When ERP customisation causes headaches

Published on the 18/04/2024 | Written by Heather Wright

When ERP customisation causes headaches

Six steps to pain relief…

ERP customisation may have come a long way but it can still provide headaches aplenty.

For those tweaking their systems to their own unique workflows, there can be unplanned costs – and the ongoing costs of handling custom code, the introduction of new risks into the system and increased complexity of future upgrades.

“Applying new technology to outdated practices […] will not yield effective results,”

A 2022 Panorama Consulting Group report shows just 3.6 percent of enterprises implemented ERP software without any modifications. The majority – 49 percent – implemented their software with moderate customisation while for 16 percent heavy customisation was required.

Things have, of course, moved on from 2022, with cloud ERP platforms designed for easier configuration, modular products and platforms running as a service and ‘low-code platforms’, but customising some functionality in an ERP remains a fairly common approach.

Sometimes, however, it can cause more problems that it solves.

Most experts agree that customisation should not exceed 10-15 percent of the overall ERP system.

A recent post on LinkedIn explored the topic, with experts weighing in with their views on what you can do if your ERP software customisation is causing more problems than it’s solving.

Xander Marsden, a UK technology and ERP consultant, says customisation should always be a last resort. However he notes that where customisations are opted for, companies should ensure they have specific requirements for deliverables with workflows ensuring the to-be business process is delivered.

Depending on business needs, the user interface may need customisations, or, more commonly, custom integrations to connect ERP systems with other systems may be required.

Consultation with staff, from managers to the system users, can help in setting clear project goals and requirements, identifying the purpose and viability of customisations.

In a separate discussion, Giuliano Costa, a project portfolio manager, notes that ERP customisations are often used to fix poorly designed processes.

“However, making too many adjustments not only makes maintenance more difficult, but it can also impact performance and the reliability of information.”

Testing during development is crucial, Marsden notes.

For those whose ERP customisations aren’t working as expected, comprehensive evaluation will be the name of the day. Identifying specific issues the customisation was intended to address and whether those goals are being met, and examining how the user experience is being impacted will help define the next steps required.

Involving users in the process is, unsurprisingly, a critical step, providing insight into the pain points and requirements from those who know the shortcuts and work arounds already in use, enabling you to determine the effectiveness of customisations.

“Their hands-on experience can guide you in making informed decisions about which aspects of the customisation to keep, modify or discard.”

Marsden agrees. “I advocate that in the first 90 days the programme [the team should work with] people and capture this kind of information. If you don’t you are reliant on people who don’t ‘do the do’ and that is one thing: Dangerous.”

There is often a perception that customisations are easy to do. Users and managers need to be cautioned against that perception. It’s very easy to ask “can it just do that instead of this”, but any good business analyst will quite quickly point out the obvious exceptions that will need to be dealt with to make the change a success.

Persistent problems with or request for customisation may require bringing in experts to provide a fresh perspective and help identify underlying problems that aren’t immediately apparent, and to help implement best practices for ERP system management.

Simplification of processes may also be in order. Ana Hernandez, an ERP trainer, says when ERP customisation leads to more issues than it resolves, it typically indicates ill-defined processes and a reluctance to change among staff who view the ERP as ‘too complicated’.

“To tackle this, it’s crucial to first comprehend the existing processes without ERP by developing a value stream map,’ she says.

Value stream mapping helps pinpoint fundamental reasons for inefficiencies, and engaging all stakeholders in the process can ensure a more user-friendly and successful ERP customisation.

“It’s important to note that merely applying new technology to outdated practices without adequate integration and adjustment will not yield effective results,” she adds.

Scaling back features not essential to core business functions and streamlining your ERP can lead to improved performance, easier maintenance and better user adoption.

Aissan Drai, an ERP strategist, agrees that simplifying processes is critical when customisations become cumbersome.

He urges companies to focus on core workflows, identifying the essential business processes the ERP absolutely needs to support and considering whether core functions can be leveraged to achieved the desired results, especially in the case of customisations that don’t directly contribute to core flows.

Standardised data formats and processes across departments will reduce customisation needs and simplify future integrations or upgrades.

A lack of training, or inadequate training, could also lead to the perception that ERP customisations are problematic. Well-trained user are more likely to fully utilise the ERP system to its potential and are less likely to encounter issues or demand fixes.

Regular reviews are also important for maintaining efficiency and effectiveness. Audit regularly to evaluate how customisations are impacting business processes, and make timely adjustments to ensure the ERP evolves alongside the business.

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