Time to replace that legacy ERP system?
Sometimes the best way to address persistent business software problems is to scrap the old stuff and bring in the new. Despite the temptation to put more patchworks on the legacy ERP system and save the software selection and implementation project for another day, the reality is that software technology evolves rapidly and new ERP advances in critical areas such as ease of use, business process automation, business intelligence and integration with new tools such as mobile devices or social CRM may provide significant advancements to the company. Even new delivery models such as hosted ERP or software as a service (SaaS), or new technologies such as open source ERP software can fundamentally alter IT processes and impact business performance.
However, enterprise software selections and new deployments are always a big deal, accompanied by big risk, particularly when you're talking about your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. This is no minor system. These mission critical business applications touch nearly every transaction in the company, and done wrong, it can mean you're company operations stop come Monday morning after a weekend go-live event.
To mitigate that risk and avoid becoming one of the touted implementation failure statistics, consider a few best practices along the way.
Disciplined project management and a comprehensive project plan. ERP implementations are not for the uninformed, unprepared or the faint of heart. Project plans with realistic timelines, resource allocations, dependencies and critical paths are essential. Plans that model contingencies and plan for the unexpected are helpful. Many veteran project managers plan contingencies for their most likely contingencies.
You can never have too many data back-ups. Be sure when you begin your implementation effort that you have the most up-to-date back-ups available of every byte of data that you need to electronically migrate. Back up on tape, back up on remote storage, back up on anything you can back up on. Why? Because if one back up won't load due to some ridiculous technical problem -- and they often seem to crop up at a time like this -- then you have a viable Plan B or Plan C from which to work. Also recognize data conversions seldom go as planned, and often present the first project delay during the implementation. Most organizations fail to recognize how dirty their data is, and then fail to correctly estimate how long it will take to clean the data before it can be converted.
Be ready for complications. If this was easy, it wouldn't be any fun. With that spirit, you should be prepared to deal with crises that may arise, from data restoration problems to hardware/software glitches to incompatibilities you never dreamed of. It can happen, and if you plan well enough, you can be ready for almost any complication that appears.
Consider the premium support plan. Their pricey, but during the implementation and first year of production they can be a lot less than onsite consultants, and can save you embarrassment when things don't go right and you need immediate answers or resolutions. Have your vendor's 24/7 tech support numbers ready for when they're needed.
Do a practice run, or two. Waterfall ERP implementations have in large part been replaced with trials, pilots and more iterative implementation approaches. Trial runs or simulations provide excellent user training and detect problems early in the project and ahead of time allowing project teams to work out ways to solve issues with far less pain on the big day.
Ask lots of questions of your vendors, consultants and of other customers who have undergone similar replacements with your chosen ERP system. Consider attending ERP conferences where your vendor, other vendors and lots of users gather to see the latest and greatest in ERP tools, applications and services which improve ERP ROI. These events are not just boondoggles away from the office. They are great places to get helpful information and to share real-world experiences with peers who have completed the journey before you.
Don't forget the formal post-replacement assessment and review. When you are finished successfully replacing your legacy ERP system, then get your team together again for a de-briefing and post analysis session. Talk with each other about what went well, what didn't, what resources were helpful and what events were a total waste of time. You can use these lessons for your next ERP new version upgrade as well as other IT projects.
Thank your team. This is perhaps the most overlooked part of a new implementation or upgrade project. Yes, these people work for the company and should be glad they have good IT jobs in this economy. But they are likely working long hours and over weekends to get the system replacement completed and they truly deserve your sincere thanks and recognition for their extra efforts and commitment to getting the work done well. Let each project team member know how much you appreciate their efforts. It will pay you back many times over.
Swapping out ERP systems is no picnic. It's a major, difficult and complicated project that shouldn't be undertaken lightly. But done with good planning, consideration for contingencies and methodical execution by a dedicated project team, the effort can be manageable.
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