Top 5 Things to Consider When Implementing a New Business System

Mike Vassil

In 2016 Okuma America began working on a major business system implementation involving our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) technologies, a massive project designed to increase our efficiency and effectiveness as a company. In 2018, when we went “live” with our new platform, Microsoft Dynamics 365, we saw benefits across our entire organization. What we never could have envisioned at the time however, was the huge benefit our new tools would provide during a time of crisis.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve been using some of the tools provided by this system – such as Microsoft Teams (for virtual meetings) – on a daily basis. We now consider ourselves fortunate that we already had tools in place that are supporting and enabling us as we navigate a period of rapid, intense change.

For companies that undertake a business system implementation, the sheer size and scope of the project will involve some challenges along the way. In my role as Project Manager I can say we had our fair share. In hindsight, I can identify several key factors that helped us overcome these challenges and attain our ultimate success. Here I’ll share what I think are the top areas to consider when implementing a new business system.

1. Allow Ample Time for Due Diligence
In the initial stages of the project, make sure you’re dedicating enough time and resources to conduct a thorough investigation and analysis. Observe what other companies are doing with their applications so you can fully envision the details and the effect they could have on your organization. Involve your major stakeholders and work with them to thoroughly understand the impacts and outcomes from various points of view.

As you get underway it can be so engrossing just learning the various tools and how they work, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture in terms of the transformative changes the new technology will bring into play. To do this investigation justice, give it the time and space it deserves. This will pay off large dividends in a successful implementation.

2. Involve Strong Executive Sponsorship
During the course of our project I encountered several other companies on a similar path to ours, with varying levels of executive engagement. In my experience, executive sponsorship has a powerful impact on the success of a business system implementation, and I believe is a must-have.

At Okuma America we had very strong sponsorship from Jim King, our President and COO, and our CFO at the time, Lisa Rummel. They made it clear that this project was very important to our company, and as such, we’d have access to needed resources. Jim never missed an opportunity to explain how he envisioned the positive impact on our company’s future and our ability to serve our customers in the marketplace. This provided a steady supply of motivation for our team.

3. Choose a Skilled Implementation Partner
During our vendor identification process, we vetted about 20 different providers, each having a dedicated implementation partner. At Microsoft, this partner is Hitachi Solutions. As the selection process played out, it was evident that Hitachi Solutions was extremely interested in every detail of our business. Microsoft was highly engaged with us as well, and clearly understood our vision for the project. I must say, I honestly didn’t expect that from a company of that size, but their commitment was intense and authentic.

To this day, we’re closely aligned with the folks from both Microsoft and Hitachi Solutions, which is another outcome that’s surprising, but welcome. I remain an active member of Microsoft’s Customer Advisory Board and participate in annual developer meetings, which keeps me in touch with the evolution of the product over time.

4. Select Your Players Carefully
To ensure success, it’s ideal to put as many of your A players on the implementation team as possible. It’s simply not possible to maximize the potential for your project if you don’t have your superstars on the field. They know your business better than anyone, and they know how to get things done within the organization. To lead this team, it’s advantageous to select someone who’s respected across boundaries. Using someone who has strong relationships throughout the building and is respected, makes it much easier when you ask people to work extremely hard at some very challenging tasks. It’s also helpful to choose someone with a steady disposition, who doesn’t get too high or too low as events transpire. Challenges along the way are inevitable, and calm leadership can help the team stay the course.

5. Consider a Two-Pronged Leadership Approach
When it comes to implementing new business systems, companies often task their IT group with leading this kind of project. Given the nature of the technology platform itself, this seems to make perfect sense. However, the impacts are so far reaching throughout the entire organization, it makes sense to broaden the leadership perspective. Consider a two-pronged approach that pairs business leadership with IT leadership for maximum benefit.

In Okuma’s 120+ years in business, we’ve gone through many periods of transformation. We embrace them, because they always make us smarter and stronger, and our business system implementation was yet another example of this process. Today, the pandemic is presenting a new set of challenges, but we’re well equipped to lean into these changes and create new opportunities for the future.

About Mike Vassil
Mike Vassil is Director of Operations, Okuma America Corporation.

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.

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