Managing Change in ERP Implementation: Hiring a Consultant

If you’ve been following this mini-series on ERP implementation, you’ll remember that I wrote some tips in my last post about how to approach the kickoff of your ERP implementation process. Not the launch or the pre-launch, but rather the time immediately after you decide that, yes, you want to bring in a new ERP to your company.

One of the things you should seriously consider is hiring a qualified ERP consultant. Implementing an ERP represents a massive change for all companies, and businesses – especially small and medium-sized businesses experiencing it for the first time – need all the professional, experienced assistance they can get.This isn’t simply a matter of installing a software program, after all, but changing your entire way of doing business.

Finding the right person who will shepherd you and your staff to success on your go-live date is a delicate and absolutely critical part of the process. You want to do it right the first time because, when it comes to your hard-earned work growing your business to where it is now, failure is not an – well, you know the rest.

Who are they? Don’t be dazzled by the reputations of the firms you’re considering. Every consulting company, regardless of their dazzling press mentions, have their A-listers and their C-listers. Make sure that you vet a company’s team before you set them loose in your building so that you know that the folks who dazzled you with their presentations and PowerPoint and their expertise will actually be the same people consulting with you on a day-to-day basis. Check references and ask lots of questions. Your consultant(s) will be working very closely with your staff, guiding them through a major change that will ripple from the executive suite or owner’s office all the way to the guys on the field and on the shop floor. They need to have the personality and the communication skills such an important job requires.
What have they done? Have they ever worked in your industry? Have they ever worked with a business similar in size to yours? Can they share with you some of their successes and, most importantly, their failures? What have they learned from their previous mistakes that they can bring to your company so that you can avoid making them? How much experience do they have with the software program you’re about to implement?
What do they know? If all they can offer your company is their technical expertise in the particular ERP you’ve chosen, avoid them at all costs. Remember that ERP implementation isn’t about changing your software but rather about changing your business. Your consultants had better be well-versed and highly experienced not only in the technical aspects of the software but in change management and business restructuring as well. They’ll need to be part-IT consultant, part-HR consultant and part-project manager because they’ll be juggling both software and people, neither of which is ever predictable or easy to manage.
How will they do it? Ask them their processes and philosophy. Are they familiar with Deming management theory, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and/or other business and management philosophies? How would they work with your staff and vendors to implement the program most efficiently and smoothly, given their background and knowledge? Do they understand the different roles that will be affected by the program, e.g., sales, accounting, customer service, etc., and how they need to address each one?
Choosing and hiring a consultant to work with your firm is likely going to be a difficult, time-consuming process, but if you do it well, you can save yourself a small fortune and your company a lot of heartache in the end. Good consultants understand that technical training and IT expertise represent only a fraction of their value to their clients, and that being good change managers may prove to be their biggest role in any project.