We work with many companies that are either about to embark on or are in the midst of their ERP implementations. Early in their software selection process, these companies are usually filled with optimism about the possibilities that a new ERP system will bring them. Improved business processes, closer interaction with customers, and faster order fulfillment times are just a few of the things that they expect to see from their new ERP systems.

However, something changes once they hear the starting gun and start the actual ERP implementation. People have a tendency to move from wild-eyed optimism to modes of fear, panic, and defensiveness once the race begins. Instead of focusing implementation activities on maximizing ERP benefits realization, project teams start focusing more on making sure they don’t screw up. They are much more concerned with making sure the project goes live on time and on budget without creating too much of a disruption to the business. Forget about all the other ERP business benefits that are identified during the software selection process.

This change in focus and priorities can be attributed to three things. First of all, many companies don’t realize the complexities that a new system brings. During the sales cycle during the ERP software selection process, software vendors will try to convince you that the implementation is a quick and easy process. They are right in one way: the technology is indeed easy. However, getting the business to adapt to the changes are another story, which is why organizational change management is so important to the implementation process.

Second of all, most of today’s ERP software is so flexible that it almost creates too many options for companies. The question isn’t whether new enterprise software will drive changes to business, but the question is how? If a system has three main options for filling an order in the warehouse, which one are you going to implement? Decisions like these, which can easily amount to hundreds in an implementation for a mid-size company, can take a great deal of time, cause delays, and demoralize project leaders. So it’s no wonder they start to forget about business benefits and instead just get the project done.

So what can companies do? First, remember that ERP is somewhat of a triathlon: it begins with software selection, continues with implementation, then finishes with benefits realization. The finish line isn’t after that second stage of the race (which many companies tend to think), but it continues to a third phase of improvement and benefits realization.

Second, don’t forget to track business benefits before, during, and after implementation. It’s understandable that an implementation has a lot of moving parts and involves a great deal of work, but one of the biggest mistakes one can make is to neglect business benefits. This not only helps drive design decisions and rationalize customization requests, but it also helps ensure that the business realizes those benefits after go-live.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s important to know that it’s a triathlon you’re training for, not a half marathon or some other easy sport. Implementation will probably take longer, cost more, and be more complex than you expect. However, this is no reason to limp to the finish line. You’ll need to finish the race and finish strong if you are going to be any better off after ERP than you were before. The way to avoid this problem is to thoroughly and realistically prepare an ERP implementation plan shortly after completing your ERP software evaluation and selection process.

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