The Aston Carter thought leadership series examines strategies for navigating the finance and accounting staffing labor market.
Transitioning to new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software can prove especially challenging for accounting and finance departments. Companies may move to an entirely new system to better manage their business functions and communications infrastructure. They often want a more robust process — whether it’s more effective resource management, improved inventory monitoring and employee collaboration or simplified risk management. Sometimes a company makes this change once it has outgrown its current system.
Whatever the reasons for switching ERP gears, company-wide disruption is inevitable, but it’s also manageable.
Aston Carter Account Manager Jessica Ina shares her insights on how to manage this disruption for a more successful process.
Predicting the Unpredictable
Time is one of the most challenging aspects of uprooting a current ERP process for a new system, particularly when a large company is involved, she says.
Whether a company transitions every department at once from one system to another, or moves gradually, it’s difficult to predict how long it will take — especially if you have a high volume of employees, several sites and multiple product lines. The timeline varies by organization, but ERP transitions can last up to two years.
It’s important to understand that there will be hiccups no matter the time frame, and it’s critical to ensure a seamless shift for customers while handling less predictable internal dynamics.
“I've seen companies on the back end that thought the shift would be easy. They didn’t prepare for how long and difficult it turned out to be. They didn’t evaluate what personnel they needed to get in place on the front end to ensure a smoother process,” says Ina.
The Safety Net of Short-term Staff
Hiring short-term staff mitigates the growing pains of an ERP upheaval, as Ina recalls from a recent experience.
“I worked with a company’s credit and collections department whose biggest concern was invoicing and making sure purchase orders didn’t get lost in the shuffle while they centralized their entire process. This was probably the most client-facing piece of the business, so they couldn’t skip a beat, or they wouldn’t get paid.”
This company hired nearly 40 entry-level accounting and finance contract workers for diverse roles. Some workers were hired to manage unearned cash applications and maintain invoice processing, while others worked as collection specialists.
Hiring fast-learning contract employees is vital to ensure that the more clerical tasks don’t get lost in the shuffle.
“We had them test for Excel because that was primarily what they would utilize during the transition. They had just enough knowledge and skills to handle most of the day-to-day tasks for the full-time employees to implement the necessary changes for moving from Oracle to SAP,” says Ina.
Smart Strategies for Staff Engagement
Since short-term employees help a company thrive as much as possible during this process, the organization should consider implementing engagement strategies for contractors. A more personal approach can go a long way to minimize turnover and ensure that the project continues on time and within budget.
Ina has experienced positive results from organizing team meals.
“Quarterly, I would host a breakfast for all employees, including contractors, and would talk to people for about 45 minutes. Everyone was appreciative — to this day, I see contract employees I placed in 2013 when I walk through their buildings and they're like, ‘Hey Jess, do you remember me?’ And I do.”
She recommends building relationships with contract workers to keep them apprised of ERP goals. Maintaining quality communication may also help determine which contract employees are best qualified to move into permanent positions after the ERP shuffle settles.
An over-prepared perspective
Managing disruption during an ERP transition requires the right perspective ahead of the plunge. According to Ina, it’s much safer to evaluate all possible outcomes than to cling to a best-case scenario.
“Overestimate the issues, as opposed to making assumptions about, say, SAP being an easy system to implement. Be over-prepared on the front end instead of putting out fires on the back end.”
To that end, Aston Carter’s solution-oriented values help employers take stock of their current status, their ERP goals and the team they need to make the switch happen. Aston Carter also helps them map out a realistic timeline — with ongoing and intentional employee engagement — to ensure this cumbersome process is as successful as possible.
If your business could benefit from consultation about how to meet your staffing needs, contact Aston Carter now.