ERP for Strategic Advantage 

For CFOs, the choice to deploy an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is as much as strategic one as it is a tactical one. On Thursday, May 15, CIOs and CFOs sat together to discuss the strategic benefits and tactical challenges of ERP in our panel “ERP for Strategic Advantage” at the 2014 CFO Technology Conference.

According to our panel, a true ERP system is defined by 4 key characteristics:

  1. It integrates your major data sources into one place
  2. It translates this data from different systems into one common language
  3. It uses this data to standardize your processes
  4. It’s in a consistent location that is easily accessed by all your major business units
Randy Cramp, Host Analytics Our panel moderator:
Randy Cramp,

Area VP, Host Analytics

Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much. Think about it this way – depending on your deployment model, this data could include sales numbers and pipelines, manufacturing and fulfillment, supplier management, customer service and retention, and more. This data comes from incredibly different systems in business units who do work together, but have different focuses and processes.

It’s a tactical hornet’s nest, but, according to the panel, ERP done right can transform your business in 3 key ways:

  1. By bringing all of your information together in one place, it can provide more transparency across all business units
  2. The multitude of metrics and real data points can highlight places where you can improve your business for the better, and further, adds accountability to those areas
  3. Rather than base your discussions for improvement on instinct, you can use real data points to help drive strategic plans for improvement and growth

By bringing all of your data into one common ‘home,’ ERP can not only help harmonize your business processes, but also make sure that these processes are driving your business decisions.

For a tactical look at how manage large-scale systems implementations, check out “The Secrets of Systems Implementation,” produced by The Controllers RoundTable Boston in April 2014.

So What Did We Learn?

  • Jim Frates, CFO, Alkermes
    Panelist Jim Frates, CFO, Alkermes 

    Before you start the process of evaluating ERP systems, you first need to take a giant step back and understand what the strategic goals of your business are, and how ERP can support those goals. What kind of information do you need now, and in the future? What are your key pain points, and how should ERP solve those problems? How will this change the way your business works together? How will your ERP system need to change and evolve over the months and years? For example, are you planning on major acquisitions or boosts in employee numbers? If so, your ERP system needs to scale flawlessly with this growth. Plan your ERP with a strategic eye and a forward-looking approach for better results and ROI.
     

  • Keith Mattioli, Principal, KPMG
    Panelist, Keith Mattioli, Principal,
    IT Advisory, KPMG 

    Your ERP system should be an enabler, or address the transformation within finance. It’s not just a place for you to post transactions and reconcile; rather, this system should help the finance team be forward-looking. The panel encouraged attendees to be innovative in their approach to ERP – don’t just settle for the status quo, or what’s handed to you out of the box by your provider. Push your system to support your strategic vision for growth.

     

  • Sharon Kaiser, CIO, Abiomed
    Panelist Sharon Kaiser, CIO,
    Abiomed
    and
    Boston Business Journal’s

    CIO of the Year 
    (Healthcare/Life Sciences)

    If you have an ERP system in place and it doesn’t seem to pulling its weight, you don’t have to rip and replace. Rather, push for the ROI in your system, as you might have exactly the tool you need, but just aren’t utilizing it correctly.  In the same token, if you’re faced with another expensive upgrade of your ERP system, or you’re really ready to rip and replace, be sure to look at your options with a strategic eye. Take the time to understand where your integration points are, and what you want out of your system now, as well as in the future.
     

  • Develop a strategy of management and ownership of your ERP system. As the pace of change in technology and business is accelerating, it behooves you to ensure that your own processes are keeping pace. In fact, the panel advised attendees to review your ERP system and processes every 6-12 months to ensure that not only are you getting everything you can out of your system, but that your ERP system is keeping pace with your business growth and developments.
     
  • Michaela Goodwin, VP Operations, Zeta Interactive
    Panelist Michaela Goodwin,
    VP of Operations, Zeta Interactive 

    Know that your ERP system, or any major business system for that matter, will affect your new talent acquisition. For example, if you’re looking to bring on board new employees just out of college, you can bet that they won’t have experience working with your ERP system. Further, if you’re planning to bring on board senior-level finance talent, your choice of ERP will determine the types of candidates you bring on board. Therefore, you need to have detailed training in place on working with and managing your ERP system in all business units affected, for all employee types. And keep in mind that there are generational gaps in learning and training.

Finally, while the panel articulated the benefits of ERP systems, they did leave attendees with one cautionary statement: Don’t let an ERP system, or any system for that matter, drive your company. IT and processes exist to help support your strategy and vision, not vice versa.

Photos and More Information

For more information on this or any of the upcoming events The CFO RoundTable has planned, please click here.

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