System implementation: what's involved and how long does it really take?

So you’ve chosen the trading and stock management (ERP) system you want, negotiated the best deal and signed on the dotted line. What’s next?

Implementation is an incredibly important – and often complex – part of the journey. It’s where the foundations are laid for future success, where your workforce gets up to speed with how to use the system to best effect, and where you get everything ready to go live.

First up, it’s important to remember that an industry-specific ERP system is not an off-the-virtual-shelf app. It’s a complex and powerful system that requires time and effort to put together properly. However “simple” a system may be to use, there are always necessary complexities when it comes to implementation, and that’s often where the added value and purpose of an industry-specific system becomes apparent: it’s customised and built according to your unique business needs, rather than being a plug and play solution. It takes time. It’s a lot quicker these days than the legacy systems, but don’t be mistaken: it’s not a 24 hour job.

There are usually five key steps for a full system implementation. Over the coming weeks we’ll dive into these in more depth but for now, here’s a quick overview of the main steps you’ll be taken through by your software software supplier.

The five steps of implementation:

You’ll already have a good idea of the system capabilities from the sales process, so you’ll be familiar with the system already, to a point. But the implementation process is where the nuts and bolts get fitted together exactly as you need them.

1. The Scoping Phase

Taking the format of a meeting or series of meetings, this phase is an in-depth establishing of your specific system requirement. Of course, some of this will have been covered in the quote stage when ironing out the user levels you need, but this is where the detail comes in. The more you are able to tell us about your day to day needs, the gaps in your current processes and your aspirations for the future, the more closely we’ll be able to tweak the system to give you exactly what you want.

Who’s involved?

You’ll work with a project manager, a data and systems expert and our in-house trainer to scope out the exact scale, detail and timings of your implementation project. This is a two way thing so the more info you provide, the better our solution will be. We’ll always try to work to your timings where possible but some elements take longer than others.

2. The Data Phase

This is the biggie, and where most time is usually spent. This is where you customer, supplier and product information is migrated into the new system. We offer as much help and support in this process as we can but it does require time and effort from the customer side as well.

Thanks to the incredible agility of modern technology we’re able to pull data from any number of systems and sources (PIMs, CRMs, databases and so on) but there are often lots of gaps to be filled and that takes time. While much of the data can come from standardised sources like PIMs, there’s stil work to do to cleanse and prep the data ready for entry into the ERP. To put that into context, a comprehensive, industry-specific ERP system has roughly twice as many product information fields as a standard PIM. If your business is primarily unit products with standard descriptions and bar codes, it’s usually a simpler process; more complex data input is required for measured products like timber. This is usually the most time consuming and complex phase.

Who’s involved?

The customer has a big role to play here, working with the project and tech teams to assess, prepare and migrate data well.

3. The Configuration Phase

This is where we do the behind-the-scenes tinkering to get the system ready for use, building in the features established in the scoping phase. Depending on the scale and complexity of your business, this can be a fairly protracted process, but if the data phase has been successfully completed and the details have been accurately established up front, it’s usually fairly straightforward.

We often find that once a customer has a system in use, they realise they would benefit from additional features or tweaks. Thanks again to modern technology, this is much simpler than it used to be and doesn’t usually derail a whole project, as the foundation system is usually able to continue working even while we adapt or amend the finishing touches. We understand that it’s almost impossible to pre-empt every possible scenario or need, so we are always as accommodating as possible. It’s worth noting though, that if complex requirements are added at this stage it can significantly affect timings, and sometimes costs.

Who’s involved?

This is mostly a job for our developers, analysts, QA testers and project teams, though there will be consultation throughout with the customer so you always know where you’re at.

4. The Training Phase

While we know Merchanter is one of the most refreshingly simple systems available in the market to operate, we still provide comprehensive training for your workforce. We won’t leave a customer to work it all out for themselves, however intuitive we believe the system to be.

In this phase our in-house trainers work with your system users to ensure they’re comfortable with the basic system functions, and start to explore the more advanced features. In our experience there’s a lot to take in up front, so staggered training is really useful, allowing people to get up to speed with the basics before digging into the more complex features.

Additional training is always available further down the line and we are always adding to our online library of self-help resources to empower customers and let them see the system in action at their own pace. We also have a very experienced team of helpdesk staff ready and willing to help at every step, so there’s never a stage where you’re on your own.

Who’s involved?

Your staff and our trainers. The Prime Admin User will be key in this phase to help support the team after go live, but don’t worry, we’re still on hand to offer help, guidance and support as well.

5. The Go Live Phase

Everything’s in place and you’re ready to go live. It’s an exciting moment for any merchant, but we know it can be stressful too. This is a big change, no matter what system you’re used to, and as with any change, it will take some time to iron out all the little kinks. The great thing about cloud software is that we can help remotely, and are always available to help with incidental queries.

We are with you through the whole process and beyond, so you should always feel supported and safe. As mentioned above, modern systems allow further tinkering and refining even once live, so it’s a good idea to get used to the concept of “progress over perfection”, meaning that the system is often usable and functioning for the basics before it has all the bells and whistles added on.

After go live you’re still supported by the team, with the expert helpdesk at your disposal as well as all our online self-service resources. We can also supply additional training and our doors are always open for feedback and new feature development ideas.

So how long does it really take?

Well, that depends. For very simple, single-branch businesses with predominantly unit products and great data, it can literally be a matter of a few days. This often extends to several weeks or months for larger, more complex businesses. It’s one of the reasons it’s such a big decision for merchants to take on, but it’s such an important investment in the foundations and infrastructure of your business, it's absolutely worth it.

Any questions?

If you’d like to talk it through or try the system for yourself, please get in touch. We offer a 30 day, no pressure free trial using our online demo system, so you can see for yourself how straightforward the system is to use.

Alternatively, if you’d like to see the broader scope and capabilities, we’d be happy to offer a guided demo to show you what it can really do.

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