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ERP as Business Process, not Technology

If "ERP" is Enterprise Resource Planning, we can see that "software" or "technology" isn't actually included in that acronym. ERP software, as a whole-company, all-process software tool accomplished the goal, but it isn't, in and of itself, what we're trying to get to. It's the business process we want to improve, and ERP is a tool that leverages information you have to reinforce and guide those processes to better outcomes.

When coming from QuickBooks or even just handwritten paper, you might have processes like "Janice prints checks". Which buttons she clicks to accomplish this aren't really important, but the bigger business process issue you might have is "Janice prints checks, but actually anyone can click on the 'print checks' button, and we can't track who printed that check". Naturally this feature is the very sort of thing an ERP software system addresses, but note that really, it's solving a process issue: "For our business, we need accountability in the financials."

Implementing an ERP system, then, critically means you're going to have to consider some fundamental questions:

  • How does my business do things now?
  • How should my business be doing things?
  • Can moving to new software address the gap between what I want to be doing, and what I'm doing now?
  • How well does a particular ERP system match up with the new processes I want to move to?

There are many spheres where "ERP" and "ERP implementation" gives people the shivers. When these projects go wrong, it can be disastrous. That's often because there was a fundamental disconnect by the people involved, and they thought it was a technology project, not a business project. To get a gut feel of the difference, switching all your stores from cable modems to fiber optic internet, that's a technology project. You've changed literally every electronic bit going in or out of the store into a pulse of light... but for the end users, what they do didn't change at all. No process changed. No new training was required. Changed everyone from PCs to handheld tablets... but they're still accessing the same website or app? Again, a technology project.

An ERP, if it's truly doing its job, is going to touch nearly all the processes in company. To that end, there has to be thought given to managing that process change.