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It has been around since the 70s, has an entrenched market share, and a lot of very large corporations around the globe are counted as partners. Of course, with this level of success comes an equal amount of criticism. The truth is that when SAP is running well, it can give managers an excellent tool to be more nimble with operational strategy decisions, and captures tremendous amount of data to analyze and see areas of opportunity and risk. However, it also has a surprising amount of functionality build into it, and when this isn't implemented well, SAP tends to fail in what can only be described as a spectacular and newsworthy fashion.
So, if you're looking at implementing ERP software, and would like to avoid your organisation being in the News for all the wrong reasons, then here are a few things to consider.
Expect that you may have to adjust how you do business
Change Management is one of the most important parts of ERP implementation. What you were doing before will not be the same after and this is for any ERP software, not just SAP. SAP itself is not a system that computerises your processes, so don't expect things to be "business as usual". Instead SAP is built on best practice, which is leveraged to improve your operational efficiency. Organisations should see the implementation project as an opportunity to improve not just its systems, but also the operational processes that are currently in place.
Acknowledge the scope of the project
When setting the scope of the project, be prepared that it will be a "whole of business" ERP solution rather than particular business areas. SAP is best when taken as a whole of organisation system. It has been developed to pull vast amounts of data in real time from the organisation so that decisions can be made quickly. The more legacy systems that SAP needs to deal with, the slower the processing time will be as the software needs to convert that data from the legacy system to SAP via adapters, which maps and converts data between various formats.
Do not underestimate the importance of your Data
Set a clear strategy to both cleanse and manage your data before and during the implementation to ensure that your business does not fall into the adage of “garbage in and garbage out”. By also reducing the amount of data required to be migrated to the new system you will reduce cut over time and increase the efficiency in the new system. Data migration is one of the top five issues that can impact your implementation if you don’t get it right.
Avoid over-customisation of the product
Because SAP has been around for a very long time, most industries already have a solution available, which has been fine-tuned over the years into industry best practice. SAP ERP and S4/HANA are not out of the box products and there will be a level of customisation in order to meet your organisation's needs. However, you shouldn't try to force the software to customise around the old processes or legacy systems just to save in change management costs or to avoid staff angst, as you will be adding a layer of complexity to the system that probably doesn't need to be there, which in turn will slow down the processing time.
Don't underfund your project
It seems obvious that you get what you pay for, but the budget is also one of the biggest concerns of any organisation. If you underfund the project then it will invariably result in either poor quality consultants and tools, or a smaller, over stretched team, which will also result in a poor quality solution. Implementing a new ERP system will cost upfront, so make sure that the ongoing cost savings (or Return on Investment) are worth your while.
Be realistic about deadlines and upfront with expectations
Time is money is especially true in the world of ERP implementation, but so is the adage "communication is key", especially from the "top down". Make sure that your project manager has experience in implementing SAP, and have open communication around what realistic deadlines are for your organisation given your team size, industry, and budget constraints.
Don't neglect your staff
SAP is a complex business management platform, and although there have been some vast improvements recently, some staff may find that the interface isn't as easy to use as they would like. Change is never easy, and although the efficiency savings are there, your staff may not be as concerned with the bottom line as what management is. There are two ways to help ease the way for your new SAP ERP project and that is to invest the resources in comprehensive document writing (manuals), and staff training.
Overall, implementing SAP ERP or S4/HANA can be awful or great depending on the experience of the implementation team, and the willingness of management to engage with that team. For every success story with SAP, there is a nightmare. Which one your implementation project will be depends a lot on the organisation's attitude at the start of the process.