Up to 75% of all ERP rollouts fail. It’s a notorious stat attributed to analyst firm Gartner that haunts implementation teams. Many of these ERP rollouts fail to go live, others are over budget, and every single one took longer to implement than planned. These breakdowns can happen at any point in the process. Too often, the team wasn’t set up for success from the beginning. Some break down with shuttering force during implementation, and others manage to launch but fail to meet expectations.
It’s critical to understand where these points of vulnerability exist. Ideally, you want to plan around them before the project starts, but that doesn’t always happen. ERP providers expect from their customer teams a certain level of foundational knowledge of the platform, how it should be implemented, and precisely how the rollout will address what it’s meant to address. Conversely, customer teams often expect ERP providers to assist with implementation at a level they frankly aren’t set up to provide.
The result: Questions go unanswered, the timeline begins to suffer, and customer teams are left with a roadmap they’re unsure how to follow.
So, what can be done to rescue an ERP rollout that’s already gone sideways? You need an intermediary. Someone who has experience implementing ERP rollouts and successfully communicating with both the ERP and customer teams.
When a Rollout Stalls
As David Ow—a seasoned business operations, product delivery, and solutions implementation executive —joined Just Global as its head of operations, the company was immersed in an initiative to launch Oracle® NetSuite® and its OpenAir PSA. With a workforce distributed across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, Just Global—an independent, B2B-focused integrated marketing agency—works to provide the world’s leading global companies with a frictionless service experience that creates richer connections between brands and their customers. The rollout was a critical step in further empowering this mission.
But with just one month left before the intended launch date, it became readily apparent to Ow that the rollout was behind schedule. He could see a lack of alignment between Just Global and the ERP implementation teams to the point where meaningful progress was no longer being made.
“There was a significant disconnect between the ERP’s project plan, where our internal team perceived where we were with the implementation, and the actual status,” Ow says. “Limited organizational familiarity regarding how to implement and effectively roll out a technology platform at this scale was exacerbated by challenges with the ‘standard’ implementation methodology employed by the ERP—resulting in mismatched expectations for the engagement partnership.”
It’s a common scenario that unfolds the following way: An ERP rollout is planned, and a team from the ERP is brought in to help with implementation. But that implementation plan is based on an off-the-shelf methodology that assumes the customer team implementing the project has:
- Solid foundational training and knowledge of the platform they want to implement.
- Organizational knowledge of current financial processes spanning departments within the organization or, at minimum, sufficiently comprehensive documentation.
- A working understanding of key efficiencies and gaps that the ERP (and PSA) would conceivably address.
“But therein lies the problem,” says The HT Group Director of Consulting Services Sam Wood. “There’s a missing link between the ERP provider and the team trying to implement. Successful senior leaders tend not to have deep ERP rollout experience, and understandably so: Implementation will happen maybe once or twice during their career. This disconnect between what the ERP provider expects the customer’s team to know and what they actually know can create confusion, miscommunication, and tension.”
Wood offers an example of how this disconnect can affect the project. “The ERP has a help desk that will only help so much,” he adds. “There’s typically no dedicated professional who has been there before who is assigned to your project and can answer progressive questions. It’s square one with support every time you reach a roadblock.”
Ow continues, “As the months wore on, Just Global’s partnership with the ERP became increasingly ineffective because our team ‘didn’t know what they didn’t know’ and couldn’t lean on the ERP’s team to navigate them to their desired outcome as they expected.”
The Answer to “Now What?”
As David Ow took ownership of Just Global’s ERP rollout, he knew they needed to launch something before the end-of-year rush, even if it was a scaled-back version of the initial plan.
“Decreasing the scope of the OpenAir implementation and establishing this ‘hard’ deadline were two legs of that critical path. The third leg was to install someone who could be dedicated to shepherding the Just Global team and their collective efforts while closely liaising with our ERP partner. That someone was Dave Ryan.”
Ryan is an IT advisor with The HT Group and a software-industry veteran with experience spanning numerous complicated ERP rollouts. “Dave brought years of NetSuite familiarity, technology solutions implementation experience, and experience working with organizations in the same situation we were facing,” Ow says.
Hiring an external consultant isn’t beyond the norm for an ERP implementation. It’s a practice that NetSuite and other ERPs openly support because it provides that missing link: expertise in custom designing and configuring the system.
“Companies often use an implementation partner to handle the technical work involved in deploying the system and to take on some of the responsibilities of the ERP implementation team. For example, an implementation partner can act as the project manager and also coordinate the technical aspects of system customization and installation,” explains Lisa Schwarz, Senior Director of Global Product Marketing for the Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit. “Generally, the implementation partner won’t cover every role on the implementation team, but it can spearhead the effort, make sure timelines are adhered to and take care of the challenging technical work that requires special expertise.”
According to NetSuite, 70% of surveyed ERP customers need at least some customizations. That means, more often than not, a rollout will not match the playbook the ERP has laid out for a run-of-the-mill implementation.
Consultants like Ryan thrive in these situations. According to Ow, Ryan quickly went to work:
- Defining, clarifying, and honing the new critical path to the launch date.
- Organizing the cross-collaborative efforts of the Just Global team.
- Facilitating 30+ marathon work sessions with the Just Global team to define, validate, and pressure-test the decisions, configurations, and workflow that the team established.
- Actively engaging and following up with the ERP to get questions answered and address ambiguity.
- Leading with and maintaining a calm demeanor and approach that lent itself well to the Just Global team.
- Working tirelessly “from the front” to ensure that Just Global would hit the launch date.
“In my 25 years of experience working with ERP rollouts, the Just Global team is among the most talented teams I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” Ryan says. “What I walked into, however, was a ‘pencils down’ situation, which is all-too-common, even for such a talented team. The client team members have day jobs—they can’t devote every hour of their day to a rollout—and it’s also rare for a client to have a deep bench of business and technical ERP implementation experience that can match up to a fast-moving service provider team.”
With Ryan’s guidance, Just Global was able to define a current state of implementation and an incremental series of small but complex steps to get to their desired end-state. The project rolled out within the newly set budget and timeline.
“I was pleased that I could provide that role, and we achieved our objectives on a very tight timeline,” Ryan adds. “It wasn’t easy, of course. But we did it. Even the service provider team showed their appreciation and told me they hoped to work together again soon.”
The HT Group credits Ow and the Just Global team for rallying like champions. After all, a consultant needs a motivated and capable internal team for a successful implementation.
“One of the things that Just Global did very, very well is their people were on board, and their people were razor sharp. So, in other words, they had nearly all the ingredients of a successful rollout. But what they did not have is that senior leadership that was very experienced in an ERP implementation,” Wood says. “Once you have that experienced person in the room—representing you and your interests and dedicated to the project’s success—the surprises stop, the delays stop, the budget and timeline are back on track.”
When to Seek Help
A complete stalemate is an obvious indicator that outside help is needed. Ideally, support comes before that happens. But there’s another more subtle indicator: When the implementation is complete or nearly complete, but it’s just not doing what it was intended to do.
“When we look at the assertion that ‘75% of ERPs fail,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean a complete failure to launch. It can also mean that the team wound up implementing less than they originally were scoped to implement, or they’re not seeing the benefits they hoped to see,” Ryan explains.
One main point of failure involves a missing piece of key functionality, such as missing reports. Those missing reports can signal the integration between software platforms remains lacking, it doesn’t follow the business process well, or it’s been over-customized. If a critical reason an ERP was chosen doesn’t manifest, can you call the rollout a success?
“Whether it’s a failure to launch or a failure to realize results, the breaking points are difficult to spot when you’re close to the project. Many times, just when you think everything has gone right, it’s the user testing that gets you. That’s where the holes appear. So, the question is, do you have the right person in place to administer the testing, gather the feedback for the development team, and speak their language so they know what to fix?” says Ryan.
When you’re working directly with an ERP, follow your gut. Notice when the timeline starts to slip or communication breakdowns occur. Don’t wait to contact an outside advisor like The HT Group Advisory Services. The earlier, the better. But there is no expiration date on calling in help to get an ERP rollout back on track.