Every business I’ve worked with has had to fit its processes into the restrictions of ERP technologies, and has had to bend applications’ rules in order to meet all its needs. But while making exceptions to the out-of-the-box rules may help your organization achieve what it needs, there’s a cost: taking steps offline or going through convoluted work-arounds creates one-off processes that drain efficiency and require additional resources.
Don’t put up with that any longer. And don’t just look for software that better reflects your current processes. Instead, use implementation of a new technology to drive a start-to-finish reevaluation and optimization of your business’ processes.
I had the privilege of witnessing this optimization first hand at Big Heart Pet Brands, a $2.3 billion CPG company that deployed Kenandy to consolidate its IT stack, improve efficiency, and cut costs by moving to a cloud-based ERP model. Like most large companies, Big Heart had developed over time several “one-off” processes and a complex network of unwieldy integrations that reduced efficiency.
The project lead at Big Heart said she envisioned a “touchless order entry system” and asked whether there was something like that out there. Actually, Kenandy didn’t have an out-of-the-box touchless order entry/sales order automation system, but we could — and did — work with Big Heart to create one built on existing Kenandy functionality. So if your organization is deploying or integrating new enterprise business software, don’t just settle for what’s on offer: ask for what you really want. Demand greater efficiency and support for innovative processes, and seize this opportunity to upgrade business workflows across the board.
As part of the Big Heart team, I attribute the project’s success to a few core principles:
- Manage true exceptions but automate everything else
- Shift workflows online
- Define, refine, and repeat until delighted with the result
Manage exceptions and automate everything else
Make sure your chosen system offers easy-to-understand, configurable forms so you can set up rules that define typical processes, workflow expectations, and processing schedules. Leverage configurable rules to dramatically reduce your workload by enabling most orders to flow through the system without user action.
Of course, there’s always an order that doesn’t conform to any rule. Your system should automatically log that order and kick it over to a user who can troubleshoot the problem and put it back in the processing queue. Because your team now has more free time, it can focus on and fix any issues in a more strategic way. For example, it can identify whether a particular customer or type of customer keeps giving orders with missing data, and write a new rule to automatically handle this problem. Automation helps to clarify what is typical (even if it’s only typical of certain customers) and what is truly an exception.
Shift workflows online
Workflow delays often occur because workflows take an off-line detour, for what seemed like good reasons back when the organization implemented its systems. For example, one customer required its controller to provide a written approval of any order. Perhaps it originally seemed prudent at the time, but during the ERP transition the company realized that step created major delays. The new process uses an online approval process, which eliminated a bottleneck, saved time, and drove faster order fulfillment.
The goal an ERP system and any new software you deploy, should be to streamline, simplify and tie everything into a single automated flow. Any process, no matter how customized, is just a sequence of modules. The difference comes where modules are programmed to interact with each other instead of requiring user intervention every time. Development teams can make sure each module is set to automatically move on the next step unless there’s an exception to be handled, and then sequence the modules correctly.
Define and refine
As a critical business system, switching ERP systems opens up a rare opportunity to build in automation and support for the processes you currently need and ones you’ll need later. But this is also true for CRM, PLM and several other key software systems. In all cases, don’t just repeat the processes your company was using in its legacy system. Chances are they’re not the best ones for your business.
Like most companies I’ve worked with, Big Heart didn’t start out with a clear vision of its ideal processes — and not everyone was clear on the details of the current workflows it was currently using in its legacy ERP system. But the company embraced the opportunity offered by the transition to a new ERP. It brought together teams from across the business to discover current processes and discuss, define, and create ideal scenarios for new workflows. The teams looked at each sub-process and determined how to take input parameters, calculate, and generate the output parameters for that process. They then mapped out the most logical sequence of validation to roll each subsystem’s results into the end-to-end flow.
A project like this can take some time, but the end result pays dividends. Kenandy built Big Heart’s ERP system in four sprints. For each one, it determined the core processes and functions required, refining each one and delivering each individually. After making sure each process or module worked, the company strung them together — and after just a little minor tinkering had the “touchless order entry” system it had dreamed of.
No matter how thorough you are, the first iteration of the new workflow is unlikely to be perfect for the present and the future. Even with 20 people working on the same issue, you won’t think of everything in one pass. Plus, processes change as organizations do, so it’s important to regularly evaluate the automation you’ve put into place to see if it’s working, and to explore whether a change could help you take advantage of a new idea or opportunity.
Think outside “out-of-the-box”
For your organization, the greatest advantages of implementing a new system might have less to do with the software, and more to do with increasing your awareness of business processes, unleashing creativity, and optimizing workflows. Consider the example of Big Heart: cutting over to the new ERP helped it drive a 45 percent reduction in IT costs while enabling mobile and integration improvements. Then ask yourself — have you been allowing the limitations of your legacy systems to dictate your business’s processes? Seize the opportunity to create a new, efficient “normal” for your business.
About the author
Rohan Patel is the Manager for Business Consulting at Kenandy, the leading provider of cloud ERP applications that manage the operations, finance and manufacturing for mid-market and global enterprises. At Kenandy, he project managed the enterprise wide cloud ERP deployment at Big Heart Pet Brands, a $2.3 billion consumer goods company. Prior to Kenandy, Rohan served in integrations management, senior project management and principal level consulting roles at software and distribution companies.