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3 Tips for Multisite ERP Implementations

Map with Pins for multisite ERP implementations77% of companies that implement ERP deploy their new systems to two or more locations.1 Additionally, most global and multisite ERP implementations involve business process reengineering necessary to allow for standardization, improved data quality and consistency, and real-time operational reporting. For the users involved in such multisite ERP implementations, it means they need to not only learn new technology, they’ll also need to adhere to what may amount to significant policy and procedural changes in order to standardize. In other words, nearly everything will change.

Often the most difficult aspects of technology and business process changes are those involving people. A successful ERP implementation requires attention to technology and processes, but it also means planning the right interactions with enough users across the entire company. Users want visibility to changes coming their way, involvement in the decision-making process, and adequate training to help them adapt to the new system. Meeting all those needs is a daunting task requiring careful planning and follow-through. Many companies fail to engage their users and, as a result, risk a failed implementation. Following are three tips to help you with the softer, people side of your multisite ERP implementation.

1. Multisite ERP Implementations Incorporate the 3C’s: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Luke: “Do you understand anything they’re saying?”
C-3PO: “Oh, yes, Master Luke! Remember that I am fluent in over six million forms of com—”
Han Solo: “What are you telling them?”
C-3PO: “Hello, I think. I could be mistaken.”
— Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

You may be fluent in their language, but do they actually understand what you are saying? An article in ERP Focus highlights some of the issues facing multinational ERP implementations, from language and cultural barriers to issues surrounding distance.2 Even if all your sites are within the same country, you may still face barriers to effective communication. Employees may not understand the technical jargon. And, especially when it comes to policy changes required for standardization, the intent behind changes may be misunderstood. Be sure to explain in enough depth to clarify what you mean. Provide definitions and avoid excessive use of jargon.

Despite efforts to create a cohesive company culture, most organizations have “islands.” You may recognize the “islands” as those pesky locations or departments that have their own beliefs and practices, and function as if they are the centers of their own universe. Got any of those? When you interact with these locations, you are considered an outsider. These employees believe you don’t understand their particular needs. They also feel you are forcing new technology and rules on them that they now have to deal with. To counter this, take actions that help to build trust. One effective action you can take early-on is to draw out their needs and wishes in the new ERP. Doing so allows users the opportunity to become involved in the decision-making process. Companies sometimes avoid this step because it’s time-consuming, budget for customizations is limited, or decisions have already been made about ERP system functionality to match new business processes. Even so, allowing employees the opportunity to comment can go a long way toward encouraging buy-in. You may also obtain a few gems that are worth considering for future ERP enhancements. Just be sure that as you do this, you cycle back and explain reasons for not including certain requested features.

It’s important to put some thought into the communication plan. What key messages should be delivered? Who should deliver each message? How frequently should you communicate and to which groups of stakeholders? What methods of communication should be used? Certain messages are best delivered by the CEO. Sometimes it’s better to deliver information in-person. Take advantage of any regular team or location meetings where you can address larger groups. Allow opportunity for Q&A. Consider posting an online Q&A and adding new questions and answers as they arise. A list of basic questions employees want you to address early-on include:

  • What will change?
  • Why is the change necessary?
  • What is the timeline?
  • How will it impact them?
  • What will you do to help them prepare?

It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers right now. You can acknowledge their concerns and give assurance that you will respond with more information once it is available.

2. Multisite ERP Implementations Utilize Cross-Functional Teams

The most successful multisite ERP implementations establish very representative implementation teams. Here are a few tips as you put together your team:

  • Include key players with in-depth knowledge of their department and location processes. These employees will then participate on behalf of their work group.
  • Give the rest of the staff insight as to who is on the multisite ERP implementation team. This allows employees the opportunity to funnel their input through their division’s team member.
  • Many companies provide access to team meeting summaries, so that employees who are interested can stay informed on progress.

3. Multisite ERP Implementations Ensure Knowledge Transfer Through Adequate Training

I’m sure you’ve heard stories about the pain organizations experienced when they did not train their users well enough in the use of their new enterprise systems. Without adequate user training, staff will struggle to adapt to the new system. Employees will create workarounds in order to either avoid system functionality they don’t understand or because they believe the system lacks features they need. Examples of common workarounds include

  • Using email to submit requests rather than following a workflow configured in the ERP
  • Requiring departments to submit paper forms
  • Working from a printed report and then updating the system through a data import

Also be aware that the distance between locations will make it difficult to enforce adherence to ERP system processes. Perhaps one of the best ways to help employees transition and to create buy-in to new procedures is to use the “train the trainer” method with your implementation team. This works especially well when your implementation team has members from every location. By focusing on a highly-trained implementation team, your users will have on-site sources they can tap into for questions and for ongoing training. You will create enough depth of understanding to help your company through the transition.

Don’t assume that the training ends with go-live. Users can only internalize so much information at once. You may find it beneficial to periodically tap into the expertise of your ERP consultant following go-live, so that you can provide your team with additional training on specific and more advanced functionality. Access to ongoing training will help your users – and your company – get the most out of your new system.

Sources Cited

1Panorama Consulting, 2014 ERP Report
2ERP Focus, Multinational ERP – First, Organize the Organization