Taking ERP into the cloud – seven hints from a Project Manager
Innofactor implemented Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations cloud platform for critical business processes. The new solution has been operational for 16 months now. These observations are a summary of the lessons Innofactor has learned from the deployment of the cloud ERP.
Understanding the customer needs
A partner should have in-depth understanding of the customer’s operations and how their existing tools improve and support operations. This makes it easier to determine what the customer needs are and what best practices the new solution enables. Sometimes, the best enhancement isn’t a new tool, but a correct operating model.
Collaboration with Microsoft
In a deployment to the public cloud, suppliers or partners cannot control production environments the same way as before. In the public cloud, Microsoft controls production, which increases the delivery times of updates and new releases. On the other hand, this centralized operating model makes product updates more controlled and secure: Microsoft has high quality standards and uses a very structured process.
The Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations technology, available in the public cloud, enables tailoring and integrations with a method that allows the standard solution to be updated. What this means in practice is that there is no need to carry out upgrades in the traditional way, and the solution is easier to maintain.
Through the introduction of the public cloud, Microsoft has positioned itself between the customer and the partner, which emphasizes the role of the partner even further. The partner’s task is to clearly describe the overall picture of the collaboration, including its limitations and opportunities. Therefore, the customer should select a partner that has a well-established relationship with Microsoft.
Create a clear project plan
Planning is half the battle, and this is particularly true in ERP solutions. ERP solutions are both complex and critical entities. That is why they are no longer delivered off the shelf, but created in collaboration with the customer. The project is a joint effort.
A clear project plan is the cornerstone of everything. It is vital to have a framework upon which the project can be executed in a comprehensible and clear manner. When the project management model has been selected, it must be ensured that all parties commit to it.
Survey users' expectations and prepare to manage change
A new solution is often expected to bring a radical change to everyday work: no more useless Excels and duplicate typing of data here and there. The reality is often less rosy. Many tasks will certainly become easier and more uniform, but nevertheless some routine tasks are likely to remain.
Although the shortcomings of old systems might evoke strong emotions, the users’ confidence and operating skills are higher in the old solution than in the new one. Many users feel like a power user in the old system, but lack skills in the new solution and perceive the learning challenges as defects in the actual solution. Therefore, the deployment of new tools often requires the management of change. Reasons for change in processes need to be explained and understood.
Conversion of data is unavoidable
Well organized and accurate data is the fuel for a working ERP solution. Conversion of data to the new solution is still an arduous task that cannot be avoided. The conversion tools are slightly different in the cloud platform, but the basic rule of thumb remains: attention must be paid to the conversion process. Mission critical data must be transferred into the new solution faultlessly, and it must be processed correctly also in the future. Sometimes, data must be enriched if the new solution has more extensive requirements for data than the old one.
Therefore, data conversions should be planned and resourced as carefully as before.
Acid test the new solutions with users
Allocate enough time and resources for testing! Even commercial off-the-shelf solutions must be tested carefully – not for functionalities per se, but to ensure that the solution works according to the process. This also kick starts the learning process in the company. When people get hands-on experience about the new solution early on, the process becomes skills.
Define who are the key users of the solution and recruit them to the project group. They can later support other users’ learning.
Go-live is not the end of the project
It pays to think about the time after go-live, since projects rarely end then. The project should remain open for at least two months in order to have time to verify that the critical processes, such as invoicing and reporting, work as desired. After the actual go-live date, users usually need ad hoc support and assurance that they are using the solution according to the agreed processes.
A good roadmap and a plan for further development are important in gaining understanding when and how the solution in the public cloud is updated and developed, and how tools can be developed based on that. This is another reason why having a good partner is critical.