The 4 words tech support should never say

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Rants, I’d like to share with you the one thing that should never be said by your customer-facing, level I, level II, and level III support staff.  When an IT person utters this four-word phrase to someone not in IT, the message it sends is, “You’re obviously an idiot because there’s no way on earth that what you’re reporting can possibly be true.  You must be mis-reading or mis-keying or mis-clicking something.” (Unspoken but added in the tone: “You moron!”)

Sometimes, tech support people use this four-word phrase in jest, attempting to use comedic irony to lighten the tone and the mood. That’s acceptable, if the use is truly in jest. Problems occur when the phrase is an automatic response, uttered without thinking first.

Tech Support Rule #1: Listen, Think, Then Talk

IT pros love good, quick answers to questions. Many of us think we have the ability to discern the root cause of a problem and articulate a solution in less than 0.06 seconds – every time. The harsh reality is, however, that most of the time, those snap-quick answers are wrong.

We IT managers and support professionals as a group need to remind ourselves that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason – we should listen twice as much as we talk.  In the early days of tech support, you could solve a lot of problems by asking your customer, “Have you tried rebooting the machine?”

It’s a new world now, folks.  We’re supporting cloud-hosted, Web-based interfaces running simultaneously on desktops, laptops, tablets, and supposedly-smart phones. Our in-house applications are stored on storage area networks and department- and user-level drives are mapped to different letter-names depending on the mood of the tech who built the box or added the user’s access to a resource. You can’t let the first thing that pops into your mind be the first thing that pops out of your mouth.

The four forbidden words

Here are the four words that I recommend we ban from the IT lexicon forever:  “That shouldn’t be happening.” The variation on that phrase, “That shouldn’t have happened,” goes on the list, too.

I’ll tell you why these words make my skin crawl.  Recently I had to move my desktop machine from the sixth floor of the office building to the third floor. While I was waiting on the movers to move the stuff and for tech support to make the ports hot at my new location, I logged on to a public machine in a conference room so I could get some work done while I waited. I logged in, fired up the email client, and sat and watched as the email client flashed various “loading” messages until it timed out and gave up.

I trotted down to the Help Desk Call Center area and said to the tech on duty, “Hey, I’m having problems getting the email client to work on the conference room down the hall. “I’ll take a look at it,” the tech said.  Email access is a big deal on conference room machines, because you frequently need to get into email to pull up the URL for webinars or other online meetings.

The tech “took a look,” all right.  The tech looked at the error message, then went straight into Control Panel and started making changes willy-nilly.  Still the email client wouldn’t load. No problem for me, though, as my new workstation was ready.

Three years of cached email addresses – gone!

I fired up my PC, confirmed my internet access and mapped drives were intact, and launched the email client. I went to compose a new message and — what’s that? The cached email address I needed wasn’t there. In fact, NONE of my cached email addresses were there.  Three years’ worth of email addresses were gone.

I went back to the Help Desk Call Center area and asked, “Hey, did you do something to my email account when you were troubleshooting the machine in the conference room? Because all of my cached email addresses are gone now.”  What do you think the response was?

“That shouldn’t be happening!”

No kidding, Sherlock. It shouldn’t be happening, but is it happening! It happened! Three years ago I got this new machine and for three years the email client had been dutifully caching my email addresses.  Now they’re all gone! And the only response the tech suppport “pro” had to offer was, “Well, gee, uh, doh! That shouldn’t be happening!”

It was as if the person was saying to me, “Come on, you ID-10-T, you must be mistaken.”

What you should say instead

If the support person had simply listened and thought before responding, he might have come up with something like, “That’s not good – let me look into it.”  Or, “gosh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me look into it.” But no. This person didn’t stop and think, didn’t take two lousy seconds to consider the possibility that whatever he had done while troubleshooting the conference room machine might — just MIGHT! — have resulted in deleting my cached email addresses.

“What did you do to the conference room machine?” I asked. “Well, I deleted your user profile and recreated it and renamed it and….”  I stopped listening.  I said, “So, you did something destructive (deleting the user profile) without knowing with some degree of certainty that it would fix the problem?  “Well, yeah.”

How the story ended

Some of you might be thinking, “Come on, Jeff, what’s the big deal? You just re-enter your email addresses.” Yeah? Thanks for the empathy. Let me delete all of your cached email addresses and we’ll see how much you like it.

The tech who blindly deleted my user profile off the conference room machine kept jabbering about how “that shouldn’t have happened.” Who knows what this schmuck actually did to the conference room machine, but there was no doubt that whatever he did adversely affected my ability to do my job.

I got the tech’s manager involved, and eventually they produced a copy of the NK2 contacts file from backups that contained my cached email addresses, but they didn’t have any idea how to import them back into my email client. “Just copy and paste them into an email address and that should retain them.”  I tried that trick, and it didn’t work.

I’ve saved the NK2 data so I can search it and copy-and-paste email addresses when I need them. But overall, this was an epic tech support fail. I reported a problem on a community machine. The tech support person didn’t stop and think. Didn’t stop and google. He just dove in and made a destructive change that didn’t work. Then all he had to say to me, the client, was “That shouldn’t be happening.”

I was thinking the same thing about his paycheck.

What shouldn’t be happening in your shop?

Listen to your techs when they’re on the phone with customers. Are they making ridiculous statements like “That shouldn’t be happening?” If so, you may want to send them a link to this article, because they’re doing a disservice to your IT organization’s reputation.

To share your “it shouldn’t be happening” story, post a comment below or drop me a note.

Related reading:

Jeff’s Quick Tips: 5 things techies should NEVER do or say (in sales presentations)

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Should You Allow Telecommuting?

Should you allow telecommuting? The answer is yes, as many as possible, as soon as possible. I know. I know. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer recently told all of her telecommuters to come back to the office claiming employees are less productive at home. But do we really want to follow the lead of the company that passed up the opportunity to buy Google and Facebook on numerous occasions? And as anyone on Yahoo Mail can tell you, the decision has not improved service. Aside from bashing an incredibly successful company, I do have a strong case to make for telecommuting. Consider the following 2 reasons:

1) Money

As the economy struggles to grow most companies are still looking for ways to increase profit and productivity. The biggest expense, by far, of almost all companies is employees, making it the obvious place to look for fat to trim. The problem for most organizations is all the fat got cut between 2006 and 2010. Now there is nothing but muscle.

The second biggest expense for most companies is space. In addition to the monthly rental on space there is the cost of heating and cooling the space, lighting the space and cleaning the space. Employees that work from home offer all of that for free. That’s right. A free space, with free heat and air, often the phone service is free. A company that allows 30% of its employees to work from home could possibly give up 20% of the space currently being rented. That could mean big money, even for small companies.
You can save money on new hires as well. Studies show that prospective employees are often willing to work for less when allowed to work from home.

2) It’s Really Easy Being Green

The greenest thing any company can do is allow employees to work from home. Imagine just 10% of the work force no longer on the roads every morning and afternoon. What would that do to the total fuel consumption of the world, not to mention to the bank accounts of the employees? The people left on the road would probably use less fuel as well, in that there would be less traffic, less stop and go, resulting in shorter commute times. It’s something you could mention in company news, how you are doing your part to lessen the world’s dependency on fossil fuels.

The Down Side

You know those problem employees you have, the ones that spread negativity? If they have to come in every day while others are allowed to work from home they will reach hither to unseen levels of nastiness. At every opportunity they will make insulting remarks suggesting those not at the office are not actually working but are watching soaps and playing with their kids. I like to remind them that I will keep that in mind if they are ever up for a telecommuting position.
The other downside is some people actually do watch soaps and play with their kids. And it can be a problem. Most telecommuters are very conscientious and are at least as productive as the employees at the office. Those that aren’t should be brought back in immediately, or fired.

The Big Questions

So the big questions for most managers are, who should be allowed to work at home and how can we implement it. Those are tough questions but Tool Kit Café can help. If you are contemplating a new telecommuting policy or are experiencing trouble with your current telecommuters consider The IT Telecommuting Policy Tool kit. It has everything you need to create your policy, determine who should be eligible and who should not, training for telecommuters, support policies, contracts and more.

Have any funny or not funny telecommuting stories to share? Post them here or email the editor. We love to hear both sides of an issue.

3 must-know table tips for Word users

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll share three tips for using tables in Microsoft Word that every Word user in your organization must know.  Feel free to pass these productivity and formatting tips around to your users, your help desk staff, and technical trainers. These tips work the same way in every version of Word.

Tip #1: Repeat header rows on every page, please

If you have a table that spans more than one page, guess what? Your document looks pretty ragged if you don’t repeat the header rows on every page. The steps are simple:  Right-click on the top row (the row that contains the headings you want to repeat on every page), choose Table Properties, click the Row tab, and check the box for the option labeled “Repeat row on every page” and click OK.

Reminder: Click on the screen shots to enlarge them and fully enjoy their lustrous beauty!

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Figure 1: This is what your Word doc looks like if you don’t repeat the header row in your table on all pages. Yucky!

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Figure 2: Right-click on the first table row and choose Table Properties, then click the Row tab to turn on “Repeat as header row at the top of each page,” then click OK.

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Figure 3: This is what your Word doc looks like with the header row repeated on every page. Very professional!

#2 Doctors without Borders are great, Tables without Borders are not

If you have a lot of data in your table, and if you want people to be able to make sense of the information in your table without having to lay a ruler on top of the printed page (or worse, up against the screen!), all you have to do is select the entire table, then click on the Borders tool in the Formatting toolbar and select the All Borders option, and voilà! It’s obvious to the most casual observer where each row begins and ends.

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Figure 4: To select the entire table, click the “Select all” icon that appears above the top-left corner of the table when you mouse over it.

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Figure 5: On the Formatting toolbar, click the Borders icon and choose All Borders.

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Figure 6: Borders make the document easier to read.

#3 When you paste from Excel into Word and the columns go off the page, use “Auto fit to Window”

How many times has this happened to you? You’ve got a bunch of data in Excel. You copy and paste that data into Word as a table, and ka-blam! It doesn’t fit. It runs off the right margin and into oblivion. What do you do, hot shot? Well, if you’re smart, you don’t try to change the width of the table columns manually.  If you’re smart, you right-click on the table, choose Auto Fit and Auto Fit to Window, and bada-boom, it fits! You may have to fine-tune the width of some of the columns, but it’s much, much easier to clean up those column widths after Word has auto-fit the table to the existing margins.

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Figure 7: Here’s what my sample Word document looked like when I pasted in four wide columns from an Excel worksheet.

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Figure 8: Right-click anywhere in the table and choose AutoFit | AutoFit to Window.

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Figure 9: Here’s how my document looks after using AutoFit. It’s MUCH easier than trying to tweak the column widths manually.

How do you like these quick tips?

To share your feedback on these tips, please post a comment below or send a note to the editor.

Minimize downtime with Sisco’s free Move/Relocation Checklist

Here is a no brainer about the role of IT support : Our job is to keep the business “up and running.” That’s right, most of us in IT have a 24 X 7, 365-day obligation to keep our technologies running and our business clients positioned to use them. So who has time to move our offices or relocate a data center?

Sooner or later you are going to have to support a company move, department relocation, or opening up a new office. The very nature of these activities suggests downtime, and downtime is an IT organization’s worst enemy.

Getting a move on (and we don’t mean twerking)

A move or relocation is a project just like any other project, and one of the things you want to do is to minimize the business impact in achieving your goal of getting the affected organization and people in place so they can be productive.

I was the CIO of a company in the mid-90’s that grew from $30 million in revenue to over $600 million in just over 5 years. We accomplished much of this growth by acquiring other companies that provided the same type of physician billing services we provided. Many times we would acquire a company that had an office right around the corner from one of our offices. To leverage our investment we either consolidated the two offices into one of them or moved both offices to a brand new location.

It seemed like we were moving a group of people to a new location or opening up a new office every week.

Relocation activities create lots of opportunity for downtime and loss of productivity. Downtime was a huge cash flow and client satisfaction problem in this industry.  If our employees could not bill and produce insurance claims and collect the money for physician services, our physician clients didn’t get paid, and neither did we.  Minimizing downtime was a key objective because our operational and financial success depended upon it.

Introducing the Office Move/Relocation Checklist

To help us manage an office move, we developed a simple Office Move/Relocation Checklist.   This checklist can help you with almost anything that you need to do from time to time, things like:

– Office moves
-Delivering classes
-Deploying equipment
-Troubleshooting specific technologies

In this particular example, there are three key sections:

  1. Move preparation tasks that include a responsibility and completion timeframe
  2. Day of Move tasks you should target
  3. List of equipment you need to support the move

Checklists like this one and others we used helped our IT organization minimize downtime and disruption to our business by completing our projects reliably and consistently, key ingredients for a positive IT support operation.

Download the Checklist for Free!

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Check out Mike’s IT Manager Toolkit

If you like the Office Move/Relocation Checklist, you’ll be interested in the 100 tools and templates in the IT Manager ToolKit. To learn more about the complete IT Manager Toolkit, click here.  If you want to learn more about all MDE products and services, click here.

Mike Sisco is the President of MDE Enterprises, Inc., an IT manager training company focused on, “helping IT managers of the world achieve more success”. MDE resources are available at http://itmanagerstore.com

Your feedback welcome!

Thanks for visiting ToolkitCafé. To give feedback on this article, please post a comment below or email the editor.

Take ToolKit Cafe’s IT Management Knowledge Quiz

Are you smarter than the average IT manager? If you think so, we invite you to take ToolKitCafe.com’s  IT Management Knowledge Quiz. IT management coach Mike Sisco designed this quiz to test your IT management mettle.  It takes just a few short minutes to answer 10 questions.  Your answers will be graded and results displayed immediately after you finish the quiz. We’ve designed the quiz so you have to answer 7 out of 10 questions correctly in order to pass.

Thanks in advance for taking the IT Management Knowledge Quiz.  Keep an eye out on your ToolTalk Weekly e-newsletter for a link to our analysis of the results.

Tell us what you think of the quiz!

After you take the IT Management Knowledge Quiz, please come back to this thread and post a comment to tell us what you thought of it or email the editor.

5 More Critical Insights for Implementing ERP

In part I of this series on ERP, we interviewed Brian Schaffner about five of the things he wishes he’d known before he started implementing his first ERP solution. This week, our interview continues with five more lessons for CIOs, IT directors, and IT managers who are staring down the gullet of an ERP implementation deadline.

ToolTalkWeekly:  Testing an ERP may take as long, or longer, than to do the development and configuration

Brian Schaffner: During a typical software lifecycle, you perform rigorous testing of the solution to be sure it meets your requirements and does what you need it to do. On smaller scale systems, you can often predict the testing effort using various formulas and rules of thumb. With an ERP implementation, however, the rules can be different.

Because an ERP system usually supports many more processes than a smaller, more focused system, and because the processes within the ERP are more integrated – there can be many more dynamics at work than in a typical software solution. As a result, the number of permutations that can arise grows exponentially as you define and build the system. You will need to think about the effort required to test and validate all of these variations. Automated testing solutions can be a tremendous help in this area, as you will need to not only test the system during the initial development and deployment, but will also need to regression test it as you make changes.

TTW: Implementing a system-wide ERP platform is a huge cultural change for an organization

BS:  As with overlooking your customers – some organizations overlook their internal people and culture when implementing a solution of this magnitude. Change is difficult for many people – and especially for organizations where there is an ingrained culture. Culture can take many forms – and in this case can be affected by changes in the roles that people have, in the tasks and processes they carry out, the skills required, and even whether their job exists after the system is in place.

It’s important to understand how the process of implementing the new system, and how the operational rollout of it will affect the organization as a whole. You don’t want everyone to come in on a Monday morning and have a crash course on how to deal with the system, customers who are complaining and anything else that’s going wrong. This can be addressed partially through normal training curriculums which train users on how to perform specific functions within the system. Usually, though, that’s not enough. You should also think about how you will transition into the new system and how you will socialize those changes – organization-wide. You’ll want to make sure that the non-IT people understand that the new system isn’t going to be perfect – and will definitely have issues. As the organization learns about the changes, and adapts to them over time, the process of adopting the new system will go much smoother.

TTW:  The cost to implement an ERP are probably 2x to 10x whatever you think the initial estimate is

BS:  IT news sources have no shortage of stories of failed and expensive ERP implementations. So – you probably already know this one, but it bears repeating. Your ERP will cost significantly more than you are planning. Very few ERP implementations cost anywhere near the initial plan.

You should go in expecting to spend between 2 and 10 times your initial cost plan. This may seem like too much – and possibly there are ways to reel in the costs. The reality, however, is that ERP systems are complex and planning them out in a way that’s accurate is very difficult to achieve. That complexity often comes from many of the issues listed above, such as the ERP doesn’t fit your business processes, so you pay extra to customize it (or your processes) so that they match. Or maybe your business process requirements are all in the head of the mainframe programmer that retired last year, and now you need to pay a hefty consulting fee to bring him back to help you. Perhaps you thought you were going to have a 1 year, big-bang implementation – but half-way through you realize that a 3-year phased plan is much easier for the organization to consume. Some of these you can plan up-front – but many of them are hard to predict until you are already in the middle of the project.

TTW:  ERPs are long cycle projects – and they take a heavy toll on the IT team and the business users

BS: Most ERP projects take 12 months or longer to complete. That can be a long time for everyone involved to continually keep focus and motivation. The IT team often has some idea of the impact coming their way when they sign up for a project like this. IT groups are usually familiar with the process of system development and implementation, and have grown accustomed to the steps and timeframes involved.

Business users, on the other hand, are usually in a different boat. Many non-ERP projects that involve business users only require limited involvement and input. During an ERP implementation, the demand on the business users can be very high. At times, the business users will work as many or more hours than the IT team – helping to articulate their processes and how they work, helping to test and verify that the system does what it’s supposed to do, and even participating in and leading training of their departments. All of that effort can be a drag on their morale, and also a major impact to their normal daily duties.

TTW:  A clear understanding of the benefits is crucial to prioritizing the work, and to measuring the success of the project.

BS: Many ERP implementations start off with a grand vision of how great things will be when the project is over and everyone is reaping the benefits of a great implementation. What usually happens over time is that trade-offs and compromises are made in order to keep the project schedule on track and keep the costs in line. When that happens, the goals and benefits of the project can erode.

A clear understanding of the benefits and priorities can and should be the backbone of decision making when reviewing costs, schedules, and other project risks. It’s understandable to back off of certain features because they are going to take too much time or effort to implement; but if not implementing the feature compromises a core benefit of the system, it’s important to understand that when it occurs, not when the project is completed and the CFO doesn’t understand why the ROI doesn’t match expectations.

What’s your take on ERP?

To share your experiences with ERP implementations, please post a comment below or send a note to the editor.

Featured Toolkit: IT Project Management

If you’re looking for a great set of templates and tools for implementing an ERP solution in your shop, check out The IT Project Manager’s Toolkit.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs From the Help desk manager

Good support techs are hard to find and even harder to keep. It’s a tough and often thankless job. Callers often abuse them, other IT employees take them for granted and the hours can be terrible. More importantly, the combination of being able to understand the technology and work with people is exceptional.  There isn’t much a help desk manager can do about those things. What a manger can do is ensure the analysts have everything they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

     1. The right tools

No job is easy without the right tools. Whether the job is to repair plumbing, cook a great meal or diagnose a computer problem, having the right tools is essential. For a help desk the right tools are;

a)      Schematics on all supported hardware

b)      Good remote control tool

c)       Documentation on all supported software

d)      Admin rights to every supported system

  1. Appreciation for a job well done

Award ceremonies can be fun but giving out the same plaques every year or month isn’t true appreciation. The way appreciation is properly shown is to personally thank the employee. Managers should occasionally stop by the desk of someone who has done well, maybe even invite that employee out to lunch. While there the manager should thank the employee and be specific about why that employee is appreciated. A follow up email that can be kept for their records is a nice touch but the personal visit will stay with the employee for weeks.

  1. Training

Nothing changes faster than technology and the Help Desk analyst must be at least one step ahead of callers every day. Whether in a classroom, book or computer based. Training for the Help Desk analyst is essential. Of course time and money are always an issue. Anticipate and plan for slow periods by keeping up to date training programs available. Even if only for an hour, taking advantage of low call volume to increase skills is the best possible use of a Help Desk analysts time.

  1. Help in the trenches

Most Help Desk managers spent quite enough time on the phone, before they were promoted, and have no intention of going back. This is a mistake. While a manager’s time is best spent managing, the occasional foray back to the trenches not only keeps him or her sharp and in the game. More importantly, the extra help on a really busy day will be greatly appreciated by the analysts. It’s always good to know the boss can do the job and not just boss.

  1. Trust

Trust can be the toughest thing for any manager to give. For one thing, some employees just don’t deserve it. Most do and they should be left alone to do their job. Whenever possible a manager should deliver the requirements and then let the analysts figure out the best way to deliver. Micromanaging by scripting or insisting information be gathered in specific order are indications of mistrust and make an analysts job, more difficult, not less. New employees or those who aren’t performing need those things. Give the rest the room they need to do their jobs.

  1. Reasonable Requirements.

Reasonable requirements vary from office to office, depending on what is supported and the sophistication level of the users. It’s impossible for anyone outside to say what is reasonable and what isn’t.  Looking at history and working with trusted employees is the only way set the parameters. Once those parameters are set the expectations shouldn’t be raised, without serious reevaluation. In other words, once an employee has reached a productivity level considered excellent, stop raising the bar. Doing so just forces the employee to have a bad month, in order to start all over again.

  1. Occasional off the phone work

A help desk analyst should spend the vast majority of work time, on the phone.  The most important tasks on any help desk are answering the calls and helping the callers. Everything else is secondary. There are some tasks that are not phone related and giving analysts time on those tasks, when call volume permits, is a great way to recharge batteries. Examples are giving training as well as receiving it, documenting procedures and testing new software and hardware.

These seven things are important, doable and make a difference. There is more though. Tell us what you need from your manager and why?

For more great information on how to manage your IT employees check out The Practical IT Manager Gold Series by Mike Sisco. It’s an great resource.

5 Critical Insights for Implementing ERP

Oh, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), you promise so much but you’re a fickle consort. That’s the lesson we learned when we interviewed Brian Schaffner, Director of Enterprise Architecture and Infrastructure for a healthcare provider with operations on five continents.  Brian has worked and lived through his fair share of ERP implementations in companies of various sizes and industries. Whether you’re considering your first ERP implementation or you’ve been charged with upgrading an existing ERP integration, you can benefit from Brian’s mistakes as he shares the things he wishes he’d known before he started with ERP.

If only I’d known then what I know now about ERP

ToolTalkWeekly: You said the first thing you wish you’d known before you started your first ERP implementation was that not all ERP solutions are the same.

Brian Schaffner:  Some ERP vendors cater to specific industries, some and are more flexible, and some are too big or too small for your company. It’s not always easy picking a solution that fits your company and its needs. Evaluate companies by looking at their track record with companies or organizations that are similar to yours. If you are a mid-size state college – look for solutions that have done that before. You don’t want to be a vendor’s guinea pig when implementing a system of this scale.

TTW:  What if you’re migrating from an existing system to a new system?

BS:  You and your team need knowledge and documentation of the existing system. That’s key.This probably sounds like an obvious statement, but it’s surprising how many organizations have either no documentation, or the documentation they do have is nearly useless. That can be true of knowledge within the organization as well. Systems that have been around a while often evolve from what the documentation says they do. The people who know what the system does, and, more importantly, how it works – have moved on or retired.

Before you embark on your ERP quest, take inventory of what you know about your existing business, processes, and systems. You may find that you are fully staffed, documented, and knowledgeable. However, if you are like most companies, as you uncover the rocks, you are more likely to find snakes than gold. It’s important to know what you know before you get started, because once you start implementing it’s much more difficult to go back to the beginning.

TTW:  What’s a typical timeline look like for an ERP implementation?

BS:  Depending on the size of the system and company – phasing or building integration may be better than “big bang.”Many ERP vendors have solutions that will handle many, if not most or all, of your processes. This can be great for streamlining your organization and providing better service to your customers. If you are a small organization, you may be able to consume all of the changes to all of those processes in a single implementation. Most organizations, however, struggle to implement using the “big bang” – or all-at-once approach.

If you find your organization overwhelmed by the magnitude and quantity of changes taking place, look at ways to phase the implementation. Start with more simple, back-end processes like Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, and General Ledger. Often, those processes form the backbone of an ERP implementation – and often they are not overly customized. Many times, these are easier to implement and integrate with.

Once you have the core system running, you can build integration layers that handle getting data in to, and out of, the system. Modern integration platforms provide not only batch data loads, but also real-time messaging and synchronization across systems.
ERPorNot

TTW:  IT people tend to think in terms of impact on IT functions and internal business operations.  What’s the impact on customers?

BS:  If there are customer-facing pieces of your project – communicate a lot and often with customers.  A huge mistake that companies make when implementing new internal systems is forgetting about the external impact. Usually this means customers – but can also mean vendors, financial institutions, investors, and others who interact with you. Customers, in particular, can be affected in many ways. For example, if you change the format of your invoices – and customers have processes that depend on the invoice format – you probably just broke their process. A new system also means bugs and bumpy processes. Customers understand these issues if they know what’s going on – but if you don’t tell them, and they simply experience the issues themselves, they are likely to become frustrated or leave.

Involve your customers, and other external entities in your project. Tell them what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how they will benefit from it. If you have target dates where they will experience changes, let them know in advance. The more you let them know what’s going on, the better prepared they will be for the changes, and the more successful you will be in the implementation.

TTW:  Is ERP an inevitable part of IT operations?

BS:  An ERP platform does not constitute a holistic architecture.  Sometimes when you implement a new, integrated system – the new system brings its own technology, platform, framework, and architecture. Usually those are all necessary to make all the pieces of the ERP work together in harmony. In the context of the ERP system, that is all well and good. For many organizations, however, the ERP is not the boundary of their systems. Sometimes you have customizations or proprietary systems that need to integrate, or possibly be built into the ERP system. It can be tempting to adopt the technology, platform, and architecture of the ERP for these auxiliary systems.

Before you do that – you should consider the implications. As the ERP architecture evolves – are you willing to invest in evolving all of the systems that are based on the ERP architecture? Or are you willing to wait for ERP enhancements as you bring all of your systems up to date? There may be operational considerations as well. For example, with some systems you may have monolithic components that require the entire system to be down during maintenance. If you understand these types of implications, and can live with them, you may be okay. If not – you may need to consider other ways to design the auxiliary components.

Part 2: Five more lessons you need before you implement  ERP

Follow the discussion when we continue our interview with Brian he talks about what happens after you select an ERP solution. In the meantime, please tell us what you thought about this content by posting a comment below or email the editor.

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