Who should own your ERP Implementation?

Whether your company is in the infancy stages of your ERP implementation, or simply going through organizational change, the question often comes up: Who is responsible for this monster? ERP, by design, touches many departments, and requires inputs and administration by various members of your organization. There’s no doubt that because of this, there should be accountability for every department and individual who contributes to the upkeep of your ERP system, but who is ultimately responsible for overseeing these operations and ensuring that the organization’s key objectives are met with their implementation? Let’s talk through, somewhat tongue and cheek, some of the obvious (and not so obvious) options. In no particular order:

Data team — Database Administrators (DBAs)

If you want a perfectly running database that won’t allow users to input the same address twice, put your DBAs in charge of your ERP system. Similarly, if you want an ERP that is totally unusable by anyone other than those possessing a doctorate in computer science, put your DBAs in charge. In short, you’ll have a highly compliant, quick system that no one can use.

Accounting department

One of most popular routes. At the end of the day your ERP package is an accounting package. So it only makes sense to have your accounting department champion it, right? Actually, this isn’t such a bad idea. The upside here is that the configured product will be largely geared towards this group, with the potential downside being little love for other departments that utilize the system to run their side of the business. That being said, with proper involvement by a CFO or similar accounting executive who understands the “big picture”, this problem can be mitigated. Keep in mind that your accounting department is likely one of the least technical groups in the company, and collaboration with IT or similar group is important.

IT Department

Another popular decision, and this is primarily because the seemingly logical notion that “IT is in charge of our other software, why should our ERP be any different”, or some derivative of this statement. Sharp IT leaders are quick to correct this sentiment. It’s absolutely critical that IT be a key stakeholder in every implementation, but putting it on their shoulders to be the leader of the initiative usually results in a “technical implementation” – go figure, right? If your business is IT or software development, then the IT department might be an okay home (even then, highly suspect). Otherwise, don’t even consider it as a potential option unless you have a technical project manager who is going to drive interdepartmental communication.

A consultant/partner/third-party contractor

No. Your implementation partner plays an absolutely critical role in your implementation, but to rest the responsibility of ownership on their shoulders is the quickest path to ERP failure (and a big invoice). Responsible and ethical implementation partners will encourage internal ownership rather than cutting them a big “blank check” to implement your system. You could write another article specifically devoted to how much involvement your implementation partner should have, but to keep it short and sweet, think goldilocks: Not too much, not too little. You want to strike that perfect balance between using them for their expertise and leaning on them as a crutch. A good partner will suggest this. A great partner will practice it.

Developers

This isn’t a terribly popular option anyways, but nevertheless there are still companies that go this route. Putting it in the hands of a group that’s even more technical than IT is going to result in (wait for it) an “even more technical implementation”. You might get some flashy customizations out of the deal though.

Executive Team

There’s irony in this option. This is probably one of the better homes out there for the ERP ownership, but it’s almost never where it lives except in small businesses. Executives generally (hopefully) tend to be pretty darn business savvy, and they’ve “been there, done that”. I had a VP of operations tell me years ago that “he had nothing to do with the ERP project” and that when they implemented it they left the responsibility squarely on the consultant. Upon asking for some elaboration on why, he spoke very candidly and said, “Why would I expose myself to a risk like that? I had nothing to gain, no matter how great the outcome was.” Opinions on this statement are left up to you, but there’s plenty of conclusions to reach here.

It’s worth considering the executive team as the home for your implementation, with heavy delegation to respective departments based on the overall vision for the company. Not coincidentally one of the most consistent indicators of ERP success (or failure) is how involved the executive team is, and is a terrific litmus test for almost every implementation.

No One

AKA The Wild West ERP implementation, and “every department for themselves” is the name of the game here. You’re the materials manager and you need some help with planning? Hire a consultant to implement your idea. The funny thing about this option? Sometimes it works. Most of the time, it’s a disaster. More importantly, it’s always more expensive.

Department who “uses it most” (materials planning, project team, accounting, etc.)

With the huge caveat that it really depends on what department it is, this can sometimes be a worthwhile route depending on your organization. In some ways, it feels logical to have the team getting the most benefit and use out of the software be the ones that drive decisions around it. Just make sure other departments get attention too, and strongly consider hiring someone within the department whose primary purpose is managing the ERP system as a whole – not just the department they work in. This is not right for every organization, and depends heavily on your culture.

 

Of course, these statements are highly dependent on a couple big variables within your organization: culture, size, and ERP scope. Are you a five person small business that doesn’t even have an IT department? Does your workplace have a cut-throat culture? Make sure to incorporate these variables into your decision when finding the right home for your ERP implementation.

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