Upgrading shouldn’t be a stress-inducing word. In fact, it should be the opposite: upgrading is a positive, isn’t it? Ostensibly you’re getting more features, functionality and benefits.

But in the case of ERP upgrades, especially with major ERP software such as JD Edwards and Oracle E-Business Suite, upgrading can be a harrowing process and one that IT managers and business users both eschew. In their minds, the positives of an upgrade don’t necessarily outweigh the negatives of cost overruns, error-prone data migrations and the potential disarray of reporting capabilities and overall usability in the end.

The pain points of upgrading an ERP system are often felt in four main areas: customizations, data migration, data integrity and user adoption. In this post we’ll explore ways to mitigate those pain points and make ERP upgrades a more painless and predictable event, rather than a headache.

Let’s take the first (and often the most time-consuming) pain point: customizations. We’re often told that converting carefully crafted customized reports represents one of the biggest risks and costs of an upgrade. Although many experts recommend against customizing an ERP environment, it’s often unavoidable due to management needs and the business’ specialty, and over time, it’s practically impossible not to tinker with standard layouts.

An upgrade can erase all of that customization, which is a significant blow to the business users who’ve come to rely on their customized reports, and adds risk and complication to IT and the upgrade project. However, there are tools and techniques – such as Insight from InsightSoftware.com and Spreadsheet Server from Global Software, Inc. – that can deliver custom reports in the new system without the need for customization. Custom reports can be created in a fraction of the time with no developer resources, dramatically reducing the burden on IT personnel. The risk, time and cost of converting custom reports are nearly eliminated.

The second major pain point of upgrading is migrating production data, and when coupled with the third pain point, data integrity, IT managers in the midst of an upgrade may just throw up their hands in frustration. Just getting the production data to a point where it’s clean enough to upgrade can be challenging. Frankly, we see too many companies trying to migrate spotty data that is rife with sins of the past. This is no way to upgrade.

A successful upgrade begins with clean production data. But before you think I’m advocating a year-long manual process of cleaning up the data, I want to assure you there are tools available to help you through this process. Modern software – such as Insight from InsightSoftware.com and Crystal Reports from SAP – helps IT managers quickly identify integrity problems, master data errors and other sloppiness within the original data, so it can be easily mopped up and organized, just in time for the migration.

Once the production data is verified, companies can begin the process of converting data into the new, upgraded environment. While the actual conversion seems simple enough, the trick for the IT team is to ensure that all the data is transferred without glitches.  After all, migrations can be error-prone, with irregular results. The old-fashioned way of validating data is to develop throw-away reports, use SQL dumps, create V-Lookups in Excel, and conduct spot-checks across the original production data vs. the migrated data. While these techniques can help to detect major errors, they are error-prone, time-consuming and often miss issues that aren’t found until after go-live.

The better way to assess the data’s validity is to conduct true side-by-side comparisons – a standard ‘before and after,’ using a software tool that allows users to quickly spot issues in the converted data throughout the project. With modern technology, we can now run summarized exception reports that direct the user only to problem areas in the data.

We recommend a process of checking the production – and the migration – data early and often. After all, you’re only as good as your last bit of converted data or business users input. Tools that highlight exceptions with side-by-side comparisons allow you to more thoroughly check data migrations as they occur.

So now that you’ve checked the production data, migrated it accurately, easily replaced your customized reports . . . upgrading will be a success, right? Not so fast.

We all know the last trick is to get the business users to actually use the new system and its upgraded features. Upgrades can mean new interfaces, new functionality and new ways of looking at data. This is where we, the ERP professionals who spend our lives managing systems, need to get the business users more involved in the data validation and upgrade process.  By using modern tools, which make rapid data validation simple, end-users are able to work as point resources in the validation process.

I know this approach may be anathema to what IT professionals think. After all, shouldn’t IT staff be doing our magic behind the scenes, only revealing the new system to the users once it’s 100-percent validated and perfect? Not in the case of ERP upgrades, and here’s why: IT managers and ERP system managers don’t own the data. Nope. The business users do. These data owners include the HR manager who inputs employment records, the sales manager updating sales order status and the accountants posting and reviewing journal entries. It’s their job to manage their data. Excluding them from the upgrade process will ultimately foster frustration and impede adoption by the business.

Instead, organizations need to directly engage the business users during the upgrade process. Have them be responsible for the ongoing checks of the data to ensure its clarity. Ensure they are part of the data validation process once it’s been migrated. And most importantly, discuss with them their needs, their concerns and their hesitations before you unveil a changed system and walk away.

ERP upgrades are scary, I’ll admit that. We’ve seen enough botched upgrades to know that a major ERP change affects all areas of the business, from users to IT resources to strategic business decisions. But with the right tools, and the right IT-to-business engagement, it is possible to conduct a seamless ERP upgrade that becomes a win-win for both IT and the business.

Note: The inclusion of guest posts on the Panorama website does not imply endorsement of any specific product or service. Panorama is, and always will remain, completely independent and vendor-neutral. If you are interested in guest blogging opportunities, click to read more about our submission guidelines.

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