Mark Jackley | Content Strategist | January 2023
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software connects the most important functions of businesses—including financials and asset management, supply chain management, customer relationship management (CRM), and human resources. That’s why an ERP implementation is such a big deal. The payoff can be substantial: A single system to connect and standardize data in real-time gives teams across the business a shared view of performance—and one source of truth to improve decision-making and planning.
However, ERP implementations have potential pitfalls. If your project team fails to create a vision to guide the project, instill a spirit of teamwork among everyone involved, and communicate its objectives to employees, you might not solve your business challenges and get the results you need.
The following three case studies spotlight companies that did things right. By borrowing from their playbooks, your business can also enjoy the benefits of a successful ERP implementation.
In 2019, Discover Financial Services, the third-largest credit card brand in the United States, was running seven highly customized on-premises ERP systems. Their IT landscape was complex and lacked standardization, which resulted in slow and sometimes inaccurate reporting. Moreover, the accounting team and their counterparts in financial analysis and planning needed more scalable systems to support their growing workloads. After evaluating several vendors, Discover chose to simplify its environment by consolidating systems on Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP, integrated with Oracle Fusion Cloud Enterprise Performance Management (EPM).
The project team had a clear vision: The ERP implementation was more than an IT upgrade. It was an opportunity to create and sustain business value companywide, generating “more data and higher quality,” says Michelle Green, vice president, business technology: strategy, transformation, and governance. “Ultimately, the functionality and automation help us make more effective enterprisewide decisions.”
This vision helped Discover complete the ERP implementation on time and on budget, despite working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There are two things I look for in an implementation,” says Green. “The first is when people say the implementation was a nonevent. The second is when people start giving unsolicited feedback that they’re loving the systems. On day 15, post go-live, we heard both.”
The modernized ERP platform has paid off. With faster access to financial information, Discover employees companywide can more effectively manage expenses. Lines of business enjoy more accurate planning projections and cost analysis. With standardized functionality replacing customization, employees spend less time deciphering technology and more time achieving results. And with quarterly cloud functionality updates delivered automatically, Discover can continue to enhance its processes and ways of working.
With a long history of making strategic acquisitions, Hormel Foods owns more than 50 iconic brands, such as Dinty Moore, Planters Peanuts, SPAM, and Skippy Peanut Butter. But at one time, it also owned a patchwork of different IT systems.
“We had various systems for various companies that did not interface well together,” says Jim Sheehan, executive vice president and chief financial officer, Hormel Foods. “They did not provide us with a clear view of the company's performance, were difficult to maintain, and honestly, had become a burden to our competitiveness.”
In some cases, the human capital management (HCM) and ERP applications hadn’t been upgraded in more than 15 years. Some systems depended on a single person—“whoever remained who understood the code it was written on,” Sheehan says. Adding to the complexity, Hormel Foods had customized many of its applications to meet the needs of individual brands.
To simplify business processes and improve data quality, Hormel worked with KPMG to implement Oracle Cloud ERP, part of the Oracle Cloud Applications suite that now also supports Hormel’s supply chain management, enterprise performance management, and human resources.
“We had to rely on teamwork,” says Assistant Controller Eldon Quam. “We had Oracle, KPMG, and Hormel Foods people all working together. If you weren’t familiar with the group, you wouldn’t have known the difference between a Hormel Foods person and someone who worked for another company.”
When the ERP system went live, Hormel gained a unified system to standardize business processes, data, and decision-making. “We have visibility into every business from the same point of view,” Sheehan says.
Hormel Foods also has a forecasting model to pinpoint growth opportunities across its many brands. “In the past, we looked at things brand by brand,” says Jana Haynes, vice president and controller. “That’s still important to do, but now that we’re on a centralized platform, we’re able to notice things that weren’t apparent before.”
With procurement in all countries except China and Brazil now on the same platform, it’s easier to analyze vendors as well. For instance, the company discovered that some of its brands paid more than others for the same item. Hormel can also pinpoint the number of vendors that are the sole source of items its brands rely on. Knowing this allows the company to explore alternative sources and be ready should a vendor prove unable to meet demand.
With the entire company running on one ERP system, every brand does financial reporting in the same way. “Whether it’s their cash flow, their income statement, or their balance sheet items,” Sheehan says. In other words, all that teamwork enhanced their ability to operate as one team.
A diversified global company that operates printing, data, and marketing businesses, Taylor Corporation embarked on a four-to-five-year effort to implement an ERP solution and modernize its back office, moving financial, supply chain, and manufacturing applications to Oracle Cloud. When all phases of the ERP implementation are completed, Taylor estimates it will see between $20 to $30 million in total cost savings.
CEO Charlie Whitaker has made it his personal mission to see the program succeed. On a kickoff video conference early in the implementation, Whitaker rallied the company’s 10,000 employees, urging them to see the program as key to Taylor’s growth and prosperity. He also led steering-committee meetings and working sessions with project team members.
“If you talk with Charlie, it's not an option to participate. It’s a requirement: Don’t debate it, participate in it, which I think is a fantastic message,” says Jenn Warpinski, Taylor’s vice president of enterprise transformation.
Several Taylor managers who were initially skeptical now are leading the way in bringing their colleagues around. “They’re now jumping in, and they’re doing the talking, they’re doing the change management,” Warpinski says.
Workforce support is necessary to succeed with such a transformational project. Indeed, the scope was significant: Taylor needed to consolidate data and business processes across 85 different systems, some of them no longer supported by vendors. Taylor wanted to make timely and informed financial and supplier decisions, automate manual processes that were costly and time consuming, and make it easier for customers to operate across the company’s business units.
For example, one of Taylor’s five multisubsidiary enterprise groups had customer information sitting in 16 different systems. That made it difficult for the group to cross-sell products across business lines. (Taylor units sell everything from printed wedding invitations to digital marketing services.)
Before phase one of the implementation—a global rollout of cloud financials completed in January 2022—it would take Taylor’s finance teams a couple of weeks to assemble a consolidated view of outstanding accounts receivable across the company. That data is now available for executives to act on in real time.
Now that Taylor is also live on cloud procurement applications, it can negotiate better volume discounts with approved indirect suppliers, while end users can get approvals and execute orders for supplies with just a couple of clicks.
One leading cause is failing to practice contingency planning. At the outset, implementation teams should identify likely causes of delays or cost overruns and plan accordingly. For instance, are there existing vulnerabilities in your company’s business model that need to be fixed before launching the project?
Unrealistic expectations are another reason for failure. If your timetable shrinks but your list of deliverables doesn’t, the ERP implementation could be doomed from the start, or at the very least become chaotic and expensive.
Some careful whiteboarding can help you avoid these potential problems. You can enjoy a successful ERP implementation with the right ERP provider, executive support, and a willingness to learn from other businesses’ successes and mistakes and a willingness to learn from other businesses’ successes and mistakes, you can enjoy a successful ERP implementation.
Besides crafting a vision, working as one team, and enlisting the support and patience of employees at all levels, other factors can lead to a successful ERP implementation. First, you’ll need to clearly define the project’s scope, objectives, and budget. A project team with the right expertise is another must. So are having plans for migrating data to the new system as well as a realistic timeframe for going live. A detailed change management plan that includes user training and education, such as the one Taylor created, is perhaps most critical to success.
Another ERP success factor: The system you implement should be easy for people to use. After all, simplifying the IT landscape and the user experience is a critical objective of any ERP system. If your implementation unfolds in stages, you can conduct periodic surveys to see if employees think the system is user friendly.
Even if you devise a flawless implementation plan, it won’t yield great results if you choose the wrong ERP system. Look for a solution that can not only integrate disparate data and business processes but can also integrate with existing systems and applications your business will continue to run. Additionally, you’ll want capabilities that are purpose-built for functions, such as cash management or procurement, giving you faster and more accurate information to improve decision-making. It’s also smart to choose a system that can both monetize and measure business value as you plan new products and set pricing strategies.
Of course, your project management team should thoroughly assess ERP vendors. It’s important to listen carefully to what they can actually deliver, looking beyond basic features and capabilities. For example, what is their support offering like? What kind of training do they provide? What does the future look like—is the vendor truly invested in the emerging technologies you’ll need to compete? You’ll also want to hear what industry analysts, such as Gartner, say about cloud ERP solutions, including Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP.
Lastly, consider what else an ERP system can offer your company. Oracle’s solution, for example, includes built-in risk management tools that use AI and machine learning to strengthen financial controls. It also can integrate with your customer relationship management (CRM) system, so your front- and back-office teams can seamlessly share data.
What are the top challenges of ERP implementations?
Three of the most common challenges are: