What are Standard Operating Procedures? What do they mean in a business and why should they be taken seriously?

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Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a set of instructions for any particular operation within an organization. These instructions map out all steps and activities of a process or procedure, which, when followed with care, should guarantee a particular expected outcome. In the ERP world SOP is often used alongside or interchangeably with the similar term “best practice approach.” The idea behind this is that people have been working with a particular set of guidelines which they have determined to be the best way possible to get a particular job done: filling out a customer receipt for example, or completing a sales order. While each company is different, some of the broader processes and methods can serve as a model for other organizations with similar functions that need to be performed.

There are many benefits to having SOPs in place within an organization. In the first place, in documenting any function within an organization, you commit collective or even individual knowledge into something tangible: a document. Written procedures and practices then become part of the corporate knowledge base, and are no longer limited to one particular individual or group. Routine training of new employees can be based on the SOPs, and tasks across the company can be standardized. Performance of and adherence to set guidelines can be enforced.

In an environment where regulatory compliance is a requirement and spot checking is in place (pharmaceuticals, medical devices, chemical plants, etc.), SOPs are a must. According to some literature, one of the most frequently reported problems identified in regulatory inspections is a lack of written SOPs and/or the failure to follow them. In a manufacturing environment, SOPs are also imperative in order to insure uniform results, effective quality control, and ultimately, traceability. SOPs are not static documents, however, and they need to be reviewed regularly and updated to assure that they are keeping up with any new working procedures, developments and/or regulatory requirements that are put in place. Changes to the SOPs should be documented.

On a corporate level, SOPs are all about improving your business – be it striving towards continuity, or putting into action best practices for the long run. In the process of documenting and putting SOPs in place, companies may even discover better ways to complete tasks.

When deciding on whether to invest in an ERP system, before moving over to a new system, while in the process of implementing or even re-evaluating the way you do business: take the time to think about SOPs. To get real value from your software and your implementation, insist on working with SOPs. Make sure that the system you are having installed can handle the way you do business. And make sure that things are documented. The people that are involved in the work itself OR their direct supervisors should be consulted when preparing SOPs. If your consultant tells you this is not necessary – beware. The people in the trenches of your establishment are the ones responsible for doing the work documented in the SOP. The greater their involvement, the greater their sense of ownership, the greater their investment and ultimately, the greater the likelihood that they will adhere to the SOPs. Where this is impractical, at the very least the SOPs should be “owned” by the supervisor.

SOPs are proven to work. They can help you streamline processes, enhance performance, improve customer service and, ultimately, boost business. Investment of time in creating and maintaining SOPs will be well spent. In today’s economy, companies need to make the most of the resources they have. In creating SOPs you are not only using your resources wisely, but you ensure that hard earned knowledge and experience is shared, becomes tangible and is transformed into a corporate commodity.

How Real Is Your TCO?

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Addressing the issue of Total Cost of Ownership of an ERP project means spelling out some of the “hidden costs” that are sometimes overlooked or minimized when a vendor is trying to sell you their ERP or satellite software solution. Don’t be fooled. Those hidden costs can add up and need to be taken into consideration.

The leading expenditures on ERP projects are (listed in order of magnitude):

  • Internal resources
  • External (consulting) services
  • Software (licenses and maintenance)

Some of the factors that affect these expenses are the size of the company, number of ERP users, and the depth and breadth of functionality. The true total cost of the ERP system’s deployment, however, is usually unclear during the evaluation process, because these expenditures are not readily apparent until they come up over the lifecycle of the project. Some (but not all) of these “unexpected” or “hidden” costs can include:

  1. Data conversion and improvement (both from existing systems and ongoing)
  2. Add-ons (external components), private customizations, satellite utilities (web sites, BI, BPM, Document Management, mail, etc.), their interfaces to the main ERP application and their migration through ERP upgrades (service packs and advanced versions).
  3. Identity management and security enforcement

All of these hidden costs take close scrutiny and time to discover.

IT Related Expenses

One of the bigger hidden costs, or one not always adequately factored into the equation, is the expense item of IT (or the IT staff/internal resources).

Data collected for 2004-2007 on companies with 500-999 employees in the U.K by Kew Associates clearly shows that annual spending on IT staff is larger by a factor of 4 than any other IT expense item.

What are the IT people doing?

IT people make a host of applications tick, including the selected ERP system and all other applications. An ERP system that can incorporate as many applications as possible will minimize the costs involved in maintaining a large IT staff and the hours spent on dealing with multiple applications, not to mention the costs of the applications themselves.
 
To be sure, there are plenty of good-quality, low-priced, very specific software tools out there in the market. But when you combine the price of the software with the expense of their integration with an ERP application and the IT overhead required to support and maintain them all – the costs just keep adding up.

 

Installation
Installation of traditional ERP products can take months. There are a few products out there that can shorten that time frame substantially. Ask when vetting products, in order to get a clearer picture of what the cost and time frame for this will be.

Implementation & Adoption
A speedy implementation cycle lowers the TCO, but the truth is that there is no easy road for implementation. It doesn’t matter if your solution is SaaS, on-demand or on-premise since the time and cost of implementation depends on the depth and functionality of the chosen system, and the effectiveness of its adoption by the workforce.

Finding a solution that can either smooth the road to a successful implementation, or provide you with tools to do it yourself as much as possible, is the best solution. This can often also provide a hidden benefit, if you will, of giving end users a sense of “ownership” of their processes, which can smooth the path to adoption. Some things you can look for in a software package are:

  • User-level configuration utilities for data migration, eliminating the burden of writing customized conversion routines.
  • Training tools incorporated in the application, including ready made templates, and step-by-step interactive help files and/or wizards which will ultimately empower end users.
  • Good, easy-to-understand documentation and help tools.

Software Costs/Platform Options
Special pricing plans for various software solutions offer a wide array of convenient flexible options, from fully hosted SaaS ERP to per-user/per-month to flat fee on-site installation:

  1. Choosing the fully hosted on-demand/SaaS ERP plan not only sets a low-cost fee per user per month, but can help you save on the cost of servers, operating systems, middleware, databases and accompanying administration (maintenance and security). You can also “try before you buy,” and stop using it if the software does not match your requirements.
  2. With the “Per-User/Per-Month” on-site installation you can start out small, using a few of the modules, and expand to use additional modules as you need them. Let the use of the software grow with the features you gradually employ and the number of users within the organization that progressively move over to the new system.
  3. For companies that have existing infrastructure, or that need to keep the application “in-house”, on-site installation are often the only solution.

Private Customizations

Look for software that includes user-level design and configuration tools for as many aspects of the software as possible (which can also be limited if required), especially to control layout and reporting functionality (e.g. look for software that can help you build the reports you need). This will keep private customizations to a minimum.

 

These are some of the major factors that are part of the equation and affect the TCO of any ERP solution. The challenge is to choose an ERP solution that not only fits your business requirements, but can help you address and minimize even these “hidden costs.”

 

By Rebecca Haviv

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ERP Myths and Facts

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This post is dedicated to those who know that there are no simple answers in the ERP space, and want to learn more about it. Here are a few Myths and Facts from the world of ERP.

 

MYTH: “Our project is not progressing as planned because it lacks management commitment”

FACT: Progress is often not achieved because of management burn-out. People involved can be disillusioned by promises made and expectations that were built-up by overzealous vendor reps, consultants who collect exorbitant fees as the project lingers and IT personnel who were looking for big budgets and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the “big boys.” When management is made aware of the process, and understands that there are no silver bullets in ERP or quick fixes, then expectations don’t run amok and progress can be measured in a real and meaningful fashion. A successful ERP implementation can provide a qualifiable ROI.

 

MYTH: “Our system went live in just a few months”

FACT: It is more likely that the financial part of the ERP went live in a few months rather than the whole system. Corporate financials are fairly straight forward to implement. Also, in most organizations the financials are already “under control.” An ERP system’s biggest added value is not in the financial area, but rather in other parts of the operation and perhaps in tying those other parts into the financials. Modeling and effectively managing operations in an integrated ERP system may take years to implement. In fact, it is an ongoing process. Ultimately, the system must be flexible enough to accommodate operational changes indefinitely.

MYTH: “Once we finished getting our ERP system up and running, our expenses went down drastically.”

FACT: Outside consulting fees may have been reduced and the initial costs for setting up the system are paid off, but companies often fail to take ongoing internal implementation investment into consideration. In the words of one CIO, “we planned for $600,000 and a 6 months project; we reached both and then stopped counting.” An ERP implementation extends over long periods of time, and any worth its salt will take years, not months.

 

MYTH: “Consultants are professionals who can guide the selection process and manage the project while maintaining an objective stance.”

FACT: We believe that anyone reading this already knows the facts.

 

MYTH: “Comparing ERP functionality lists is a good practice for initial screening of vendors for your project.”

FACT: Functionality lists are of marginal value in the selection of potential ERP systems. A single line in a list may represent a world of functionality in one software packages and very little in another. Even if the desired functionality is fully supported in the software, actually making it work for your specific needs may make implementation complex and cost prohibitive. Referrals in your industry are a much better yardstick. As the implementation team is just as important as the software in terms of successful projects, referrals from industry representatives regarding the implementation team are the second most valuable indicator.

 

By Galit Raviv

 

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