Every time an ERP software vendor, like Microsoft, announces a new version of their software, companies need to evaluate whether it’s a good investment of time, money and energy to upgrade.
The new release may have hundreds, even thousands, of additional features that enhance data security, improve efficiency, and add new functionality.
MCA Connect has been through the implementation and upgrade of hundreds of software projects. Our exclusive focus is helping manufacturing, energy and service companies create a competitive edge through the implementation of Microsoft solutions.
We developed this guide to walk you through the steps of an upgrade project, based on questions we get from our clients every day.
ASSESSING THE UPGRADE OPPORTUNITY
With Software-as-a-Service offerings like Microsoft Dynamics 365, upgrades are continual and automatic. But for on-premise ERP software solutions, like Microsoft Dynamics AX, the first step of an ERP upgrade project is deciding whether to upgrade – or not.
YOU HAVE THREE CHOICES:
- Upgrade the existing system to the newer version (which is what this guide will cover).
- Move to a different ERP system.
- Do nothing- for now.
ERP software project leaders need to take some time to peel back the curtain to look beyond the marketing of the upgraded solution to see whether the upgrade makes sense for their current business.
5 QUESTIONS YOUR TEAM SHOULD CONSIDER:
- WHAT WILL THE UPGRADE COST?
If you’re a Microsoft Dynamics customer and current with your Microsoft Software Assurance or Enterprise Agreement Plan, the software license is fee is already covered. Nevertheless, the upgrade project will take financial and human resources, and so upgrading isn’t an ‘automatic yes’ for most organizations.
- HAS THE SOFTWARE BEEN WELL TESTED?
Many technology consulting firms encourage organizations to wait until at least the first service pack has been released, allowing others to work out any bugs that didn’t get caught before launch. Look beyond the ERP software system itself, and look at where the ERP system touches the rest of your IT infrastructure – servers, databases, operating systems, ISV solutions and custom software.
- IS THE TIMING RIGHT FOR OUR ORGANIZATION?
Do you have the financial and human resources to undertake an upgrade project right now? You don’t want to take the risk of disrupting operations during your busy season.
- WHAT OPPORTUNITIES DOES THE UPGRADE PROVIDE?
Are there features we’ve been waiting for? How will this upgrade benefit our organization?
- DO I SEE THE FUTURE OF STAYING WITH THIS ERP SOFTWARE VENDOR?
If your ERP software vendor is no longer investing in R&D, and your technology is holding you back from modernizing your business, it may be wiser to switch systems instead of upgrade.
SETTING PROJECT GOALS
Once you’ve decided to move forward with the upgrade, you’ll want to treat the ERP upgrade like any software project – begin with the end in mind. Create what you want the future of your business to look like. It can be very easy to get lured into all the fancy new “bells and whistles.”
As a project leader, you’ll want to gather your key stakeholders, and get everyone to agree on the common objectives for the project.
- How will the success of this project be measured?
- Where do we see opportunities for innovation?
- Which goals are most important?
Identify the top 3-5 goals, and pick goals that align with each other. For example, if you have one goal to increase manufacturing efficiency by 10%, and another to add more customized product offerings, those goals will cancel each other out, making it difficult to determine the success of the project.
DETERMINING PROJECT STRATEGY & SCOPE
Project goals are the end result you want to achieve. Your strategy determines the route you’ll take to get there. For example, if you want to increase manufacturing efficiency by 10%, how will you do that? Buy faster equipment? Add workflow and automation?
If you haven’t already strategized on goals & project outcomes, this is a key point to engage your ERP software partner to help you align the software features with business strategy. An experienced partner who knows your industry, your organization and the software can add tremendous value.
They can put together a Statement of Work that defines:
›› The goals of the project
›› The strategies to achieve those goals
›› The financial resources that will be needed
›› What expertise and resources should be involved
›› How long the project will take
›› What’s excluded from the project
Your ERP Software Partner is an invaluable resource to help you follow through on the rest of the steps covered in this guide.
ASSEMBLING THE PROJECT TEAM
Get the project team enrolled and excited in the early stages of the project. People support what they help create. You’ll want to have a cross-departmental team, so that every key stakeholder’s voice is represented.
We frequently find that software project work is added to employee’s regular work. The challenge is getting your best people involved in the project, so they can provide their expertise, while having those same people do the work that adds value to customers. Software implementations are strategic initiatives that can reap rewards for years to come. Don’t let your best employees get stretched too thin – find ways to bring in other people to help support their “day job” work so they can devote ample time to the upgrade project.
During your planning, also think through the skillsets you’ll need represented. Most projects have internal and external project leaders; application consultants; business analysts; subject matter experts; software developers; and IT staff.
BUSINESS PROCESS IMPROVEMENTS
Technology should follow business, not vice versa. Lots of companies get stuck doing things a certain way because that’s the way their software worked… 20 years ago. When you have the capability to add Internet of Things (IoT) devices, more mobility applications, electronic signatures, predictive analytics, workflows, etc – the opportunity for innovation expands exponentially.
One of the key advantages of a Microsoft Dynamics ERP solution is the flexibility you have to configure the software around your business needs, often without custom software development.
Define the ideal business processes first. THEN figure out how you’ll use the technology to create efficiency. Taking an idea gleaned from our lean manufacturing background, we tend to think of business processes end-to-end. What’s the customer value stream from supply chain to customer delivery? Where are processes adding value? Where are the bottlenecks and friction that slow things down? Clarity comes by thinking through your business processes from the customer’s point of view, and prioritizing the things they value – like quality, speed, cost and communication.
Take a step back to consider the entire IT environment. If you are moving data and systems to the cloud, you may be able to eliminate servers, databases, backup systems, and computers. If you’re empowering a mobile workforce, you may want to purchase new tablets or smartphones.
In addition to the ERP software that’s being upgraded, you’ll want to think about how other software programs in your IT environment may be impacted.
Will this work on Windows 8 or should you upgrade to Windows 10?
Are all of the ERP software add-on solutions compatible with the new version?
Can you eliminate siloed databases? Do they need to be upgraded to support the new software?
Will you have to re-write code?
LINE OF BUSINESS SYSTEMS
How will the newly upgraded ERP system align with other systems you already have in place?
What new insights are made possible? What information will you now capture that you never had before?
While new software implementations often go through rigorous quality assurance and integration testing, we’ve seen plenty of examples where companies put their guard down when it comes to software upgrade projects. Don’t skip this step! You don’t want to be live on a system when you discover that you can’t print invoices or run payroll. Your staging environment should be an exact match for your production environment. Pay special attention to any software integration points – these areas are especially vulnerable to changes.
The scope of the upgrade will drive how much user training is required, but don’t make the assumption that users will just figure out the new features. Create a user training / change management plan.
Start the user training process long before the system goes live. Options for user training include:
›› Setting up a sandbox system for people to play in
›› Creating a series of videos, detailing the new features and processes
›› Hands-on or virtual training classes
With the training, be sure to setup a feedback loop so that user feedback can be incorporated into future communications or system improvements.
Moving your upgrade from staging to the production environment is an exciting, and often nerve-wracking day. Minimize downtime by carefully choosing a slow time to make the switchover. Be sure to have extra staff available for last minute questions, changes and hiccups in the cut-over process. You’ll also want to communicate how post-upgrade support will be handled.
ERP UPGRADE HELP
If you need help upgrading or moving to Microsoft Dynamics, MCA Connect can help! We help companies through every stage of the process – from business strategy to software selection to ongoing application support.
ABOUT MCA CONNECT
MCA Connect has more than 25 years’ experience delivering innovative ERP and CRM solutions built on Microsoft technologies to manufacturing, energy, field service and distribution organizations around the world. We help businesses establish competitive advantage and operational excellence by delivering solutions that combine and align business strategy, process efficiency, technology capability, and performance measurement.
MCA Connect is one of the largest Gold Certified Microsoft Dynamics (ERP, CRM and Cloud) partners in the United States who supports multi-national implementations. MCA Connect has been named Microsoft Dynamics Partner of the Year six times and Inner Circle Member nine years.