Walk before you run
Choosing the right ERP system, by Christophe Letellier, CEO of Sage ERP X3.
Choosing an ERP system is one of the most strategic decisions for mid-market companies, and their CEOs face a significant dilemma. Should I choose a system for today, or for how my company may look in five to 10 years? Should I go for a full system, or start small with a limited number of functions? Should I try to cover 100% of my needs, or only aim for a fraction of them? Do I have to cover all my requirements with one single ERP system? Should I go for a comprehensive, full-function system requiring a 12- to 18-month implementation, or for a simpler system with fewer functions that could be implemented in weeks? What balance will get me the best return on my investment?
Christophe Letellier, CEO of Sage ERP X3, says: "I could go on and on with questions that are all relevant, but instead, I would suggest reversing the thought process. Rather than trying to solve all your outstanding issues with a new system, which will usually replace something you are currently using, I would suggest thinking about how to improve what you already have. All of us would like to aim for the best in terms of ERP software, but in doing so, we often ignore the 'better' solution," explains Letellier.
The value of an ERP system lies in its integration across a company and the data gathered when using it. Start with a modern solution that is well integrated and covers 80% to 85% of an organisation's functional needs. The last mile is by far the most costly and often the one that has the most problematic ROI.
"Why look for perfection when 85% would help you make a giant leap in efficiency?" asks Letellier. "Go with as standard a system as you can to start with. Implementation will be significantly reduced, both in terms of cost (three to five times cheaper) and duration (up to 10 times faster, in a matter of weeks). A properly integrated system will immediately make your processes more fluid, improve cross-functional collaboration, reduce operating costs, and most importantly, help you understand what you really need for the next step," explains Letellier.
"I encourage you to have a look at what our customer, Omega Refrigeration, did. They chose to go standard and not only did the company's ERP system go live in just 44 days, but it started to see benefits just a few weeks after the implementation. Very soon after deployment, Omega Refrigeration was able to plan the expansion of the system," says Letellier.
One of the biggest mistakes often made is attempting to replicate existing business processes within a new system. It implies significant tweaks in the ERP system through customisation. On top of making life miserable for future upgrades, it also changes the way an ERP solution behaves, severely curbing the benefit that is derived from all the best practices that has led to the development of the built-in processes. Performance can also be dramatically reduced and future evolutions will be more difficult to leverage.
Implementing a new ERP system is a great opportunity to re-think processes. "We love to think we are different, and guess what, it's true! But being different doesn't mean we are totally unique. Step back and try to honestly define what makes you better and more competitive than your competition. This is what counts at the end of the day, and you will probably end up with two, or perhaps three, processes that are really distinctive. At most, 5% of your system will recognise this difference, not 50%," says Letellier.
This past April, Letellier had the privilege of visiting the Marussia F1 Team, in Banbury, England, one of Sage ERP X3's customers. "I spoke to Kevin Lee, their Operations Manager, and he lives by an expression that I often use, 'walk before you run'. He applies this principle to everything he does to improve the team's competitiveness in Formula 1," says Letellier.
Lee enacted this principle when he implemented his new ERP system and succeeded:
* Implementation time - Eight weeks
* Number of specific developments to address F1 needs - Zero
"Go for standard solutions and after a period of usage, say nine to 12 months, you will be able to make informed decisions on where to channel your investment to differentiate yourself in the market. Once that is done, make sure you have as many people as possible using your ERP system," says Letellier. "ERP software is not a specialist play and it is certainly not only for accountants or plant managers. Everyone, one way or another, should use the system, starting with you. This is important because your ERP system will be your decision-making tool, and based on the collected data, you will run reports, analysis or even simulations.
"These activities will really add value if your database truly represents your business. To get there, you need to ensure everyone contributes to it - the experienced and the non-technical alike. You can even open your system to those outside of your own organisation who also contribute to your business. Your customers, your partners and your suppliers can definitely enrich your data set, which will help you make better decisions," Letellier explains.
According to Letellier, integration is key. "Integration means encouraging people in different functions to work together. This will open up a new field of efficiency through collaboration. ERP software will help you organise the social nature of your business and support a better, more natural and organised way of collaborating for greater efficiency, better problem solving, but also to promote innovation.
"Before running like Usain Bolt, make sure you can walk," concludes Letellier.
Letellier's five tips to choosing the right ERP system:
1. 'Start small' with a standard solution across your company
2. Progress quickly within a few weeks
3. Learn through experience
4. Encourage usage across and outside your organisation
5. Make informed decisions for additional investments that will make you more competitive.