Who runs the ERP implementation project: the consultant or the client?

An ERP Implementation project has an equal chance of success or failure in the beginning. What makes it go well and what makes it go bad?

There was an interesting post about the evils of ERP Consultants on ITToolbox: Are Some ERP Consulting Firms Crooks?

Reading it, you understand why so many ERP projects fail. It seems like that is all people talk about are the failures in ERP project implementations. Is it really the consultant who makes it fail? I think the real question is “who really runs the ERP implementation”.

If what you read in the above mentioned article holds true, then there should not be any successful implementations. I take a different stand and believe that most ERP consultants, and their firms, are trying to do the right thing, there are, however, circumstances that derail a project. Further, I believe that it is the customer’s responsibility to stand up for their rights and protect their investment.

When initiating the project, it is important that the project team interviews each of the consulting team’s staff-members around their experience and their ability to deliver in the role slated. If at any point in the project, you feel that any of the consulting team members are not performing or are being difficult to work with, bring it up to the consulting project manager or the firm’s account manager. They have a vested interest in you getting along well with the team so that the project runs well. Sometimes success or failure is a matter of personalities.
ERP implementation flow
Frequently, ERP implementation projects are run by the consultants who drive it based upon a methodology that has worked for them in the past. It is usually a derived form of Initiate, Design, Build, Test, and Cutover. These five steps have been used in variation for decades now. The methodology has moved from being a rigid waterfall method to a more agile iterative approach, but it still follows the same theme.

If consultants follow the same methodology (in one form or another), why do some projects go well and why do some fail? I believe the answer lies in the project governance. Who manages the project? Who takes ultimate responsibility? What is the culture of collaboration? These are all key questions that need to be addressed before the first day of the project and readdressed along each status meeting.

My experience has shown me that projects that go well are the projects where the client “owns” the success of the outcome, along with the consultants. If the client is not “bought into” their own success, then how can the consultant drive the project to success?

At the same time, there needs to be collaboration. The value of consultants is the experience they bring in executing implementations over-and-over. The consultants will tend to drive the project based on their methodology and their experience, however, the client needs to step up and ask “why?” and “how?” Then they need to assess if it is a sound direction. They need to either accept the recommendation, or push back if they think it will not work for their company.

A professional consultant should listen and explain their reasoning. It should not turn into an ego-fest of who knows best. Rather options and solutions should be presented. A lot of this collaboration depends also on the people involved in the project. Within the same implementation team, you may have a driver style personality who sees all client requests as out-of-scope and must push for a change order. At the same time you may have collaborative team members who gets what the client is asking and realizes that the request is part of the iterative process of reaching a desired solution.

A skilled project manager negotiate with the different personalities and must make the decision to determine where the solution is going. Is it outside the bounds of the work agreement? Or, if by following that path, will it lead to a joint success. This can only be reached through meaningful discussions.

There are consultants who focus too much on billable hours and not on client needs. There are other consultants who focus on client needs only and as a result blow-up the budget. In both cases, the client needs to call foul if they see project effort going too far in the wrong direction.

On a recent project, a client realized that the technical development was over engineering the solution. The client is not technical, but could see that the solution presented was too much for the goal. Working with the consulting project manager they refocused the team and got things back on track.

Bottom line, if you as the client are not collaborating, and working through issues daily with the implementation consultants, you will be driven to a solution that is not one of your own choosing. On the other hand, if you drive the project with too much zeal and force, you may miss the valuable design experience that the consultants bring.

The success of the ERP project weighs as much on the internal team and their project manager as much as it does on the consultants. Where projects go bad, it is often due to the lack of participation of the implementing company’s team or the lack of direction from their project manager. In these cases, the consultants end up driving and will likely make system decisions based on experience, but not based on the operations of the company. So if you want to have success in your ERP implementation, you must own the project and work collaboratively with the consultants each and every day.

SAP ERP Platforms For Integrating Business Functions

No one can doubt that SAP is one of the biggest ERP software developers in the country. SAP carries the majority of U.S. based sales throughout the ERP systems, working with thousands of companies across the country. Again, there are other intelligent ERP setups, like Dynamics or Great Plains can be very beneficial to your business and probably all you’ll ever need. There are also other opensource software companies that provide very customizable programs for your business, especially if you have quality IT support, this can be an economic and successful choice. Why is SAP one of the best enterprise resource planning solution? SAP is focused on providing all of the framework and foundations for every need in a business solutions software.

Of couse SAP software is looking at the complete operations of your business: full integration and communication amongst all functions. Whether it is human resources, inventory management, sales, marketing, accounting, planning, any sector! All of these areas of the ERP software can be customized for your specific needs and requirements. There are a lot of opportunities to find local SAP consulting, primarily due to how many companies are implementing ERP solutions for their business intelligence needs. SAP is definetely one of the first companies to take a look at and evaluate for your business. Its tried and true, you can absolutely be successful and very efficient with this platform. Whether its overkill for your small business? Well, you need to answer that yourself and look into more economic options like peoplesoft, openbravo, and others. If you have quality IT support around or someone you can hire to integrate the ERP software, then these options may suit the small business owner or entreprenuer more. Just know that, this is 2011 and your company needs a brain for your business, get enterprise resource planning.

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Managerial Issues of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

Product Description
The primary purpose of this text is to lay out the scope of ERP Systems implementation, explain the competitive advantages of using ERP Systems, and support general concepts with short case studies. This text covers the fundamental issues important in ERP implementation and management, starting from an information systems, information technology project management perspective. Each chapter will include a review of real cases of ERP implementations related to that p… More >>

Managerial Issues of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

ERP Software Selection

ERP – Where to Start?

Starting an ERP selection and Implementation seems like a huge undertaking. It can be, but it can also be straightforward if you do things properly.

Where to Start with your ERP Selection and Implementation
Where to Start with your ERP Selection and Implementation

If you are a small to medium sized company, here are some tips to get you going:

1. ERP Vendors – who should you look at? There are many different ERP vendors. The easiest way is to use a free evaluation service such as SoftwareAdvice.com. Their advisors ask you some questions to profile the type of business you are in and then from that they can give you a short list of candidates to focus on. One good article you should examine is to help you understand how ERP vendors are categorized is “ERP – What Tier are you in?” You can also reference our ERP directory for a listing of various ERP vendors.

2. What questions should you be asking the ERP vendors? This is really a questions of how well do you know what you do. Take a look at “How to determine your ERP Evaluation Criteria” to learn more about how you should self examine your company to then have the criteria for evaluating the vendors. You can also get some free templates that will help you in evaluating erp vendors here on our site.

3. ERP Negotiation – How to reach a successful outcome? Negotiation can be stressful, but really it doesn’t have to be. It is a dance that the vendors go through everyday, so they know how to work it and how to make you come to their desired decision point. You can learn more about negotiation through various books, or you can start with this article on ERP Negotiation.

4. ERP Implementation Planning – There are a lot of details to implementing an ERP solution. Here are the Top 20 ERP Implementation tips. Find out also What makes for a successful ERP Implementation. You can also learn about four corners stones to any successful implementations with this article on RICE. Here is a great article on the 12 Steps to a better ERP Launch. Lastly, here is a tongue-in-cheek look at implementations.

We hope these links and articles will help you sort out resources as to where you can start with your ERP project. For more information, please also see our ERP Bookstore where we have a lot of useful books on ERP Selections and Implmentations.

When to use ERP Software Consultants

When to use ERP Software Consultants

Many times companies try to select and implement ERP software on their own. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. So the question is, when should a company use an ERP Software Consultant to guide them in their ERP Selection or ERP Implementation?

The answer is not so simple. If a company is mature and has the resources that can look independently at the business processes, then it may make sense to embark on a selection on their own. Most of the time in mid-market sized or even smaller clients, then it is difficult for them to 1. Spare the resources and 2. Look at the business processes objectively.

Any good ERP Selection begins with a company evaluating their business processes. Borrowing from the Toyota Production system (aka Lean Manufacturing), a company should first eliminate waste and then consider automating. Automating bad processes will only make things worse faster. However, automating good processes will help grow the business and promote better communication.

ERP Software Consultants
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ERP Software Consultants – Best Practices

The real question becomes how much is the company willing to flex their processes to adapt to “best practices” that are usually built into a commercial software system. If the company is flexible (and this takes a lot of leadership to make happen), they can select a system and model their business around that system. The larger commercial systems, such as those from Microsoft, Infor, SAP, Oracle, and others have all grown up from thousands of implementations from all sorts of companies. They have developed efficiencies that many companies who adopt the software’s methodology can benefit from.

The real key is understanding the fit of a software package to the business. If the company does some niche processing, then a mainstream commercial package may not fit. However it the company is a distributor or a manufacturer of discrete products as an example, then a standard mid-market product would likely work for them.

So how do you choose the software, it is back to the business processes and the key requirements. “Key Requirements,” not just all requirements. The things that the old system does not do well and those things that it does very well are good places to start. Additionally, discover those requirements or processes that set your company apart from others in your industry. Usually processes around your competitive advantage are part of the key requirements.

Going back to the original question, should you use independent ERP Software Consultants? If you have a clear and objective understanding, you can afford the time to really research the vendors and you have a strong will with salespeople, then going it on your own might be reasonable.

If you do not have the time, the understanding of the ERP Software market, or the will power to manage at an arm’s length the software vendor’s salespeople, then an ERP Software Consultant would be a wise choice.

ERP Vendor Selection
ERP Software Consultants
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Top 7 ERP Implementation Analogies

ERP implementations are difficult. That is a given. But, during an ERP implementation people always use analogies to describe how difficult the process will be. Here are some of our favorites. Please comment and add to the list of interesting, strange, humorous or bizarre analogies you have heard:

1. The implementation will be like open heart surgery while the patient is still alive and working.

2. An ERP implementation is like the corporate equivalent of a brain transplant.

3. I think of ERP implementations like mountain climbing: No two are the same, Some principles are universal: Gravity makes you fall no matter what mountain you climb. Some approaches are either wrong or very risky.

4. ERP is like my marriage…In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…

5. ERP implementation is like a warfare, make it quick and fast, don’t drag too long. The soldier’s morale is the key.

6. ERP implementation is like a soccer team, where the coach, physiotherapist and substitutes have roles that are equal to those of the players themselves. (… in explaining the role of top management.)

And our favorite …

7. An ERP implementation is like a 9 month root canal.
ERP is like a root canal
Do you know of any more?

Having RICE with your ERP Implementation

When I first heard the term RICE, during a large ERP implementation, I thought it was a joke. What do you mean you want RICE? Do you want it with butter or soy sauce?

It was explained to me later that RICE stands for:

  • Reports
  • Interfaces
  • Conversions
  • Extensions

Come to find out, I was used to dealing with these, but using the acronym helped clarify and organize these key implementation functions. You need to properly plan for RICE and you need to address these elements during your implementation for the project to succeed. All RICE aspects need to be tested and validated by the users of the system. If they are not, then there will be problems. Let’s look at them one by one.


First, you have Reports. All of your business reporting should be examined to ensure that you go live with at least as much information as you use today. The question is though, do you need the report or can you live with the new systems processes and online lookups? Often reports are generated to support a manual process that takes some human intervention. For example, a min-max report was printed to help the buyer make purchase decisions. “Not with the new MRPII system; the system provides suggested buys through an online lookup.” So do you need that old report?

The best thing to do is to catalog all of your current reports and go through each of them and determine what the business need for that report and working with your implementation consultants, find out if there is a better way to get the same information. If there isn’t, then mark that report as a necessary report for going live. (Chances are it is already in the system.) If the report is not currently in the new software, then a custom report will need to be made. These too should be prioritized. Some may not be critical to going live and are “nice-to-have” reports. There are many reporting factors to consider in a Successful Packaged Software Implementation.


Second is Interfaces. How many other systems will be linking with the new ERP solution? Interface development takes some software architecting, but you can see which software will be replaced by the new system and which software will remain. Does the legacy software have a need to be integrated into the new ERP? What is the cost of integrating that new solution, versus a manual entry? These are some of the decisions that you will face.

Linking two systems together can be as simple as a data export and data load, to as difficult as a synchronized data movement between the systems. Often it is the first option. Export the data from the external system on a set schedule and then import the export file into the ERP system. There is usually an intermediate program that does the task automatically of file format conversion. This is common in EDI. The EDI data is downloaded, is run through a translator, and then uploaded into the ERP system. The reverse also happens (as in the case of shipping notices). A data file is exported from the ERP to the translator, which then maps and prepares the upload file to the EDI system.


Third, you will need to look at conversions. Conversions are one of the most deceiving areas of an implementation. It might seem simple at first. “Oh, we just are converting the Items, Customers, and Vendors.” Okay, simple enough. But do you have all of the data fields that the new system requires? Do you have good and valid data to be brought over? One of the key factors of implementations (regarding labor) is the data clean up. Most ERP implementers have a standard data import template. You can then map your data fields to that model. Sometimes it is even in Excel. You just cut and paste your exported data into Excel. But what if your legacy system is an old green screen with the only export are reports written to a file? Then you have to have a program written to parse that text file to pick up all the correct data. Even then, there will be dirty data that needs to be cleaned. If you have a lot of records, then this will be very time-consuming.

The other option is not to even export and import. You can manually enter data too. The rule of thumb I go by is if there are less than 500 records in a data file, then it should be manually entered. If it is more than that, then you should look at an automated data load.


Extensions are additional programming functionality. Sometimes referred to as Enhancements they provide functionality that doesn’t exist in the core ERP package. Often this is due to a very particular task that the old system did to satisfy a customer need or to meet a legal regulation that is specific to a niche industry. These custom programs are not written into the core ERP since that will break the upgrade path in most cases. Instead, a separate program is developed using the same tools that the ERP system uses and data hooks are created to link the extension to the core ERP.

Extensions should be avoided if possible, but if there is a unique functionality that cannot be handled by the system, then an extension is the preferred way to address it.

RICE Summary

In summary, Reports, Interfaces, Conversions, and Extensions are key aspects of any Successful Packaged Software Implementation and should be properly scoped in the initial planning phase. Insufficient time or resources can have a detrimental impact on the overall implementation budget. If you are about to embark on an implementation, be sure to look at all aspects of RICE before you begin.

Lists of ERP Vendors

Please comment if you know of other vendor lists.