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Sometimes I think the ERP software market is a sham. After over 15 years consulting in the industry, I still see far too many overzealous system integrators and VARs hell bent on mismanaging customer expectations in order to close a sale. Worse yet, most that I run to in the industry fail to recognize perhaps the most important fact of ERP implementations: they have very little to do with the software itself. Sure, a good software solution is a prerequisite to a successful ERP transformation, but the reality is the business and organizational issues are hands down the most important things to adequately address when deploying successful ERP systems. Key among those business and organizational issues is user adoption.

Here’s another fun little fact: most VARs, system integrators and their customers know very little about user adoption. It’s not nearly as simple as industry consultants typically suggest, and it’s certainly more complex and risky than most customers expect. While most tend to focus on canned training, user adoption is depending on a variety of prerequisites, with user training being just one relatively minor part of the equation. Unfortunately for the misinformed, failing at user adoption will absolutely lead to ERP failure, no matter how well the software is “implemented” in the traditional one-dimensional sense.

So how can one ensure that their SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, or Tier II ERP implementation be successful from a user adoption perspective? Here are three keys to ensuring successful user adoption:

1. Ensure clearly defined business processes. I still get mildly nauseous when I hear system integrators and VARs suggest that their software or technical consulting teams can define business processes for their customers. This statement is complete garbage and is a big reason why so many companies fail miserably in their ERP implementations (over 70-percent, according to our independent research). Here is the simple fact: ERP software defines transactions, and transactions mean nothing without bigger-picture end-to-end business processes. When most software vendors talk about a business blueprint or system design, they are typically referring to designing transactions in the system. Imagine a giant puzzle; the software vendor provides you with the 1,000s of pieces of the puzzle (the transactional blueprint), but they do not put it together for you (the true business blueprint). Without this critical activity and deliverable in a project, your people will not truly understand the new business processes, what is expected of them, or how to tie together all those pieces of the puzzle in a way that makes your business more efficient and effective. A proper business blueprint is something that will take months to complete, especially if you want to consider re-engineering your business processes before implementing the software, which we always recommend to our clients.

2. Define clear roles and responsibilities. Once the business processes and supporting workflow transactions are defined, you still need to define employee roles and responsibilities in the new processes and systems. Just because they have been trained to create a work order or demand forecast doesn’t necessarily mean that employees understand their roles and place in the overall process. Most ERP transformations involve significant changes to people’s job roles, so it is important that you facilitate a process and structure for defining, documenting, approving, and rolling out those job roles and changes. Your HR department, management team, unions, and other key stakeholders will need to be involved in this potentially time consuming process. Again, these are things that your ERP vendor or system integrator is not in a position or qualified to provide.

3. User adoption doesn’t stop at go live. Most ERP project teams are relieved when they cross the finish line of a go-live. Many months or years have been spent getting the project off the ground, so the last thing anyone wants to do is talk about how to extend the project or make it take longer than it needs to. But the reality is that most user adoption issues are identified after go-live, and most of the benefits realization framework doesn’t kick in until well after go-live, so defining go-live as the project finish line is a common misguided assumption.  An effective user adoption and organizational change management framework will ensure that your people are not only prepared to adopt the system at the time of go-live, but also ensure that they continue to improve their individual and team performance in the weeks and months after go-live. This incremental investment in time and money after go-live has returns that exceed the investment multiple times over, but most organizations fail to recognize this need.

The good news is that these three factors are included in any effective organizational change management plan, including the methodology and tools we use at Panorama Consulting. We have a very well-defined and structured way of maximizing user adoption throughout the ERP implementation and after go-live, and the corresponding results are often the difference between implementation success and failure.

For example, we just started working with a manufacturing client that is having user adoption problems with their Epicor Vantage rollout, so we are helping them assess how to optimize acceptance and use of the system. Some of the client’s departments had completely abandoned the software and reverted back to their legacy processes and the implementation was at risk of completely failing. Without our help, this particular client was staring down the possibility of having spent significant amounts of time and money in software licenses and technical implementation services that resulted in expensive shelf-ware that is failing to deliver any business value whatsoever.

Learn more about our organizational change management services to understand how Panorama can help you ensure that your employees accept and embrace your new ERP system in a way that not only mitigates the risk of failure, but ensures that your implementation delivers real business value to your organization. Whether you are implementing SAP, Oracle eBusiness Suite, Microsoft Dynamics, or a Tier II ERP system, our methods, tools, and framework will help make your project more successful.

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