ERP Implementation 101:
A proven path to success
It wasn’t that long ago the big company question was “why cloud?” Today that question is assertively “which cloud?”, with an immediate “‘why didn’t we go here sooner?” The value of the cloud has become so transparent - that for small and medium size companies alone, the majority of new IT budgets are now being allocated just for cloud solutions and that is very much true for the world of ERP and finance. What’s key is a careful, thoughtful focus on your ERP implementation. Below we’ll cover the ins and outs of achieving a successful ERP implementation.
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1. ERP Implementation: Before You Buy
To a large extent ERP implementations in a cloud environment aren’t that much different than those in an on premise environment. The differences that do exist between them however are exponential. You still have to carefully plan out project timing, responsibilities, data migration, the accounting structure (i.e. chart of accounts) and reconcile balances between new and old systems. However, cloud based ERP implementations on a single cloud platform offer some very important and unique aspects that relate to the fundamental architectural differences between multi-cloud based and on premise systems. These differences represent all the core (and amazing) reasons you make the move to the cloud in the first place, so you certainly don’t want to miss them when you’re evaluating solutions or planning your project.
Making the decision to move to cloud is one step in the right direction; understanding the best approach and how you’ll get there is half the battle. But guess what? It doesn't have to be difficult. The purpose of this section is to provide you with details on how to best plan your ERP implementation, the benefits of a single cloud approach, key insights and recommendations when evaluating solutions, and how to avoid a failed ERP implementation.
ERP Cloud Choice: Multiple Clouds, Bad: Single Cloud, Good.
Some ERP solutions are offered across multiple cloud platforms (think about having to take a bike, then a train, then a bus to get to your destination). The hazards of this approach might not seem entirely obvious at first, but you're much better off avoiding this set up. First off, companies need to be strategic in picking cloud platforms that can support their entire business – from front office to back office (think about riding your bike all the way to your destination). A single cloud platform eliminates the need for costly 3rd-party tools that synchronize data between clouds. When you only have one cloud to manage, apps like ERP, CRM and Supply Chain co-exist side by side in a shared environment, eliminating odd-style integrations and workarounds. And because information is stored in one place, you don’t have to worry about integrations breaking, business process updates are deployed seamlessly, and you can more quickly and accurately check on the status and health of the company.
Top reasons why companies prefer a single cloud
- One system for everything - Allows for a single source of pertinent records for sales, operations, finance, and other business critical data
- Ecosystem of apps - You can have related apps (e.g. accounting and CRM) talking to each other and sharing information
- Single record to update – Update a contact, a vendor, a product or an account – and that single update is immediately available to everyone who needs to see it
- One reporting engine – Get shared reporting & analytics that span your entire business
- One user interface, one log-in, one unified system – No more toggling between screens and systems to access and manage your systems
What this all equates to is improved operational efficiency, increased business agility and controlled costs. That’s the ultimate goal, right?
Take for instance a major healthcare staffing company in the Midwest. They were using an outside program to handle billable timesheet information from thousands of nurses, doctors and technicians around the country. Because they were already using Salesforce, the implementation team was able to show them how to quickly upload hundreds of weekly time and expense records and generate sales invoices in a single-click using FinancialForce Accounting. Information could then be posted automatically to the general ledger, where their accounts receivable team could manage customer payments with increased speed, visibility and transparency. The process now takes just a few minutes to do each week.
2. The Project Team: Platform Experts are key
When you decide on an ERP cloud platform/solution (preferably single cloud), let us give you peace of mind that your project team can be assembled over breakfast. But what should your project team look like? First, be sure to identify and bring in subject matters experts during the ERP implementation process - experts that understand the requirements and intricacies of your accounting functions - both strategic and tactical. You probably have that team on deck already (i.e. your CFO, Controller, accounting staff).
What about a "cloud" expert? How worried do you need to be about the technical management of all the new “cloud” subject matter? Actually not worried at all. Cloud projects mean the platform technology is already taken care of for you and the accounting app sits on top of the predefined platform. All you need is a “platform wiz" to manage that wheelhouse.
Because a good cloud platform contains key foundational tools, like a workflow and approvals engine and point and click genies, your platform specialist will be the expert on using these tools to customize and personalize your accounting solution to incorporate all your business processes, requirements and whatever else specific to your accounting function - that are all so key to a successful ERP implementation. He or she will create time saving workflow and approvals and data entry validation rules to ensure consistent data. And your expert will also be responsible for helping you integrate your accounting application with other relevant applications on the platform. The best part is that they're not having to deal with "non valued add" work - like updates, upgrades, patches and virus protection - the platform does all that. And if you are worried about finding platform experts - don’t be. If you go with an established, prolific platform like Salesforce, you get immediate access to thousands and thousands of qualified candidates.
Breakdown of your project team for your ERP implementation:
- Accounting subject matter experts - will lead the charge on providing the requirements, business processes, accounting specific data, etc.
- Platform expert/system admin - responsible for implementing and rolling out requirements, business processes, updates, changes, processes, etc. into your new system
- The Platform itself - believe it or not, if you go with a strong one, this team member will power your workflow and approval engines, enforce security, provide one stop deployment for all your processes changes and accounting updates, and so much more.
It is very important to note that everyone involved understands and addresses that the “system administration” functions are just as important as the accounting functions - all for the greater good for your ERP implementation efforts.
3. Permissions & Accessibility: The Lovable Traffic Cop
Whether you choose a single cloud or multiple clouds, one of the great things that comes with choosing a good cloud ERP system is that it allows you to set user permissions and manage user access to specific areas of the application. In multi-cloud environments, approval methods will vary by application and role hierarchy will require replication. In a single cloud environment, setting permissions and access rights is simplified as you have only one engine enforcing company wide policies for all apps and users. Below lists out the kind of access privileges/limitations you will want to get your head around when setting up your system during the implementation process.
Make sure your cloud accounting system enables you to do the following:
- Establish specific areas of the application you want different groups to have access to
- Set user access based on location, e.g lockout IP addresses, block public computers, open up to geographically diverse offices
- Create multi-level approval processes for transactions and master file data changes
- Support breakdown by segregation of duties
- Support a mobile strategy (Note: with on-premise systems, mobile is a completely separate project after the initial implementation!)
- Delineate who can access via mobile devices, what devices do you want to allow, etc.
Whether you use these permissions and access capabilities immediately or not is up to you, but it’s nice to know that they are there when you decide the time is appropriate.
4. Data Security: Single Cloud Wins the Security Award
When you go with a cloud ERP implementation there’s actually no other place more secure for your data. Take again Salesforce - the host/cloud provider for solutions like FinancialForce ERP- they've invested 3X more than any other company in the world to ensure that the data that lives in their cloud gets state-of-the-art protection along with backup and disaster recovery.
This is far more advantageous than the cost and uncertainty of trying to protect data held in house - which may already reside in a number of separate company sites. We haven’t even mentioned that with single-cloud powered accounting apps, the Finance team retains complete control over the data and tools that each user is allowed to access and work with. This delivers reliable data security and underpins auditability which is key to a successful ERP implementation.
What should you expect in terms of security perks?
- Comprehensive audit trails for transactions, master data modifications and security setup changes
- Two-phase document save and post is a must
- Lockdown of document posting for closed accounting periods
- Transaction lockdowns that prevent “after the event” manipulation of accounting entries even by users with system administrator permissions
- Virus protection, upgrades, updates and patches
- Perimeter firewalls and edge routers that should block unused protocols
Your budget most likely could never cover the kind of security we’ve just mentioned above!
5. Tools and Automation: Let the Platform Do the Hard Work
The best part of a good cloud platform are the tools already built into its framework. Applications running on such a platform can take advantage of these tools and features to cut ERP implementation time and get you up and running quickly. ERP and accounting applications built on a single cloud platform like Salesforce can be deployed in weeks not months using “click not code” style wizards. Moreover, you can create workflow and approval cycles with just a few point and clicks.
Get the point? Let the platform do the work. Opt in for an ERP system that equips you with a slew of amazing tools that you get out of the box and ensure your ERP implementation is a screaming success. These tools not only help during the implementation phase but also make the ongoing management and administration of your apps turn-key. So if business processes change, remapping and deploying those changes is a cinch.
Look to find these tools to make the implementation process easier:
- Workflow and approval engines that allow for data to move along pre-defined life-cycles
- “Click not Code”, wizard-driven tools to accommodate personalized process and point and click development
- User permissions and security that is part of the cloud platform technology
- Mobile capabilities (smartphones and tablets) that are part of the cloud platform technology
- Integrations to and from “non” or “different” cloud platform sources that are part of the cloud platform technology
- Social collaboration tools that accommodate context specific conversations and updates
Tools like these quickly become your ERP implementation team’s best friend.
A corporate vehicle reimbursement and workforce solutions company was able to create an automated recurring billing solution that accommodated changes to the number of drivers added to a customer's contract mid-stream. Because they were built on a single cloud platform, their implementation cycle, including the development of the automated billing, occurred in less than 90 days. The solution cut their time to bill by at least 50%.
6. Project Services Delivery Method: Here, There, Anywhere
While you can always deliver your project services on-site, a cloud based ERP implementation project gives you the flexibility of delivering it via remote web based meetings or just general off-site administration. We certainly don’t discourage on-site implementations but the beauty of the cloud is you get to pick based on your infrastructure, your budget, and/or your geographically distributed team.
Perks of on-site delivery
- Takes “technology issues” out of the communication layer (audio and visual)
- Allows you to “read” faces and body language ensuring your messages are getting across
Perks of remote delivery
- Save on travel expenses as part of an “old fashioned” project (on premise)
- You have the freedom to include team members no matter where they are
Have it your way: mix and match
- Get best of both on-site, remote situation
- Include frequent travelers & remote experts whose input is key
7. Cloud Ecosystem: Great Alone, Better Together
The cloud is really everywhere. Talk to other departments in your business and ask or confirm what apps they might be using. You could be running apps on the same platform that could be talking to each other and sharing amazing information. When everyone lives on the same platform, e.g. Salesforce platform, companies will start to speak the same language, rather than departmental language. Users will have a single log-in. Reporting can go enterprise-wide and serve multiple functions.
A successful ERP implementation on the right cloud can open doors to integrations you didn't think possible. Look for a single cloud platform with a robust ecosystem of apps that seamlessly connects your entire business. This can also save you time and effort during implementations further on down the line.
- Pick a platform that has a rich library of specialized, vertical and mobile apps
- Use applications with same ‘look & feel’ and toolsets
- Get apps that ‘play nice” with each other
- Leverage the same tools such as dashboarding and workflow
- Share objects and the same reporting database