Companies tend to replace their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems for one of two reasons. Either an existing system has reached the end of its operational life, or it is no longer providing the level of support required.
Many companies also come to the realisation that implementing a new ERP system can be a way to gain a competitive edge. By streamlining internal processes and improving customer service levels, they are in a better position to gain valuable market share.
These organisations have taken the step of placing technology at the forefront of their business planning. They recognise the strategic role it can play and understand the value of making required investments. This is not to say that they are allowing IT decisions to take precedence over business decisions, but rather they consider both concurrently.
Because ERP systems sit at the heart of an organisation’s IT infrastructure, any changes made can have unintended knock-on effects. Linkages with other applications and databases can be broken causing disruption to processes across the business.
Such potential problems, however, should not stop organisations embarking on integration projects. The challenge is to complete the project without causing any of these problems.
The goal might be to totally replace the ERP system or add fresh capabilities through the installation of additional add-on applications. Regardless of which goal is relevant, the key is to treat the project as a business-driven initiative that is critical to the long-term growth and profitability of the organisation.
By following a series of carefully orchestrated steps, the perils of an ERP system integration project can be significantly reduced. These key steps include:
The first step is the selection of a suitable technology partner to drive the project. This partner should have deep technical knowledge as well as a thorough understanding of the organisation and its activities. This understanding is vital to ensure the new infrastructure reflects real-world business requirements and will deliver the advantages sought.
Before any changes are made to the existing infrastructure or additional capabilities added, the entire implementation project must be carefully mapped out. This planning process should cover everything from timelines and expected go-live dates to areas of responsibility for both the organisation and its implementation partner. Specific staff members should be nominated as ‘super users’ who can be trained and then assist others as required.
A progress meeting schedule should be created and agreed with lines of responsibility and communication made clear for all involved.
Not all applications are designed to work cohesively or be readily linked to existing systems. Working with the implementation partner, the IT team should determine whether the proposed new ERP system can be integrated with other core IT systems.
There can be particular challenges when it comes to linking a new ERP system with legacy databases. Popular databases, such as SQL Server and Oracle, are robust and able to meet the performance demands of an ERP system, however many organisations have databases in place that were never designed for these kinds of workloads. Examples of these include FoxPro and Access.
If the underlying database cannot provide the required support for the new ERP system, complications can arise. As well as core applications becoming unstable, a lack of support can make it difficult to create links to standard tools such as tablets, scanners or other third-party peripherals.
Prior to switching operations to the new infrastructure, it should be thoroughly reviewed in a quarantined test environment. This will allow all new linkages to be tested for incompatibilities and flows between databases and other applications to be reviewed. Any required changes can then be made before the new system is put into production.
Keeping comprehensive documentation of all changes made to a complex IT infrastructure is vital. Staff who work on the project will inevitably move on, taking their in-depth knowledge of what has been undertaken with them. Proper documentation will ensure that any future alterations can be carried out with full knowledge of exactly what is in place and how it has been configured.
Once the new ERP system has been implemented, rigorous user acceptance testing should be conducted prior to it being put into production. This testing will identify any issues with functionality and user interfaces. Fixing these prior to going live will minimise disruption and help with rapid user acceptance of the new technology.
By taking a methodical and measured approach to the implementation of a new ERP system and its integration with existing applications, the chance of problems can be significantly reduced.
In this way, business and IT strategies can be closely aligned, thereby delivering the most benefits in the shortest period of time.