Too often, ERP still stands for “Excel Runs Production”

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Too often, ERP still stands for “Excel Runs Production”

ERP workarounds happen when an employee comes up with an alternative way to complete a task that could be done within the ERP system. These may seem harmless when viewed in isolation, but they endanger the business when enough people are doing it. This note summarizes why workarounds are so common and steps companies can take to reduce the number of them.

As a general statement, employees invent workarounds because in their minds the ERP system is too complex, too slow or not aligned with current business processes. ERP systems are intended to integrate and centralize data, but workarounds have the exact opposite effect. They create silos of data, which reduces productivity, increases security risk and undermines the company’s automation goals.

That said, individual employees aren’t trying to sabotage the company’s efforts. They’re simply trying to get their jobs done as quickly and easily as possible. And so they end up bypassing “procedures”. Here are the most common reasons we see this happening:

  • They weren’t part of the ERP selection process. A new way of doing things was chosen and thrust upon them, usually with a bunch of kinks still to be worked out. When this happens, expect resistance and silent protests (workarounds) to occur.
  • Too much focus was put on an ERP system’s capabilities instead of its usefulness in your unique workflow environment.
  • Insufficient training. Change can be intimidating. People don’t like being taken out of their comfort zones, especially when they suddenly can’t do their jobs as well or as quickly. Workarounds return them to their comfort zones.
  • A cloud ERP solution is selected which doesn’t allow for much customization. People get used to the flexibility of an on-premise system, and when this is taken away they get creative and work around the perceived obstacle.
  • Too many exceptions have historically been allowed for ERP workarounds. This creates a just-get-it done-quickly mindset in people that management tolerates (or even encourages).
  • The way the ERP system works doesn’t map to how the company operates. People don’t want to adapt their processes to fit the software. Probably the biggest trigger of workarounds there is.

Eliminating ERP Workarounds

This can be a challenge. Depending on the person and the situation, a workaround can be hard to get rid of once it has taken root. Based on our experiences in manufacturing environments where a lot of workarounds are occurring, here are some suggestions for how to best reduce them:

  • Look for where people use spreadsheets or Access databases, and you will often find ERP workarounds. In addition to Excel and Access being potential security nightmares, another major risk is finding yourself in the position of relying on one person who has built a complex spreadsheet or Access database containing sensitive company data. This is a single point of failure you don’t want.
  • Whiteboards will also point to ERP workarounds. The best thing to do is jointly assess at a workflow level how and why a whiteboard is being used. Then match that with how well your ERP system would eliminate manual steps, errors, outdated information, etc.
  • Don’t make the mistake of leaving key users out of the ERP selection process. You’re asking for workarounds if you do. Involve those who will be most negatively impacted if the system doesn’t align well with business and operational processes.
  • Train sufficiently. Make sure people actively learn the system and are positive about the experience. Passive learning and apathetic users will lead to guaranteed workarounds as well.
  • Convey to employees the strong linkage between software usability and digital transformation as the manufacturing industry evolves to be more service-based. Emphasize the strategic impact of an effective vs. non-effective ERP implementation and the importance of patience and team effort.

Excel is still the biggest (informal) ERP platform in existence. Many manufacturers would shrug and agree. It is routinely used by people to work outside their ERP system and store data in other places. This greatly lessens how effective an ERP system can be.

If you want to get the most return out of your ERP investment, discover the root causes of why people are bypassing the system. Worst case, it will reveal that the wrong ERP package is being used. But more likely, it will surface understandable reasons that can be addressed without too much cost or effort.

About the Author:

Joe McGrattan oversees strategy and business development for Triple Helix. For nearly three decades, he has been helping companies leverage technology and their data to conduct business more effectively in a digital economy. This includes building strategic-level alliances with non-tech professional services firms whose clients are demanding more information management and technology-related guidance from them. Joe’s blog contributions focus on business-oriented advice to companies on how to take advantage of their data to run smarter, faster, leaner and more securely. He can be reached at joe.mcgrattan@3xcorp.com or found on LinkedIn.