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

By Shawn Scanlon, executive vice president, GSI, special to Network World
July 30, 2012 04:46 PM ET

Network World - 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.

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