Full Reward
The devil you know may be hindering your business, but there are ways to turn it into the friend you need

hen I ask someone if they like their company’s enterprise resource planning system, I rarely hear a positive answer. Most say something along the lines of, “It’s the devil that we know.”

Why do they feel this way? Possible reasons include that their organization selected the wrong product, implemented it incorrectly or the software is obsolete. 

For many companies, an ERP system is the most expensive and complex software that they will purchase. Implementing an ERP system is a growing company’s rite of passage with many promises: increased efficiency, the opportunity to scale up and a means to transform a company to higher levels of business maturity.

Instead, most ERP implementations focus on the technical aspects and neglect the big picture because users never receive the opportunity and training to fully understand and adopt the new mindset. 

The big picture is actually simple. Let your ERP system perform the intensive calculations and grunt work so your employees can focus on forward-thinking strategy. In doing so, users’ job duties change from reactive busywork and firefighting to proactive analysis.

This philosophy is core to all ERPs, and implementing it doesn’t require any new or additional technologies. This type of business transformation has been available in ERP systems for over 20 years, but few companies fully adopt it.

Old habits are hard to break. Many of the skills that brought employees success prior to ERP may no longer be necessary. It may hinder them post-ERP and sabotage the new business paradigm. 

We’re asking employees to forget some of what they know and change their mindset to achieve a different version of success. For example, an employee who successfully managed inventory through mental calculations, a keen memory and the ability to triage shortages, will need to relinquish control and trust the new software to perform this work.

Further, they are encouraged to transition to a more analytical mindset and embrace the new tools in their software to manage trends and exceptions, focusing on the strategy of materials management.

If employees don’t feel confident enough in their training to buy in to this new mindset, they resort to doing what worked before—devising clever workarounds and building a subculture of tribal knowledge. This weakens your formal system, resulting in a lack of accuracy and a system people don’t trust.

Time for a check-up

Even if your ERP system implementation missed the initial opportunity for business transformation, you can still achieve it with your existing software.

As an ERP consultant, when clients first contact me, they tell me of all the things wrong with their existing system. They feel stuck with it, fearing the cost and pain of finding and replacing it with the “right” one. Digging a little deeper, I often learn that:

  • It’s been a long time since they upgraded their system.
  • The features they desire are available in the latest version, which is included in their software maintenance.
  • Their business has evolved since the implementation. They balk at the cost of updating their software’s configuration but pay daily in inefficiencies.

Almost always, the remedy is a combination of low-cost efforts:

  • Perform a spring cleaning of the existing system.
  • Tweak the software to match the business processes.
  • Update training documentation.
  • Train key individuals to understand the big picture of ERP, their role and impact in the system, and mentor others.
  • Foster a culture of continuous improvement.
Holistic It
So don’t be afraid if your software provider suggests a business review or a system health check. The cost of a review of how you are using the tools and a fully documented plan of how to use them will be dwarfed by the benefits you will realize.

Keep in touch with your software supplier or implementer. You’re probably paying for check-ups as part of your maintenance. Call and ask, “What’s new?” Engage with your software’s user groups to provide your input and get the features you want.

Chances are, you have the tools you need. If you aren’t fully utilizing them, you aren’t getting the full reward. So demand more from your software, and foster a culture that never stops learning.

David Gauthier, principal consultant for Strategist (, 360/201-7771), has 20 years of experience planning and leading IT, ERP, PLM and reporting analytics implementations.