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ERP Journey: A smooth launch

Even with the best ERP product, a bad go-live event can result in lost invoices, information and customers. Fortunately, recovery is likely, unless you're the CIO.

The probability that my company will have major functionality gaps is minute. That's because we chose a product that has been field-tested in our industry with companies that look like us. One of the reasons we chose Intuit's Eclipse Distribution Management System instead of a tier-one product is that the Eclipse team understands our industry. But it's the ability to apply that understanding to our unique issues that counts. The proof will be in the reaction from our customers, owners and employees.

We're hedging our risks with a phased rollout. Nautical types have a tradition of taking several "shakedown," or trial-run, cruises before they "go live" with a ship to verify the craft's seaworthiness. They start with a 5-mile cruise, then do a 50- and, finally, a 500-mile route. Our rollout will start with a modest, internal launch and expand along geographical and functional lines. To minimize risk, there will be no customer-facing applications until the second phase.

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Phase one will bring our back-office functions up on the new system. Our CFO will ensure that the accounting framework is solid and that we can easily see our key performance indicators each step of the way. We will need these indicators to know what has to be fixed after we bring up our branch locations in the remaining three phases. Later, when the first customer orders wire and conduit at a branch or buys his first lightbulb on our new Web site, accounting will be ready.

We expect squalls.

We'll have confused sales associates who fumble through new keystrokes and screens. What was clear in training class will be forgotten when the customer starts drumming his fingers on the counter. Inventories will need to align with new management tools. Pecking orders will change as some fail to adapt and others thrive on new opportunities.

We expect some employees will quit -- and that's if everything works as planned.

A rule of public speaking is that your audience will buy or reject what you're saying in the first eight seconds of your talk based on your appearance, confidence and content. Go-live is that first eight seconds for our project. Many employees are ready to be disappointed. The first business day will define their experience until they have a good reason to change their minds.

Like good public speakers, we need to rehearse. Instead of standing in front of a mirror with notecards, we'll do a mock go-live. The week before conversion, we'll gather the victims -- ah, end users -- together and do a day-in-the-life recreation of all the transactions, work queues and reports. Eclipse consultants and our own subject-matter experts will ride herd and solve problems. If all goes well, we'll sign off on the go-live rehearsal. If not, we'll get a stay of implementation.

On Friday night (I've checked my calendar -- it won't be the 13th), we'll huddle together and do the final conversions. Saturday and Sunday we'll test the applications and compare accounting report totals. Sunday night will be calm if we can get a strong enough sedative prescribed.

On Monday morning, we go live. We'll be armed to the teeth with consultants and vendor support phone numbers. We'll meet in the conference room with tight smiles and sweaty palms.

Will the first user sign on, please?

NEXT: Best-laid plans remain just that, as our go-live is delayed. The devil is in the details (and I wish he'd get the hell out).

Les Johnson is CIO at North Coast Electric Co., a wholesale electrical distributor in Bellevue, Wash. Write to him at This column originally appeared in the November issue of CIO Decisions magazine.

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