11/21/2007 | 4 MINUTE READ

Computer Updating Requires Management Commitment

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What do managers need to consider when they decide the company needs to move into a more advanced ERP mode? Should they research the technologies? Hire a technical consultant? Ask their staff what to do? Take a look at the competition? The answer is that management should do all of this and more.

However, step one for any company planning to transition to a fully integrated industrial software system or a company making a significant upgrade is to prepare the organization for change. That means success is only possible with commitment and involvement from management.

A change in a manufacturing company’s information technology (IT) and handling system will impinge on all departments and employees, as well as a company’s vendors and customers.

Be sure to plan initial meetings with software and systems providers to discuss and analyze these changes and their possible affects on the entire company and its business. An IT provider can bring a wealth of experience to these initial meetings and offer company managers the various different and changing scenarios that these major changes can bring.

Before organizational change can be successfully managed, it is important that current business processes, supporting manual and computerized systems, are fully understood. It’s only through this understanding that company management can fathom the deltas between an organization’s existing system and the future system. One of the best ways to achieve an understanding of an organization’s work flow is by gathering and analyzing the “paper trail” department by department. A paper trail reveals a lot about how an organization manages its business processes.

When an organization assembles the various screens and reports that they most depend on, including items such as computer systems, home-grown databases, spreadsheets, reports and other manual paper-based input forms and logs, it begins to form a picture of how the business operates. What is important to one type of organization may not be important to another.

The next step is to interview the key players within your organization (such as department heads, lead foreman and key staff) to determine how they use information and what is critical information they can’t live without, as well as any other special needs they may have, which may not currently be well supported in their existing systems. If you ask the question, “What information must you have to be effective at your job?” you will find what drives them to their area of responsibility. Also, ask them for their “wish list” items and the most time-consuming functions that they perform to reveal opportunities for efficiency improvements.

With this critical information gathered and tabulated, you are now positioned to methodically review and analyze each prospective system in the context of your organization’s current and future information system requirements.

The need to remain competitive drives business investment. A new or major revision in a company’s IT and ERP systems requires careful, question-oriented planning first. Management should ask itself, on behalf of the company and its future, the following questions:

  • What does my company need in terms of what’s available in state-of-the-art software and information technology?
  • What does the competition use? How can I gain a competitive advantage over my competition?
  • What do my staff and I need to research and adequately decide which of the various technologies in the market is best for us?
  • What are the effects that can be analyzed before we install a change in our existing system?
  • Will this new system be future friendly and able to connect to new developments?
  • How does the information gathered in the new system provide business intelligence in the form of a summarized report.

These initial meetings with management and software systems suppliers should include, at certain critical points, the various department heads. Each layer of management, and ideally each key employee, needs to “buy into” the new system. With input from all concerned employees in these preliminary meetings, the chances of an optimum new system or upgrade are assured.

The changes that can come with a new ERP approach can be severe, even frightening. Some employees may need retraining. Others may find their jobs are eliminated as new functions will need attention. Yet, with the support and continuing leadership of managers, these major changes will lead to a more competitive and successful company. Roadblocks of change for successful implementation can be greatly reduced—if not completely removed—by anticipating each challenge and discussing them with department heads, employees, vendors and customers. Here are some questions that should be discussed:

  • Will there be job losses? Employees need to know the truth up front.
  • What are the company’s plans for retraining?
  • Will there be job responsibility changes?
  • How long will the changes take to implement?
  • What will each employee’s job be with the new system in use?
  • How will questions be answered as the project moves ahead?
  • How will vendors be affected? What input will they have?

These questions must be anticipated by management early on. Ignoring such questions leads to rumors and loss of morale, as well as damaged commitment at all levels. Presenting these changes in a positive light by highlighting the need and efficiency gains of the new system will help ease the transition to the new system.

Modern information technology and software systems are the keys to a profitable future for manufacturing firms. They offer productivity boosts, business intelligence and efficiencies that translate to major increases for the bottom line. Such advances in ERP have allowed numerous companies to gain a competitive advantage that allows them to outdo the competition, thus taking a leadership position in their markets.

However, such successes are only possible with a commitment to change from management it is the careful management of that change—through study, planning and bringing all appropriate parties into the effort—that makes a successful transition.