Today we are excited to share a guest blog from our partner, Anchor Group!
There are a handful of things that a manufacturer should be sure to take care of when looking for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. While these general concepts can be applied to any business, the following best applies to those in the manufacturing industry.
1. Gather Requirements
Gathering requirements is the first and most crucial step when looking for an ERP. Your requirements will not only help you evaluate the various ERP software options that exist in the market, but they will also help your implementation process go smoothly.
Working directly with your department heads to compile this list will lead to a more comprehensive list of requirements for your ERP system, especially if you are a large company with siloed data or processes.
Here are some questions that a manufacturer might want to ask in the gathering requirements stage:
Why are we looking for a new ERP system?
What core reason, issue, or event caused you to consider a new system? It can sometimes be challenging to isolate a key, all-encompassing reason for considering a new ERP system. Decisions like these are always multi-faceted, often driven by several more minor reasons or issues which together merit a substantial change. By attempting to isolate one reason for your decision, you will likely identify many partial explanations that your team can dive into when crafting your list of requirements.
What do we like about our current business management processes?
What processes do you currently have in place that give you a competitive advantage? For example, is there a specific automated process that you want to be sure to convert over to your new system?
What third-party solutions do you need to be able to connect to your ERP system? For example, is there a 3rd-party field service management solution you love working with?
What are the fundamental problems we are facing?
What ideas has your team already tried or considered for resolving these issues? Are there specific gaps that need to be filled within your technology stack?
- An ERP consultant or implementation partner will help you dig deeper and problem-solve during the implementation process. Still, sometimes a company’s previous ideas or even failed attempts to resolve an issue can highlight things that would have otherwise been missed in the gathering requirements.
- You may have already identified needing a better field service solution or maybe you have been managing your field service work manually. Either way, having a field service management (FSM) solution that integrates with your ERP and knowing which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track is extremely important. Focusing on KPIs like reducing admin time, increasing first-time fix rates, and increasing technician utilization, can result in happier customers and more profitable work orders. For more information on what field service KPIs to track, check out this helpful guide from MSI Data. If this need has been identified, your implementation partner can likely point you toward a solution like MSI Data that they’ve worked with before. That way, you don’t have to go out and do all the research yourself to find a solution that integrates well with your ERP.
Finally, walk through your whole manufacturing process from start to finish for each key product group. You will be able to identify several requirements around processes related to things like:
- Supply Chain Management
- Processing Purchase Orders
- B2B Sales & Marketing Efforts
- Work Orders
- Item Commitment
- Tracking WIPs
- Inventory Management
- Warehouse Management
- Working with Vendors
- Fulfilling Sales Orders
- Project Management
- Shipping and Distribution
- Field Service
- Accepting Payments
- Customer Relationship Management
Lastly, one of the most important things to remember: always seek more information than you think you need. It can be easy to think you have enough information and cut your ERP research short when the solution becomes clearer, especially within niche industries. However, ERP implementations, especially for highly scalable and customizable solutions like NetSuite, are incredibly complex and varied. Don’t miss out on decision-altering information by shorting yourself on research; to find the ERP that best fits your needs, gather as much information as you can, and look for smaller pieces that not everyone is willing to share.
2. Clean Up Your Data
No business has perfectly complete and organized data. Unfortunately, the messier your data is, the longer and more difficult it will be to migrate to a new system. ERP systems are exceptional powerhouses for your information allowing people across your company to see and use the data that is important to them and their role. The tradeoff is that the system is limited by the quality of data it holds. In short, implementing an ERP system is a significant investment, so you want to avoid filling your new ERP system with old messes so you can get the most out of your system from day one.
Depending on which ERP system you end up choosing, your implementation partner can work with you to establish specific system controls and processes for protecting your data in the future as you use the new system. It’s unnecessary to have all of your data cleaned before you start evaluating options for your ERP system, but the sooner you can get started, the better! Depending on the quality of your current data, this process can take longer than expected. Plus, even if you evaluate ERP options and decide it is not time for an implementation yet, having cleaner data in your current system can help improve your day-to-day business operations.
3. Evaluate Different ERP Systems
With a prepared list of requirements, you now have a thoroughly informed idea of what you are looking for in an ERP system. The next step is to take those requirements and compare them against the capabilities of available ERP platforms to see which platforms may be the best fit for you. Here are some essential qualities that should be included with any decent ERP:
- A singular source of data truth
- The ability to turn data into actionable insights
- The ability to set data visibility rules and editing controls
- Scalability that allows the system to grow with your business (a modular structure)
- The ability to customize the solution to fit your needs now and in the future
Then again, there are some manufacturing-specific considerations around which you’ve likely identified specific requirements already:
- The ability to manage the whole product life cycle
- Compatibility with industry-specific solutions that your business identified when gathering requirements, such as field service automation tools like MSI data
- Sufficient purchasing & supply chain management tools
- Logistics capabilities that meet your needs
- Production management tools
Once you have researched several solutions and narrowed it down to one or two options, it’s time to request implementation quotes!
4. Develop a plan for change management
Again, an ERP system is a significant investment, but the value it brings is definitely worth the time, money, and effort required to complete it. However, even a great ERP implementation can cause frustration within a business, so it’s important to find an implementation partner with a teacher’s heart. From the early quoting stages, a good implementation partner will be able to manage expectations well so that key decision-makers at your company are well-informed about the scope of the project before you take it on. Additionally, having an implementation partner helping you along the way and providing training resources for your employees will make the process go much more smoothly and can significantly improve user acceptance.
Still, it’s not all up to the implementation team. You must also work internally to ensure your management is prepared to navigate the transition well. For this reason, you may want to begin developing a plan for managing the change internally before you even select an implementation partner. Of course, some companies or individual business professionals already have a philosophy for approaching such things. But since an ERP implementation will affect every department of your business (to varying degrees), getting everyone on the same page can be helpful.
Some key points of resistance that you may encounter throughout an ERP implementation as a manufacturer are:
- Getting buy-in from key stakeholders due to the significant financial investment involved
- Getting support for continued investment in the system after go-live to ensure it grows with your business
- Establishing new processes for communicating or working with both vendors and suppliers
- User adoption among your workforce, who will need to learn new processes and skillsets
- Timeline concerns, and concerns about disruptions in production
The specifics of your plan are obviously up to your team, and they will likely continue to be shaped through the implementation, but being prepared for the scale of the change will help your implementation succeed.
5. Request quotes from implementation partners
Depending on the ERP(s) you are considering, you will have a couple of options here.
- Software providers – Often, the software providers will have an internal implementation team that can help you get the native software capabilities setup, but they will be incentivized to push licensing for additional software add-ons and discourage against customer solutions.
- Partners – Software providers often have partner networks, and you may find that the partner model is a better fit if you anticipate the need for heavy customization. Partners are often experienced in building custom solutions, which can save you money. If you choose to work with a partner, you will want to ensure they already have experience working with manufacturers.
- Non-partner firms – This can be a great fit, but when you work with a non-partner firm, it can be harder to verify their team’s expertise surrounding the ERP you selected. Additionally, these firms tend to have fewer direct connections with other experts in the space.
As with anything, you will want to identify a handful of implementation partner options and then request and compare quotes. Here are a few tips on finding a good implementation partner:
- Look for language on their site and in other communications that match your company culture and values. A good culture fit will reduce communication errors and unmet expectations on both sides throughout the implementation.
- Look for expertise, both through certifications and through the detail that is included in the quote. A more detailed quote may indicate a more thorough understanding of what it will take to complete the implementation.
- Look for training options and see if their team offers any free content. Is this a company with the heart of a teacher and a willingness to guide you along the way?
- Look into options for ongoing support/post-go-live support. Will you need to seek help somewhere else after the implementation, or can they continue supporting you when you need customizations further down the road?
- Compare hourly rates within the framework of the quote as a whole. Remember that, to some extent, you will get what you pay for.
A Note on Price and Choosing an ERP
ERP systems are expensive. They just are. But the value you will get from your ERP solution will greatly outweigh the cost if you invest in a high-quality platform and implement it well. Budgets are real limiting factors, but ERP licensing and implementation costs aren’t a place to cut corners. It will likely cost more upfront to get the ERP software that best fits your needs and to pay an experienced implementation team to set it up for your business. But, it is much cheaper than switching ERP systems or struggling to rescue a failed implementation. So, as you evaluate your ERP options, focus on finding a platform that will best meet your business needs now and in the future!
Author: Corynn Anderson, Marketing Director at Anchor Group
Anchor Group is a highly-rated Oracle NetSuite Alliance Partner from Madison, Wisconsin, committed to providing top-notch NetSuite implementation services and helping companies make the best of their NetSuite ERP system. The team’s upbeat Midwest attitude and desire to serve their clients with the heart of a teacher set them apart in the NetSuite ERP consulting industry. Anchor Group is also one of the few NetSuite Consulting firms in the US to specialize in SuiteCommerce Advanced (SCA) and was recently recognized by Oracle NetSuite as an Alliance Partner Spotlight Award Winner in the categories of Retail and SuiteCommerce.