A little background first
I have been in the ERP business since 1997. While I’ve been in a sales role since 2002, my first five years in the industry were spent as an ERP consultant. This hands-on experience has given me a unique perspective on what makes for good versus bad consulting. At Visual South, we believe consultants are as important as the ERP software you choose. If you are actively evaluating ERP solutions and are interested in learning why evaluating consultants is as important as evaluating software, you can read all about it in this blog. If you are interested in getting foundational knowledge on the basics of ERP consulting, then read on.
What does an ERP consultant do?
An ERP consultant should have expertise in a variety of areas, which I’ll describe below, but I want to first state what I think is obvious: Your consultant should have advanced knowledge of the ERP software itself. They should know how it is designed, how to configure it, how to work with its strengths and weaknesses, etc.
They should also have industry knowledge. This doesn’t mean that the only consultant for your company is someone who has worked in your exact industry for years. Rather, the consultant should have a foundation in your industry, be comfortable discussing your needs and challenges, and also be confident enough to admit they don’t know everything. A good ERP consultant learns from the people they are working with in order to deepen their own experience.
In addition, this person should have excellent interpersonal skills. Although we are talking about implementing a software product, it still boils down to people. An acceptable consultant will be able to work with a variety of personalities, be firm when needed, be flexible when needed, and provide a source of leadership and comfort to the company they are working with. An ERP implementation is difficult, and can be stressful for companies because they simply don’t do it often. A quality ERP consultant will lead you through it.
Now that you know the skills the person should have, what about the service itself? What exactly makes up ERP consulting?
Elements of ERP consulting
Led by your consultant, these are the essential elements and steps of a satisfactory ERP consulting engagement:
This is usually one of the first items addressed in an implementation, because it can be especially time consuming. ERP consultants will help extract the data from your legacy system(s) and convert it into a format where it can be manipulated. This format is typically Microsoft Excel or something similar. The consultant will work with you to make sure there is a high level of data integrity (e.g. there are no duplicate records) and the data is as valid as possible (e.g. the phone numbers or emails associated with a customer record are accurate). Additionally, part of data conversion is mapping the data from Excel into the format the new ERP requires. This ensures that, for example, the customer name in Excel is mapped to where the customer name is stored in the new ERP solution.
At this stage, the ERP consultant is working to understand your business, and thus gathering your requirements for the software. This process is divided up by functional area, as there are usually subject matter experts in a company that know what the end result or ideal set-up should be in the ERP system.
Once your ERP consultant understands your requirements, they will begin to put together the solution in the ERP software. This part of consulting is iterative. In some cases, your requirements are a glove-fit with how the ERP works out of the box. In other cases, it’s not a glove-fit, so there are discussions around either changing processes to accommodate the existing functionality, or changing the software to accommodate the requirement. In my opinion, this part of ERP consulting is the most critical. An ERP consultant must have the ability to work through issues, resistance to change, and what is the “real” requirement versus “this is the way we have always done it.” The output of this part of ERP consulting is new procedures. Every company has procedures based on the tool they are using. Implementing ERP is changing the tool, so the procedures will usually change as well.
Testing and validation
Once new procedures have been developed, the company’s users are trained on how they are going to do their jobs in the new ERP. Testing through piloting processes in the new system is a way of flushing out issues. If needed, the ERP consultant will “re-architect” the solution, or make small adjustments. This testing is also done with the converted data—this is a fantastic way to validate you have accurate data in the system.
Any ERP consulting involves troubleshooting. This typically occurs when a user gets some sort of error or unexpected outcome from a process. The ERP consultant has to be able to diagnose what happened and come up with a solution. This is where having experience with the ERP software itself is crucial. An experienced ERP consultant has seen numerous implementations and typically can recognize what’s going wrong, or can narrow things down to arrive at a solution expeditiously.
ERP consultants are managing projects—either subsets of the overall project, or the overall project itself—all the time. ERP consultants are always working toward a deadline to keep things going in an orderly fashion, so they are managing their own tasks and activities, and actively managing those of their customer.
ERP consulting involves many different activities and areas of expertise. At Visual South, we help companies run better through our ERP consulting services for Infor ERP. If you are looking for ERP, or looking for ERP consulting services, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us to have a conversation!