors comprehensively. It will also ensure you have the put the foundations in place for a successful project, by understanding the level of change that will be involved and quantifying the potential/desired benefits that can be achieved.

This helps ERP vendors understand the focus for the project (what success looks like) and ensures you will be able to measure whether or not the ERP implementation has been successful.

Ensure there is clarity of expectations and buy-in

Make sure that attendees contribute to the development of an ERP demonstration agenda. The aim should be to clarify what they need to see to sign off the capability of the system.

Fully brief the vendor on expectations. Provide them with the detailed agenda and sample data relevant to your business. Consider pre-demo sessions to clarify any questions they may have.

Ensure attendees are open to change

There is obviously little point in investing in a new ERP system if you are going to replicate how you do things currently.

It is therefore essential, when evaluating potential ERP systems, that you are open to changes to existing processes that will inevitably be required to get the most out of a modern ERP system.

However, embracing new ways of working is often difficult for people to do. This is particularly the case if those people have not worked in other businesses or have not used a modern ERP system before and are comfortable with processes that may often be spreadsheet-based.

It is therefore essential that the need for change has been communicated across the business, so that people attending system demonstrations are open to new ways of working.

This is particularly important when system demonstrations involve attendees working remotely, where the risk of disengaging during a web conference is greater than when sat in a room together.

Develop an ERP Change Management Plan

A formal ERP change management plan needs to be developed. This requires leadership from the top, to clearly communicate the importance of a new ERP system to the business and how this will involve change, but this is not to be feared.

Ideally, this change process needs to have started before you engage with potential ERP vendors. This will ensure that you evaluate the capability of potential ERP systems to support your desired future busines process model. It therefore avoids the risk of users getting confused at seeing potential systems that do not support “the way we do things now”.

It is important to recognise that implementing change takes time. But if you start early and clearly communicate the reasons for change and the benefits it will bring to the business and the individual, you can bring people along with you on the journey to more efficient business processes.

Also, recognise that an ERP implementation does not end at go-live. It is a process of continuous improvement and your ERP Change Management Plan should be updated to reflect this.

Involve business owners/leaders

Your leadership team must play an active role in the evaluation of potential ERP systems. This is critical so that they understand what they will be asked to sign off on buying but also for managing the inevitable change within the business.

Business owners/managers also need to set a good example by showing their commitment to the project and willingness to release their time for demonstrations. This will ensure that others cannot make excuses for not being able to attend.

Involving business owners/leaders also helps the user engagement process as it is less easy for attendees to keep quiet and not engage, if their manager/the business owner is watching!

Consider the length of the ERP demonstration sessions

Recognise that people have a limited attention span when they can engage meaningfully in a remote ERP demonstration session.

Shorter, more focused sessions are likely to be more successful than attempting to show too much. Anything longer than 2 hours risks losing your audience and you will most likely end up having to re-visit what was covered.

Limit the numbers involved in each ERP demonstration session

Whilst it is important to involve as many team members as possible in ERP demonstrations, the objective should be for all attendees to engage and actively contribute.

Recognise that there are limits in terms of the numbers who can do this effectively within a web conferencing environment. If numbers are looking greater than 10, split the sessions and repeat.

Follow-up and obtain feedback

It is important to follow up on each ERP demonstration session to gather feedback from attendees. Develop a feedback form for attendees to complete during the sessions.

This helps ensure that you have some quantifiable means of evaluating and comparing each ERP system you are considering. It provides some structure for your team to make notes, ask questions and focus on the key areas you need to see. It also provides a means for providing feedback to prospective ERP vendors on potential areas needing follow-up.

Summary

The COVID 19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions have created new challenges to the already complex challenge of evaluating, selecting and implementing ERP systems. However, these challenges can be overcome if you follow a comprehensive and structured approach.

If you are considering embarking on the journey to select and implement a new ERP system, contact AHC for independent ERP systems consultancy support and a proven approach to ensure your project delivers the maximum benefits for your business, even in the current COVID world we live in.