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Last week, I had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker on the final day of the Manufacturing ERP Experience conference in Chicago. The conference, which was hosted by MetalForming Magazine, was attended by just under 100 executives in the manufacturing industry. It was a good size group — a relatively large turnout for a first time conference, but small enough for attendees to have a chance to interact one-on-one with the speakers and ERP vendors involved with the event.

In my presentation, I gave a summary of the concepts and themes covered in our three-day ERP Boot Camp, the next of which will be in Denver September 21-23. It is difficult to condense three days of content into 45 minutes, but it appeared to be enough to stimulate some thought and discussion on how the executives in attendance can make their ERP selection and implementation initiatives more successful. The presentation covered ten key things executives should know before embarking on an ERP initiative, including topics such as the appropriate balance of business vs. technology, the use of organizational change management, and the role of business process re-engineering in effective ERP projects.

In addition to providing a keynote presentation, I was also able to take part in a panel discussion, which is one of the better ones that I have participated in. Approximately 80- to 90-percent of the attendees are about to embark on their journeys of selecting and implementing a new ERP system, so they had excellent and thoughtful questions that stimulated a great deal of discussion with myself and the other panelists.  It is clear from the questions asked that this group was well-informed and serious about making their ERP initiatives successful, which is always nice to see.

Below are a few of the interesting and sometimes controversial discussion points that came up during the panel discussion:

  • The overall health of the ERP market. One participant asked about the overall health of ERP vendors and the ERP software industry in general. Although software vendors have been as affected as everyone else by a poor economy, the market is still healthy. There is a great deal of pent-up demand for IT software and services, which is validated by recent metrics on IT spending released by various sources over the last few quarters and is contributing to industry growth.  In addition, innovative solutions such as SaaS and cloud deployment options are fueling renewed industry in ERP software, and high-growth small- to mid-size companies are investing heavily in ERP systems to provide a foundation for their continued growth.
  • SaaS vs. on-premise ERP. Software as a service (SaaS) ERP systems and cloud computing are talking points in most situations where I meet with CIOs, COOs, or CFOs. There is a great deal of interest and uncertainty related to this trend, which was reflected in many of the questions we received. During our panel discussion, we discussed how ERP vendors and cloud providers will typically provide better security than any internal IT department is able to, as well as the fact that the biggest security risks typically lie within the company.  One other topic we discussed was contract clauses – how to protect oneself if your SaaS vendor goes out of business, as well as understanding some of the escalation clauses in most SaaS software contracts.
  • Measuring business benefits and ROI. One of the more lively and controversial portions of the discussion centered on the role and value of measuring business benefits as part of an ERP initiative. One panelist, who is from a company that recently implemented ERP software, suggested that measuring benefits is not important since new enterprise software will inevitably bring improvements to a business, so it’s a waste of time to measure them. I, along with a few other panelists, strongly disagreed, suggesting that if you don’t measure the business benefits, you won’t achieve them. In addition, even if you know you’re going to realize business benefits regardless of whether or not you measure them, you’re not going to truly maximize those benefits unless you closely track, monitor and follow-up with required corrective action.

Overall, it was a good conference with good ideas and best practices to make manufacturing ERP software initiatives more successful. The questions and answers covered in the session reiterated some of the advice we commonly provide our clients. If you’d like to hear more, register for our ERP Boot Camp. Both time and space are running out so be sure to reserve your spot today.