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ERP implementation projects: They're back; this time, don't customize

Editor's note: ERP implementation projects are making a comeback. If you have an ERP update or replacement on your agenda in the coming months, O.C. Tanner Co. CTO Niel Nickolaisen has a timely reminder about the distinction between processes that are mission-critical and those that confer competitive advantage.

Niel Nickolaisen: I read in a report a couple of weeks ago that ERP [implementation projects are] back. Now, a lot of us put in our ERP systems 15 to 20 years ago and they were massive projects that put the business at risk. Now it's probably time -- after 15 or 20 years, or 10 years -- to do those ERP implementation projects again.

The important thing I found, in doing any ERP or large business system project, is to divide the business activities into two general categories:

  1. There are [business processes] we do to create competitive advantage -- and there are very few of those. Those are the things we innovate.
  2. Then, almost everything else we do falls into the category of "mission-critical." We can't live without it. It's got to perform, but it won't create competitive advantage.

Most of our ERP processes, components, modules and applications fall into this [mission-critical] category. The important thing [about mission-critical processes] is that there is no reason for us to create customizations to those ERP processes. We don't gain competitive advantage if we do accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger, dropshipping, material planning or any of that in a uniquely compelling way.

So, just put the thing in.

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ERP projects are back on CIO agendas. What lessons from the ghost of ERP implementations past have you learned?
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