How Not to Implement an ERP - Ratan Sharda

Last time while jotting down my notes abut 'To ERP or not an ERP', I had given an hint I may go for that next door like Indian bloke for my ERP. But I must confess, I took a U-turn on myself. I felt that 'brand' does gives you a sense of solidity and self-importance apart from an ego-boost, so I chose to go for a well-known 'brand'. The partner told me that he is the 'local face' of the multi-national brand. That was the killer argument.

My next round of education began, thus.

I had imagined that having paid a princely sum with which I could've bought a Merc or two; I would just sit back for vendor to provide me the golden key to peace one fine day in coming 6 months as his sales lady had promised.

How taken aback was I when their implementation team walked in! I found that the all smiles, 'sab ho jayega' guys were replaced by stern talking disciplinarian guys whose team head looked like a recently retired company quarter master or sergeant from military. He disabused me of any notion that I could sit back and enjoy the implementation and be blessed with a new dynamic ERP enabled organization ready to take on the world.

First thing he told me was that I, the MD was to implement the ERP under my personal watch and with a virtual whiplash in my hand. He also told me that I and my people would actually be working more than less in coming months before I could have the proverbial nap with business whirring away to glory.

Now that I was in, I decided to give it a run for my money. "Sir, you have to form a team. Sir, this has to be top people", intoned the in-house sergeant. "My dear, who will run my actual business till this ERP goes starts running?" I wondered. (I had yet to get used to talk of 'Go Live', as if my company was dead so far.) Toughest and most humiliating experience was to understand that I didn't follow 'best global practices'. What do you mean? Am I running my business and growing without good practices? How do I apply 'global standards' of a Bosch or a Pfizer? Or even a Reliance for that matter onto my small organization with a mind of its own. I am my own man. I have never understood why I must do things the way somebody else does. Ok...ok, I would calm myself. And slowly, I could grasp a few ideas that did make sense. But to transform myself totally and my people too was a tough call. After lot of back and forth, consultants finally decided to give me some leeway to do things my own way. They did it by either by tweaking their processes a little at a huge cost or asking me not to use a particular process and keep it out of the system.

Well is that the right choice, I wondered? I was supposed get an integrated system that would be nearly 'paperless'. But, did I have a choice? After lot of surgeries and bitter medicines I was able to implement half of my proposed ERP and was I relieved? Sure, sir! Having signed off critical modules and having overshot my estimates, I decided to call it a day, assuring my consultants that I will surely call them back for balance work after a year (I meant, after I generate enough surplus for this project).

I must confess that many of my processes are indeed running much better now. I do feel that I am in control of my business even if I don't sit 12 hours in my office and plant. I have a feeling that I have saved very well on speed of business, efficiencies. Can I recover investments with savings? Frankly, I may. But, having spent more than I had imagined, I think, rosy picture drawn by my vendor may not be as rosy. But, surely I am better off in terms of running business. As I look back on the entire exercise, I do have a few iffs and butts in my mind. What if vendors were more transparent with me about my need to change rather than software being changed as per my requirements? What if, I had chosen that friendly Indian vendor who empathised with my issues that arise out of typical Indian social mores and ways of working? What if my consultant had given me an advance note about what will change and how to get ready for change. What if I had educated my people about the whole methodology rather than fall for the sales talk of smooth talking sophisticated marketing people?

In summary, I would say, both of us needed to be more honest and transparent. If selling is treated as an end itself by a marketing team, it results in avoidable pains. If buying with people's recommendations or branding is the only way to buy then we are suckers. My advice to friends is - be prepared for a long haul, prepare well before you start implementing, keep your expectations and objective limited to begin with and keep your consultant on a tight leash. It's your money after all, friends.

Ratan Sharda -
Political Analyst, Writer, Editor, Social activist, also software consultant can be reached at @RatanSharda55