As a general rule, there are differences in software implementation time-frames, dependent on the tier or type of software being implemented. When it comes to inventory and accounting ERP software, Tier 1 or Introductory Systems (such as QuickBooks), usually take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to get set up; Tier 2 ERP systems can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to get set up; and Tier 3 or Blue Chip systems can take the longest - from several months to a year plus. These timeframes correlate with the sophistication of each tier of system and the complexity of business processes. This also means that the work included with software implementations will vary by tier, and also by software vendor within each tier. This makes it very important to read the fine print on all software vendor quotes in order to compare apples to apples when making a purchasing decision. Because of this, it's important to begin the software search when your current systems are still in good working condition, and the search has not yet become a critical need in order to maintain business operations. It's unrealistic to expect vendors to complete the implementation process immediately after a signed quote is received, for reasons outlined below.
One of the most time consuming parts of an ERP software implementation is the data migration process. This aspect not only greatly impacts implementation timeframe, but also total costs. Data migration consists of transferring data from your existing software systems or from spreadsheets, and importing it into your new software. This process can be further broken down into 3 parts:
- Extracting data from the existing system
- “Massaging” the data – clean up and structuring
- Moving the data into the new system
Essentially, data is mapped from the old system to the new according to labels, titles and structures, and additional “massaging” or “cleaning up” gets performed to ensure bad data is not brought into the new system. This process usually happens multiple times in order to get the most accurate and up-to-date data before Go-Live. As you can imagine, for software vendors that manage the entire data migration process, this is not a quick and simple task – especially when dealing with companies that have 30+ years’ worth of data to migrate. Certain software vendors will put the onus on the client to extract the data and manually enter it themselves, which can lead to quicker implementation timeframes and lower costs - but this logic works mostly in theory and not reality. Relying on the client to perform the data migration can mean that the massaging process gets ignored, some data gets missed during the process and employees must take time away from their daily work to complete the task.
Software Set-Up & Configuration
Software set-up is often an overlooked aspect of the implementation process, especially when moving from introductory software systems. When implementing a system such as QuickBooks, it is often left up to the user to set up necessary parameters and options themselves. When working with a more advanced, all-in-one solution, this level of detail is taken care of by the vendor. As no two businesses are exactly alike, configuration refers to setting up the software to work for your company’s specific needs. This adds flexibility for different types of users, operations and processes. Common examples include:
- Accounts payable net limits
- “Flags” for dealing with specific actions such as customers over their credit limits
- Product categories (drop down menus)
- User permissions and security
- Bank accounts
- Sales reps and commissions
- Available order statuses
- System defaults – default units of measure, quote status, inventory class etc.
- Maximum field lengths
In addition to the data migration process, training is the other most time consuming component to ERP software implementations. The amount of time needed for training will vary by company and depends on several factors including: how many employees will be trained as users on the software, how familiar employees are with software systems and their comfort level with technology applications, how complex the business is and how many features are being included with the software package. It is best to work with the software vendor to determine exactly how much training will be required.
Lastly, the software vendor’s schedule plays a significant role in the implementation timeframe. Most software companies operate on a first come first served basis, meaning that there may already be implementations on the schedule for the time-frame you want. Software vendors, as with any company, will not have an unlimited amount of resources dedicated to implementations, which means they have to each be scheduled appropriately. Although this may be frustrating for businesses with a tight timeline, it is often preferable to working with a vendor who is available at any time. Open availability may indicate that the vendor does not have a lot of work to do, which may reflect on the quality of the software offering and the financial viability of the vendor. Once you have decided on a software vendor, the best way to get on the schedule quickly is to sign and return any necessary paperwork and submit payment. In order to get the timeframe you want, begin the software search well in advance of when a new system is needed.
Although the above factors can affect the implementation time frame, another factor – the responsiveness of the client – can then affect the actual Go-Live date. During the implementation process, certain data will need to be gathered and processes evaluated by the client before the vendor can proceed. Any delays in getting this information can delay the entire process. Once a decision has been made to implement new software, it is important that certain employees take ownership of the task and be available to help as a priority over their other responsibilities, in order to avoid this issue.
In summary, in order to make the best decision and increase the odds of a smooth implementation – the software search and decision should be made well in advance of expected Go-Live dates.