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Why it’s all about planning, process, and people

Enterprise resource planning software is the heart of business, but too often it becomes a source of pain. It doesn’t need to be this way

Paul Walsh, director of transformation solutions, Expleo: ‘The most important thing is you have a good understanding of what you do now, what your future state looks like, and also that you bring the people along’

Technology refresh cycles are nothing new. Old assets are amortised over fairly long periods of time while vendors, who are also businesses after all, dangle new features and possibilities in front of prospective customers.

Company Details

Expleo

Year it was founded: The Expleo brand was launched in 2019 after the merger of Assystem (founded in 1966) and SQS (1996).

Number of staff: 19,000+

Why it is in the news: A natural technology refresh cycle has opened an opportunity for organisations to double down on data

With consumer IT, say the latest smartphone or tablet, the decision to switch can often be a spur-of-the-moment thing, driven by desire more than rational thinking. But what about enterprise IT?

Core systems do grow old and start to hold businesses back, but no-one has ever bought something like an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system on whim.

Despite this, change is underway across many organisations: not only are newer offerings more compelling, but many legacy systems are now straining under the weight of an avalanche of data.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that rather than simply rolling out the latest iterative update, many organisations are looking toward a more fundamental change, one that causes less pain and even creates business value.

At its simplest, said Paul Walsh, director of transformation solutions at Expleo, organisations are moving away from on-premise ERP to cloud-based systems.

“The SaaS [software as a service] model is what everyone is looking towards,” he said.

Doing this, he said, not only frees them from legacy systems that are no longer able to keep up with business needs, but makes future-proofing easier.

“Everything was highly, highly customised and was all on-prem. That has made it almost impossible to upgrade. Upgrading was almost as expensive as a new install. Now, you cater for your core business and customise around the edge,” he said.

While customisations to cloud-based systems are possible, typically around configuration, a better approach is to take advantage of their modularity to meet the specificities of an organisation’s needs. This will result in the best of both worlds: a fundamentally stable and mainstream application that handles precisely the data a business needs it to.

“When people move into that new model it’s so important to put 80 per cent of processes into the core product,” Walsh said.

Modularity means today’s ERP is no longer generic in nature, but it does mean that assistance is often required to get the most out of it, otherwise the system can end up dictating to the business.

“You’ve got all of your processes, you’re running your business efficiently, or at least that’s what people think, and you have to take that square peg and put it into a round hole.

“The finance processes are quite easy to do as finance processes are finance pieces, but when you go into business-specific areas, like sales or warehouse management, that’s where it can get complex,” Walsh said.

Indeed, business change is as much of an issue as technical change, and it is important to bring people with you, he said.

Expleo’s ERP clients come to the business in a variety of ways. Some want help from the ground up, not knowing which system to use and coming for help to figure that out. Organisations that have been around a bit longer, however, often have a different problem.

“Another way is they have two or three core ERP systems and they want to whittle it down.

“The third way is they might say, we’ve selected SAP, or Oracle, or wherever it is, and we want help to implement it with an SI [systems integrator],” he said.

Expleo helps define terms for SIs, including producing a fixed contract with clear goals and timescales. This is good for both client and SI alike.

“Ambiguity of scope leads to cost overrun and dissatisfaction. The SI wants a very clear scope. And if you don’t have the skill set on your side you’re not going to be able to get the control you need as part of the process,” he said.

Expleo starts with pre-market work, assessing potential partners in Ireland and farther afield, to get a group of SIs who understand the job.

Ultimately, Walsh said, taking a rational approach like this makes sense as not only does it help to avoid surprises, it mirrors the goal of ERP: the ability to make rational decisions based on data.

Indeed, businesses scaling up often invest in ERP as without it, things start to become chaotic.

“Typically, it comes down to userbase and revenue. With 1,000-plus core users you definitely need to be looking at ERP,” he said.

However, it is also an opportunity to get data in order, something that is increasingly important with analytics and artificial intelligence rising up the agenda.

“What you are looking for, ultimately, is a single source of truth, [so] doing these programmes is a good time to cleanse that data,” he said.

People should not be forgotten, though, and Walsh said people and process are always the most important factors.

“When you're going into these things, the most important thing is you have a good understanding of what you do now, what your future state looks like, and also that you bring the people along.

“The people will be using the processes, so if they’re not brought along on the journey they’re not going to use it,” he said.