10 headaches of dealing with your ERP (and how to avoid them)

—Dynamics AX and Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations—

You thought that launching and using an ERP meant putting an end to your problems. But, for some reason, it has become yet another headache… with no clear painkiller. Implementing a system that is the heart and brain of your business means changing the way you do things, overcoming the resistance of your own staff and training them, a journey that can feel like flying an airplane during a storm: you’re anxious, not really sure where you are headed and wondering whether you should fly back home. And this is true not only when you’re starting out: once the system is underway, there are new issues to face.

Here we review some of the most common challenges of dealing with an ERP and, most importantly, practical ideas to overcome them so that this powerful tool takes you further, faster and with less turbulence.

PROBLEM #1

I’m not an important client for my partner

What does it mean?

It’s one of the most common challenges of launching an ERP, and you probably know what we are talking about. Your partner is a large company with far too many clients, and you feel that you are just another client: the service is not personalized, you don’t get proactive advice, and asking for quotations for new functions is the beginning of a path that leads nowhere.

Often large partners have protocols to deal with generic situations, but they don’t adapt to your business’ needs. In other words, the only thing they seem to be interested in is selling the license and not providing a great service. Dynamics 365 is the center of your company’s operation and your partner should be aligned with that centrality.

We’ve noticed that because of previous bad experiences, some companies even prefer to work on their own. But they soon discover that experts are always needed, and so they find themselves without good alternatives.

What you can do…

The good news: having worked with a partner doesn’t mean you have to stay married till death do you part.

There are two options. The first one is simply to replace your partner (and we’ve had successful experiences in this front). But if you prefer a more gradual approach, your company can start by hiring complementary services to work on specific issues.

That’s the experience we had with one of our clients, Ricoh. For many years, the company implemented the ERP in its Latin American companies with one of the main regional partners. But they weren’t getting the personalized service they expected, and they felt frustrated. 

Initially, they hired us to implement the system locally in a country. But our relationship grew stronger, which led us to become their regional strategic partner. We had to develop a transition strategy together, coordinate efforts, and plan, a process that lasted about four or five months and taught us a lot about these types of transitions. The result: we’ve been their strategic partner for almost two years now, and the client feels much more cared for than before.

That transfer of partnership can be done in different ways, depending on the needs of your company. The important thing is that it’s prepared meticulously, so that the process works as transparently and smoothly as possible for your business.

PROBLEM #2

My staff isn’t sufficiently trained

What does it mean?

Implementing an ERP means changing the way you work and preparing your human resources for that revolution is vital. But once the system is up and running, it’s difficult for users to be sufficiently trained, and so the problems begin, and —there’s no escape— the errors.

It’s a fact: certain training problems are common at the beginning. Some operations are infrequent; your staff rotates and suddenly you find the person you were relying on decides to leave and you have new human resources to train. There are also tasks that aren’t critical, and your team never really learns them thoroughly or uses them, so the day they are needed, nobody knows how to do them. The fact that these operations aren’t frequent doesn’t make them less important: on the contrary, they are key for the process to work.

What you can do…

Developing a training plan is as important as choosing the right system: it should be your priority. It’s not a waste of money because in the long run, frugality results in higher maintenance costs due mainly to users’ errors, and more hours of technical support.

That training doesn’t have to be theoretical only: practice makes perfect, and it’s also the key to launching an ERP. One tool that always works is incentive evaluations, which is also a way to motivate the team. For example, you can ask your staff to place 10 complete sales orders of each type, covering all the different cases, so that they don’t run into surprises the day they have to do it for real. And remember to monitor the results.

Another tip: involve your Human Resources team in the project and later too. ERP training is not a timely intervention; it should be part of the company’s training plans and should have the formality it deserves.

We recommend you choose a partner that considers training an essential part of the project. A company that can offer such training, ideally custom-made. At Dynamo, for instance, we design ad hoc training, either face-to-face, remote or a combination of both. We’ve also built packages in specific areas. Our staff is trained to train and has taught thousands of hours in different projects and to a wide range of clients. Training includes practical exercises. We use Task Guides in Dynamics 365 to record process’s steps, leaving the instructions accessible at all times so that your staff can replicate the process when you need it. If you feel you need to deepen the training in any area or part of the team, don’t hesitate to ask for a proposal.

PROBLEM #3

I must adapt to the system, but the system is not adapting to my business

What does it mean?

We talked about all the efforts a company must make to adapt to an ERP. But what happens the other way around? Shouldn’t the ERP also adapt to your company? Often clients meet with consultants who, for sure, know a lot about the software… but that’s not enough for a successful implementation: you also have to know about the business.

The needs, processes and goals will not be the same for a laboratory, a high-tech company or a clothing factory. And more often than not you face situations in which the ERP is not optimally implemented for the company, where consultants end up forcing processes that aren’t natural for the users and don’t reflect the actual day-to-day operations.

What you can do…

You can demand that your partner works with consultants who are trained in the different business areas and aren’t just technical wizards.

At Dynamo, for instance, we have accountants, industrial engineers, chemical engineers, business administration professionals and others, who have specialized in the implementation of Dynamics 365. That’s why consultants and clients see eye to eye: we understand their needs and design the processes that the business actually demands.

We’ve seen it many times during implementation projects: customers are surprised when they meet consultants who not only know about the ERP but are also trained in the processes they’re working on. For example, a financial manager was more than glad to meet a consultant who was an accountant, specialized in ERP. And we had similar experiences with production or logistics managers who met with experts who were also an industrial or a chemical engineer, and who had worked in similar companies.

When both parties speak the same language, they can look for solutions that work and be more open to suggestions and recommendations.

PROBLEM #4

The system doesn’t deliver the information I need

What does it mean?

Sales, finances, stocks, customer compliance … each business needs a different type of information. A well-designed system should give you quality and reliable reports, but right now you are getting inaccurate data and spending a lot of time to get it.

Surely, the project focused much more on the operational or transactional part and you haven’t spent enough time during the implementation to analyze the information that your company needs for your daily operations and high-level decision making.

What you can do…

Information shouldn’t be the icing on the cake, but rather, one of the essential ingredients of the ERP.

So, to begin with, if you are on time, including the availability of that information at the onset of the project is essential and must be contemplated, even if that implies investing more effort and money at this stage.

The good news is that even if the system has been up and running for years, you can still carry out an information-oriented project to improve your current situation.

At Dynamo we have a lot of experience tailoring the availability of information to the needs of managers in different areas: financial reports, custom dashboards, you name it. You can generate panels and transfer them to mobile devices to have that information at your fingertips.

We also offer the optimization of the Dynamics 365 F&O workspaces: in a nutshell, it means deciding what each person needs to see when entering the system, something that optimizes time and eases day-to-day work.

PROBLEM #5

Some developments didn’t integrate well in the system

What does it mean?

Nothing is more frustrating than taking a step forward and ending up two steps back. One of the most common headaches when working with any system is to ensure that updates and new developments are transparently incorporated into your system, so that they don’t affect —and in any case, they improve— your daily work.

But you notice that developments in the system don’t work properly, which can cause from minor problems to major headaches, even produce false information.

Or maybe, certain updates in the code of Dynamics itself alters the operation of the system, exposing inconsistencies that you might not have noticed before.

What you can do…

They say it is better to be safe than sorry, and here’s a good example. ERP is like a machine that generates millions of transactions, and it’s not always easy to detect inconsistencies in the information. If you do find them, they become a major challenge to deal with.

There’s no magic pill to solve this, but here are some preventive suggestions:

  • first, carefully define whether a particular development is necessary: ​​part of the good practices of managing your ERP is to minimize such changes. And if you conclude that it needs to be done, make sure it doesn’t affect any of the system’s core processes.
  • second, the role of the architect is key: the team in charge of carrying out a development must be experienced. If you assign it to a junior developer, he or she will be very likely to overlook details that you’ll later pay dearly.
  • third, in the dreaded event of a failure in a development or an update, you must correct it as soon as possible: the hardest thing is to rectify the information backwards and arrive at a new starting point from which you can generate accurate data.
  • fourth, always keep the system updated. Remember that Microsoft periodically releases updates with improvements and fixes that help the stability and evolution of your system.

It’s worth repeating: prevention, prevention, prevention. Although it may seem more expensive, it will eventually be a more straightforward path to success. 

PROBLEM #6

My staff don’t follow the designed processes and begin to improvise

What does it mean?

Imagine a company that sells goods. Every now and then, a customer may return a product. How to register that in the inventory? Suppose the company decides it will be in a certain account and at the original cost. Over time, all those definitions that were agreed and validated are forgotten, and suddenly the staff is entering those returned products at the current sales value and not the original, in a different account, all without having defined that there should be a change at all. It will be, in the long run, a major problem.

Now, imagine all the processes in your own company. What would happen if new users not properly trained, begin to improvise?

When implementing an ERP system, the team of consultants and the key users design the new processes and how they will be supported by the system, they generate the design documents and procedures, and a long list of definitions are discussed and agreed.

But as time goes by, and once everything is underway, many of those agreements about how and why things should be done, seem to fade away. Maybe the users didn’t learn a process well, or the key person switched to another area within the company and that knowledge was simply lost. Bottom line: the system is no longer used as planned. In the long run, this will generate errors. And even if that doesn’t happen, it can prevent you from taking full advantage of the system’s potential.

What you can do…

Again, prevention is key. You can carefully document the processes you defined at the beginning: the wiser those decisions are and the clearer and more accessible the instructions, the better.

The second step is to train all your new human resources. If there’s a change in key (or operational) personnel, make sure protocols remain: we advise you to carry out a training session whenever there’s a transition in top positions to make sure the newcomer has all the information he or she needs, and that something so important isn’t randomly delivered.

Not only that: reviewing the use of the system is always a good idea. You may feel your own team needs that training regularly, and providing this training is a way to prevent errors —and true migraines— in the future.

And there are other ways to avoid user improvisation: consider, for example, introducing improvements that control and restrict user options in the system. You can automatize certain operations and help your staff be more efficient. Don’t hesitate: these investments will get you your money’s worth with fewer hours of technical support to correct mistakes, and, most importantly, with more productivity of your human resources.

PROBLEM #7

I have a bad communication with my partner

What does it mean?

In any aspect of life, good communication is the first step for a relationship to work. And this definitely applies to the life of your ERP, which is the brain and heart of your entire business.

But you feel alone in this process, as if your partner dropped the system at your front door and then refused to move in. During the implementation, your partner disappears for weeks and you don’t know what’s happening. You get invoices for hours of work that you have no idea how they were applied. They produce never-ending documents that are virtually impossible to process. And once the system is running, the problems persist: you may ask for a quotation to incorporate a new module or make an improvement to the system, but you get no answers, and you have no idea when you will.

All this may generate a lot of anxiety: implementing an ERP is a gigantic investment for your business and you want to understand how that process is working, what the steps are, what the flight plan is.

What you can do…

Here the ball is in your partner’s court.

Making this process work out without hiccups requires communication skills, adaptability and teamwork, the so-called “soft skills.” It’s not enough for an engineer to write a protocol: it’s important that the consultants are there for you, answer your questions, know how to negotiate with the key users, listen to you and have empathy.

After learning about the experiences that several of our clients had with other partners, at Dynamo we began working on this issue with our own consultants, training them in soft skills, identifying gaps and solving them.

End Clothing, a company in the United Kingdom, had a bad experience which led them to make a risky decision: implement the ERP without a partner, with all the challenges that this implies. At some point, they asked us for advice services, and after a year the relationship intensified, growing into an implementation consultancy, a process that was largely possible because of good communication.

In recent years, we’ve sought practical ways to improve the relationship with our customers. For example, we use a collaboration system, Microsoft SharePoint, to manage all the official documents of the project with approval dates and assigned staff: what’s not there, doesn’t count. It’s an online tool, so companies can access it at any time and monitor the entire progress of the project. In addition, as of last year we also work with Microsoft Teams and DevOps to boost teamwork. 

Another suggestion to improve communication: set clear deadlines and communicate any changes in them. Ultimately, managing expectations will save both parties a lot of anxiety: if you ask for a quotation, you should know when you’ll receive it; if a new process needs approval, the deadlines should be in black and white; if you get invoices, you should know what those hours were destined to. And just as it is important for your partner to undertake its commitments, your company should also do its part, for example, validating documents and approving protocols on time.

And one last key strategy: partner and client must set up a plan together where each step of the way is clearly laid out, including when, who and how. The steps have to be clear beforehand, to avoid that mid-way through implementation, you get the feeling that your company has embarked on an unknown journey. As a new stage approaches, you should know in detail what it will entail, so that you can organize your staff and be prepared.

PROBLEM #8

My partner swamps me with documents hard to process

What does it mean?

We talked about the importance of carefully documenting. But what happens when this strategy backfires? Many companies complain that their partners produce gigantic documents and manuals that take too long to elaborate, are expensive to write and then difficult to read, process and validate. In other words, they dedicate a monumental amount of time and money only to generate a new problem.

What you can do…

Dynamo’s strategy is to deliver these documents in instalments, each of them concise and focusing on a particular aspect. That way we help make the information easy to find and process. In addition, we produce them when we feel it’s strictly necessary, avoiding excess paperwork.

By generating the right amount of information, we save our clients hours of work and effort reading and approving too many documents.

In addition, the documents are accessible to your company in our collaboration platforms, so you can always consult them, and they can also be incorporated into your own business tools.

PROBLEM #9

I am not using the system to its full potential

What does it mean?

The ERP is a powerful tool and you may not be harnessing its full potential. Why’s that? Perhaps something you’ve decided to implement is not actually used, and in such case it’s possible that poor training is to blame. Or you know there’s a functionality that may be useful, but it was beyond the scope of the project. Or, finally, a process never got underway because you simply weren’t aware of that possibility. The key is to investigate the causes and find which barriers can be lifted.

What you can do…

Your ERP is not carved in stone: it’s a tool that you must continue to adapt as your business evolves. So, you’re always in time to review the uses you’re giving the system, how it’s being implemented. You may conclude that you need to include other modules, or that something you already planned only requires a boost to your human resources to get it back on track. At Dynamo we have done this type of intervention many times: we can make quotations for projects as large or small as you need, and we have flexible models to walk you through the process and take your ERP to its fullest potential. We can also provide audits to evaluate how the system is being used.

PROBLEM #10

The cost is too high for the service I receive

What does it mean?

Implementing an ERP is an important investment for your company, and watching time go by and the bills arrive without a clear idea about what’s happening can fill you with anxiety.

There are partners that charge an hourly rate, but it’s never clear how that time is used. Sometimes they send junior consultants —at a cost that bears no relationship to their knowledge— when what you need is expertise.

And despite your discomfort, you feel you must adapt to the ways of your partner because that’s how things work.

What you can do…

The good news is that you don’t have to accept something that’s not working for you. A solution that we have implemented at Dynamo is, in certain circumstances, to invoice based on results rather than hours. Sometimes it’ll take longer, sometimes we’ll be pretty fast, the point is to achieve certain goals. This way, your company is not exposed to an uncontrolled increase in costs if something happens to be more complex than anticipated. We feel it’s a friendlier way to work, and it allows to share the risks between partner and company —and not put those risks squarely on your shoulders—. We identify the cases in which this form of quotation is more convenient, and we propose it.

Another solution we’re implementing in certain cases is invoicing at reduced price the extra cost associated to unforeseen difficulties.

In addition, we are transparent in the quotation of hours, so that our clients know exactly what we’re spending time on, and how we are supporting them.

Conclusions

We know that implementing and dealing with an ERP is a complicated process, and that the challenges don’t end once the system is launched. But acknowledging those difficulties doesn’t mean that you must adapt to ways that don’t work for you and your business. And the good news is that there are ways to fight many of these headaches —not with magic pills, but with good advice—. Here we review some of the most important conclusions:

1. First, preventing those migraines is simpler, more efficient and cheaper than healing them afterwards. So, consider all the potential challenges you can face with your ERP and take the necessary steps beforehand.

2. If it’s too late to prevent, you’re still on time to solve many of those problems. Starting off with a partner doesn’t mean that you are tied for life, so if you’re not happy, you can look for other companies that offer different solutions, whether specific or a whole new partnership.

3. Good training is not a waste of time and money: on the contrary, it’s possibly the best investment you can make when implementing the system and also once it’s underway. It’ll help you avoid many mistakes and allow you to reach the full potential of this tool that’s so central to your business.

4. Be practical: document all processes but don’t generate unnecessary paperwork; be realistic when assigning times and deadlines, and also be clear when communicating any delay; talk with your partner about the rates and how to render working hours, so you don’t face surprises when it’s too late.

And if you feel that the process isn’t running smoothly, speak up. Consider reaching out to another partner to evaluate the areas in which you don’t feel satisfied and find solutions. 

Instead of becoming a headache, the ERP should help you avoid those pains that running any business can cause. Don’t expect magic pills, but make good decisions, and you’ll see how you’ll reach your destination, ideally, while enjoying the flight.

Posted in

dynamoglobal