I'm going to go back to the beginning of our SAP implementation project. That was over 4 years ago now, and at times it seems like it was only a very short while ago - at other times, it seems like we have been doing this forever.
When the original plans were put forward, it was made very clear to everyone that this was not a normal IT project. Although there were some technical issues that only IT were getting involved in, the majority of the work was actually to be done by staff from across the business, and would involve people at all levels, in all departments. We knew that it would take time, and altho' the SI promised otherwise, I was fairly sure that it would take a lot longer than planned.
An ERP implementation (of any flavor) is always going to be a much bigger task than most others - it requires a lot more work because so much of the product integrates data and processes, and it is important to make sure that what happens in one area, doesn't impact on another. There are many things to consider, and even for those businesses that have a clear understanding of what they do and how they do it, the implementation project is going throw a few curve balls into the mix.
Added to that, most ERP products (including SAP) will have specific ways of doing things, and it is important to learn how to do these correctly. With most software programs, it's possible to buy a book, work with a demo verison and learn all you need - OK, somtimes, you also need to undertake specialist training, but with an ERP product, this is just not practical due to the size and complexity of the program.
For that reason, it's necessary to buy in the expertise required. Some companies will do this by hiring extra staff that have had previous experience, sometimes on a permanent basis, but more often as contractors. A more common approach is to use a System Intergrator (SI) which will be a organisation that has prior experience of working in the specific area with the particular product. The really big companies will use one of the big consultancy firms - for the SME type business like us, it's more usual to make use of the medium size or smaller SI.
The idea is pretty simple - the SI will supply people (consultants) at a set rate that have the required expertise. These people will then help us implement the software by providing technical expertise, passing their knowledge onto our staff, and guide us thru the various steps. This should reduce wasted time, enable us to get up to speed quickly, and ensure a succesful project. Well, a good idea in theory!
The problem is of course, that when learning new stuff, you don't know just what you need to know. Certainly if you have been involved in projects, you will have an idea of good project management practices - if you have worked with larger companies, you will understand the need for good communications and dissemination of information. You may even know how to manage project teams and stakeholder requirements. But in the case of SAP, if you have not worked with it previously, it is unlikely that you will know much about the practices required by that product, which is why people buy in those consultants.
That of course presumes that the consultants do know the stuff that we don't know and are willing and able to pass that knowledge on to our staff. Unfortunately, as we have seen that is not always the case. As you might imagine, after the issues that we have had to deal with over the last few weeks, there was a meeting to identify what happened and how to prevent it happening again. At the meeting, it was pretty much agreed that the problem was caused by the consultants not following proper procedure - the procedure which they are in fact supposed to be teaching us.
Of course, the SI dispute this - their people are doing their job and trying to help us by getting the work done as quickly as possible. Their arguement is that it is down to us not following correct procedures and incorrect testing of the work.
I will say that I would not totally disagree - I don't think we always do all of the testing that we should. We also should have the settings locked down much more than they are specifically to protect us from this sort of thing happening. But the problem is that if their people don't set and follow correct procedures, how can our staff know what is or is not the correct way to do something? What's worse is that if people learn bad practice, it is generally much harder then to change the way that they work.
Well enough for now. There are going to be some meetings in the next few weeks, and these will have an impact on what we do next. I am actually looking forward to it, altho' I suspect that I may not feel so pleased afterwards!