Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.
A visual representation of big data flowing around a computer system
iStock_Vitalii Pasichnyk_AW_digitaldata

The finance professional's guide to ERP implementation

by

When a company decides to move to an enterprise resource planning system or adopt a new one, accounting and finance professionals can often find themselves at the heart of the process. Such implementations can be difficult and time-consuming – so how can accountants ensure the project has the best chance of success?

8th Aug 2023
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

Across their organisation finance professionals often hold significant influence when implementing systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). However, with options for cross-functional collaboration often limited and an occasional lack of strategic foresight, system and process designs can end up primarily serving accounting and statutory compliance.

This narrow approach can create friction, harm scalability and reduce efficiency for other business areas and stakeholders, especially customers and suppliers.

In this first article of a two-part series ‘finance professionals and digital transformation’, the focus is on the ERP implementation process under a holistic approach:

Graphic illustrating the points above
Valuefinex

In this first section, we look at common tasks a senior finance professional may find themselves involved with when it comes to upgrading their company’s ERP system.

This system forms the backbone of daily transactions, customer invoicing and cash collection – crucial parts of business operations. But when it comes to implementing a new ERP tool, the vision must be holistic and inclusive, allowing the people doing the implementation to work with other business areas, extending beyond the traditional finance purview.

The average implementation time for such an upgrade can span anywhere from three to 18 months, with the exact time dependent on factors such as organisational structure (eg single entity or multiple subsidiaries), company size, data volume, intended usage and available resources.

However, one recurring issue that often leads to ERP implementation failure, particularly in ensuring its suitability for all business areas and operations, is poor communication. Often, this is due to a culture of limited cross-collaboration between finance and accounting professionals and those in frontline business. This is perhaps understandably rooted in the statutory and reporting obligations that form the backbone of finance and accounting professionals’ work, and its lack of application to the rest of the business.

The planning phase

In planning and executing an ERP implementation project, it's important to understand the key success factors. These are covered in many studies, most notably in the article: Selection and critical success factors in successful ERP implementation. Based on these insights, the following list presents 12 critical factors for a successful ERP rollout:

The 12 critical factors for a successful ERP rollout
Valuefinex

Embarking on this journey requires the first step to be taken on a collaborative path. The finance lead must go beyond evaluating the familiar accounting and invoicing software and engage with other business areas such as sales, marketing and product to gain a comprehensive understanding of the conversion and contract closing process, from lead to customer.

It's crucial to identify the existing needs and uncover opportunities for improvements and potential automation. All these findings will help spread efficiency across all business areas through a new ERP implementation.

However, it's worth noting that you may not be tasked with replacing the CRM and CMS systems, which are often under sales and marketing's ownership. These two systems typically operate independently, but in many companies, they're integral modules of the ERP system.

Not everyone in finance has the experience of setting up and implementing an entire system or ERP. That's where you can count on expert help by outsourcing this vital job.

It is key that you first list your requirements for the system, starting with your accounting and statutory needs. This checklist for primary users, accounting, payroll and finance managers will ensure that there are no critical gaps in their daily roles and prove you are solving problems and inefficiencies caused by the current old systems.

By this stage, you should have already undertaken a thorough process to understand how each business area utilises information systems, the demands of different business areas, and how a new system could potentially fulfil those demands while offering additional benefits.

Cross-collaboration

Once general needs and requirements have been identified, you should expand your consideration into specific requirements, for example, suitability for sales process, which directly correlates with the post-contract customer journey managed by your sales team. It's important to provide feedback based on your initial discussions with the sales team members and acknowledge any changes or impacts that the new system might introduce to their processes.

The same approach should be adopted for other areas. While it may seem insignificant, let's consider the perspective of a company operating in the software as a service (SaaS) sector. Your customers or subscribers may use features that are billable in addition to the standard package. This requires you to collaborate closely with the product team or chief technology officer (CTO) to understand how these usage variables will be fed into your ERP for the invoicing and collection process. A requirement you may need to suggest to the ERP vendor's consultant could be that your ERP might need an API for integrating with third-party platforms or systems, or the capability to set up CSV import templates for data interchange.

Product demos

At this point, you often start to request demo sessions from various vendors in the market. It's important to communicate your list of needs in advance, allowing vendors to tailor their demos to your specific requirements. This step is crucial, as without the preceding steps, you may find yourself watching a demo focused on a generic use case.

By its very nature, the ERP system imposes its own logic on the company's processes – this highlights how important it is to carefully pick the right software package.

Armed with your list of requirements organised in a simple spreadsheet or checklist, you're now ready to start engaging with ERP vendors and participating in demos. During each demo, keep track of which requirements are met by the specific ERP, and which ones are not.

Upon completion of the demo rounds, you'll possess a comprehensive list of suitability criteria for each ERP. This allows for an objective, numerical evaluation based on the number of met requirements, as well as the potential benefits of additional features discovered during the demos that could benefit company operations and align with future strategy.

You should be prepared to take ownership of the selection process, although the ultimate choice of the system will not be solely yours, but a collective management decision after your diligent effort in presenting all the viable options.

In my past experience, I have used the SFA (Suitability, Feasibility, Acceptability) methodology to evaluate potential strategic decisions, particularly in the realm of ERP system selection and implementation, ensuring that the chosen strategic option is not only aligned with the organization's goals but is also likely to be accepted by stakeholders. This project document should be open for review and commentary from the CEO, board and investors. While investors may not frequently participate in this decision, they should at least be informed about the new investment the company is undertaking and its key benefits.

Achieving the perfect harmony

Don't spring a surprise on your team with a sudden start of an ERP system that you've been planning in private within your own department. This is an important lesson I learnt in the early phase of my career. The launch of a new system will affect the work of all employees sooner or later. So, it's very important for them to understand and agree with it for the change to happen smoothly and effectively.

Also, prioritise the essential prerequisites, including transaction recordings and other business area needs as vital requirements. Remember, it's not feasible to tackle everything at once.

The second crucial aspect is automated reporting and analytics via business intelligence – this will be easier to transition into if the first part is executed properly. Power BI, for example, can profoundly transform and modernise the way you translate your business transactions and customer data into essential metrics and analytical insights for data-driven decision-making.

In my role as Business Finance Partner at Valuefinex, where we specialise in offering CFO Services, I have helped multiple companies enhance their financial operations and processes. This allows them to gain a higher level of comfort with their less-than-perfect systems by using bespoke Power BI modelling. For a more in-depth understanding of this subject, I encourage you to read the comprehensive whitepaper I recently wrote Power BI for Finance Professionals.

In the second part of this series, we will tackle the importance of mapping properly your items during the implementation process and how upon its roll-out you can revolutionise the way heads of finance, executives from other business areas, CEOs and investors will benefit from a Business Intelligence layer on top. The beauty of this approach is that it's possible to do this without extra implementation hassles.

The comments for this article have been switched off