Simple steps to keep your next ERP upgrade on time and on budget

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Major enterprise resource planning (ERP) software upgrades by definition affect your whole organization. The "opportunities" for system failure, lost time, missed revenue and extra cost are abundant during the process. Indeed, there are legends surrounding upgrades that spiral out of control and never get fully implemented.

Avoiding certain pitfalls can help companies function optimally during the implementation period and minimize disrupting your current environment. This is especially important for organizations that are critically reliant on their ERP software but need updates to keep their systems running at full potential.

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Every company's ERP upgrade may be different, but the missteps stay the same and they can be avoided by focusing on the key action items outlined below.

" Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication with system users has always been a key differentiator between successful and not-so-successful upgrades. Fully explaining the benefits for the company and changes in the end user experience (e.g., green screen to Web client, Windows client to Web client, etc.) prior to the upgrade is critical in ensuring that the whole team supports the implementation.

End users don't like change because it causes them additional work. They would rather deal with the quirks and inefficiencies of an old system than test a new one. If the end user has a bad perception of the upgrade, it will hinder the overall effectiveness of the new system even if the software and hardware are fully functional. Communicate every way you can.

" Conduct comprehensive load-testing

Most ERP systems come pre-set to handle a typical user load, but is your user load "typical"? If you assume that your user load is typical and find out you were wrong, you will cost your company much more time, effort and resources than if you load-tested correctly before going live. Comprehensive load-testing is best carried out by load-testing software with scripts and real users. Simply testing with just scripts will not provide you with the effects seen when a user makes a mistake. If you just test with people, you won't simulate the effect of batch jobs and electronic data interchange. Even if you test with one, rather than none, you will come out ahead.

" Perform an "exact" dress rehearsal

The dress rehearsal (or mock Go Live) should be performed under the "Exact" same conditions as the real Go Live (e.g., if Go Live is on a weekend, mock Go Live needs to be on a weekend). Small problems can be isolated and easily resolved in the most accurate mock Go Live. You don't want to get ready to Go Live and find out the office air conditioning isn't on during the weekends or a scheduled maintenance task runs every Saturday at 3 p.m. Eliminating as many variables as possible will keep the team cool under pressure and insure that the tens of thousands, or sometimes millions of dollars, spent on a system upgrade will not be delayed because of a preventable issue.

" Embrace testing as your friend

Today's ERP upgrades are electronically packaged to address systemwide issues with electronic software updates (ESU). These updates can touch thousands of objects within your system and are a large leap from yesteryear's "paper fixes" that would address a specific issue or "opportunity in the software." Even if a business process was working properly prior to the change, it must be tested because the large impact on your system that ESUs cause may have disrupted its previous functionality. Only painstakingly testing all business processes will mitigate any unwanted "opportunities" from entering your production environment.

" Build in next generation user training

Utilize upgrades to bring your organization's training capabilities into the Training 2.0 world. Remote access to an on-demand Knowledge Vault of recorded tutorials detailing the most critical business processes will bring classroom training to every one of your employees no matter where they are.

This is particularly convenient during these economic times where employees are asked to wear more "hats" on the job. Creating a user-friendly Knowledge Vault will allow system users to train at their convenience, speed up their training and provide ambitious employees with an avenue to fine-tune their skills.

" Open up your business standards

Converting your current proprietary components into open business standards will guarantee speedier and more cost-effective future upgrades. Two common areas that companies tend to have proprietary components that can be easily transferred to open business standards are reports and interfaces.

" Archive on Day One

This is the easiest item to implement. Archiving prior to the upgrade will save you time and money because the table conversions will run faster. This will also speed up queries on large tables and improve the end user experience, which will be helpful in creating user buy-in.

" Address the balance between security vs. practicality

The more a system grows, the more vulnerable it becomes to security breaches. Prior to an upgrade, system security should be closely reviewed so there are no opportunities for a competitor or terminated employee to obtain confidential information. We recommend an "all doors closed" model, even though, it is not always practical. Get input from both your management team and end users to see what level of security will balance usability with safety.

" Select a project manager experienced in ERP upgrades

ERP upgrades are long, complicated projects that need meticulous attention to anticipate and resolve any issues that could affect the company's system from running properly. A down system can create catastrophic results. Therefore, it's absolutely critical, for the success of an upgrade, to appoint a highly experienced project manager.

Responsibility for this role should be given to an individual or a team of ERP implementation experts who have a strong track record of downtime-free upgrade implementations. Their knowledge should include the hundreds of INI settings, thousands of conversions, multiple OS/network settings, protocols, load balancers and more like the back of their hand.

Upgrades don't happen that frequently but their impact on an organization are significant; make sure your upgrade is on-time and on-budget rather than a perpetual money pit. Addressing the action items we have identified will prevent the most common mistakes found in most ERP software upgrades. Most importantly, despite the extra upfront work, addressing these issues proactively will pay off dramatically throughout the whole implementation process with reduced cost, optimal system performance during the upgrade and a greater overall end user experience for years to come.

GSI is a customer-service focused ERP software integration specialist with a primary focus on Oracle's JD Edwards (JDE) products. The company has more than 300 years of JDE experience and offers a comprehensive suite of project services, support services and staffing solutions -- all backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.

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