Mark Pearlman is a Senior Operating Executive with over 20+ years of experience driving corporate growth within the technology and mass retail industries. Mark has conducted successful enterprise implementations throughout his career, and has led ERP project management offices in several Fortune 100 companies including IBM, Wal-Mart and most recently Hewlett-Packard. APT sat down with Mark to talk about his experience and better understand the factors that support successful ERP software implementations and the areas that companies should address before undertaking an implementation.
Can you tell us about some of the larger software implementation projects that you have been involved with?

To list only a few, I led the Global project management office (PMO) for Hewlett Packard’s implementation of Salesforce, which included implementing the application for use by over 60,000 users. I was also the leader of HP’s Americas Project Team, accountable for managing over 100 different ERP projects across all business units. At Wal-Mart, I was accountable for supply chain projects in countries like Canada, Britain and Germany.

What are the greatest challenges that companies face when implementing Enterprise software solutions?

There are just too many variables to list, but if I were to list the top three variables they are:

  1. Understanding the cost of implementation, which at times can be as expensive as the cost of the procurement of the software
  2. Change Management, specifically as it pertains to leadership buy in, employee and customer communications and systems and business process training
  3. The development of an overall system implementation activity plan

There is a misconception that enterprise software implementations should be primarily focused on business processes and systems integrations. While this is true to some extent, it doesn’t address the fact that the underlying structures of a company are not its systems or its work processes, but its people. A successful implementation relies on the buy-in and participation of its leadership and employees.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by overall systems implementation activity plan?

All software project implementations regardless of the specific type of business software follow the identical implementation framework. Think of it as a matrix with the implementation phases along the vertical axis and activities along the horizontal axis. The implementation phases refer to your initial scope which includes your key business requirements, your functional specifications (basically, listing how the system will operate), a detailed design plan that incorporates systems configuration, software customization and data table designs, program implementation, and finally post implementation and system warranty (See example below).

Each of the implementation phases has a set of corresponding activities that need to be carefully planned, ranging from user requirements, systems environment, security, program management, training and communications, data conversion, and work flow to list only a few.

I would say that the majority of companies that I‘ve met with haven’t taken the time to develop an overall system implementation plan, and are setting themselves up for failure in terms of a successful software implementation. My recommendation is to invest in a strong project manager who can provide a solid scope document that outlines the overall systems implementation activity plan.

Can you provide some advice for customers who are considering an enterprise software implementation?

Sure! First and foremost, you need to assess if you have the right talent to lead the implementation. Start with the overall project or program manager. Does she or he understand the project implementation cycle? Does this individual have the ability to create strong cross-functional teams in each of your business functions? If the talent doesn’t exist, then I would strongly recommend hiring a consultant to come in and lead your plan. Delays in implementation and costs from business interruptions in poor implementations far exceed the upfront cost of hiring a project manager or consultant.

Secondly, ongoing communications and checkpoint meetings are crucial as well as weekly project plan reviews. A strong project management office is needed to facilitate these updates.

Finally, recognize that you need to create a change management plan in addition to a dynamic project implementation plan. Each company has its own culture and unique way of doing business, and ensuring that training and communications are properly executed can ensure successful implementation and, more importantly, adoption of the new platform.

Can you give some examples of the impact of poor implementations that you have seen?

I have seen so many, but two come to mind. While working at Wal-Mart International, a Fortune 100 vendor that supplies chocolate candy to Wal-Mart implemented SAP. The implementation was done so poorly that when the company went live with SAP, they weren’t able to transfer orders down to the manufacturer. As a result, they missed the opportunity to properly ship Easter Candy to Wal-Mart stores in time for the Easter holiday. I can assure you that this company lost millions in sales.

Early in my career at Compaq, a poor implementation of SAP caused Compaq a significant chunk of their quarterly revenues when orders could not be properly transmitted to the factory floor. Aside from the lost revenues, the cost to put crises management teams in place to right the situation was enormous.

Do you have any advice for companies that are shopping around for enterprise solutions to help them choose the right solution?

This is an area where companies make the costliest mistakes. They tend to compare vendor products on functionality, future releases, and licencing costs, but don’t look deeper than that. Sure, one system may have a better user interface, but does it integrate well into your existing IT infrastructure and properly interface with your customers’ needs?

I‘d recommend comparing companies’ support capabilities in the areas of training and their overall approach to implementation services. Consider how their prices and capabilities compare in that space. ERP implementation for growing businesses can often lead to significant automation, work simplification and ultimately return on investment. Take the time, however, to assess the cost of implementing, as well as the support that is given by your implementation provider, as key criteria for your decision in selecting one vendor over another.

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