Watch out. An ERP coming

by Redhuan D. Oon

There are actually people who would jump out of the window or feel like doing so when they hear such a word. ERP seems an evil word. It means double work (for the starting phases), alot of late night scrutiny of test data, endless discussions with ERP consultants on what you mean by this or that.

It can be rigid and unfriendly and a lot of change in user behaviour. Many are known to resist it and often human psychology is more important than ERP knowledge to resolve such instances.

The number one risk in thinking about ERP is surreal expectations. Some expect the software to do wonders and pluck figures out of the sky. Some feel that there is such a checkbox in choosing what features they like for an ERP as “All of the above”. Some even believe that there is another checkbox after it that says, “All at once”. Well, the bad news is that you can have it all but not at once. Or you can have it at once but not all. There is no big bang theory in ERP. It will involve alot of study, review, reflection, praying and even a no-go decision to delay to another time. To avoid undue heartaches, it is best to go very slow or low-key at first. Pick out one branch that has the lowest risk or user pressure. Make a proof of concept work at this branch or department first. Ensure the final reports are true and useful and are what top management wanted. Yes, salesmanship is not needed here. Do not overpromise or believe in promises from any ERP implementor. They are most likely to under deliver.

Another pain is price or costs of risks. There is a saying that “If it is cheap and it is fast, it is not good; If it is good and it is cheap, it is not fast; If it is good and it is fast, it is not cheap”. So if someone right away agrees with you that you can have what you want according to when you want it, be careful. Is she out for a desperate sale? Check her calling card designation (if it is stated “Sales” somewhere) and ask her technical person some simple questions. Actually i would fail that vendor representative if she answers “yes” all the time. One good question will be to ask for references. But Open Source vendors have very few references because they are not 30 years old software implementors like SAP. Then can they help setup a pilot at your office? It may cost a small fee for their few man hours time but it is worth it to try. Insist on a good faith clause that you can walk away from any commitment and that they do not embed any hidden locks in the open code. Even though it is open source, you most likely won’t spend time reading the 3 million lines of code that is open source ERP as ADempiere. Even if you can read it, you are most likely not able to stand the look of it. Code is very cryptic and elusive to trace even for advanced programmers.

Lack of documentation is another tell-tale sign of pending failure. Actually it is not enough to document a project needs or user guide. You need to have a reader-friendly document. Are there simpler documents? First of all, do the team members write anything? Yes, they may be whizz kids at software, but if they write horribly like a doctor, kick them out.

Even if a vendor is rock solid with plenty of references, they may not be that free or will become over-stretched to cater to your individual needs. In today’s Internet world, a community forum can be a best criteria to choose an ERP software. Even SAP has mailing list that you are free to join to listen in on all the chatter behind the code or implementation issues. This can give you some feel as well as assurance that if all else fails, you can always google from those forums large content base as someone out there is bound to have your same problem and might give you an answer or clue to be closer to an answer.

Yes, everything has risks, even more so with software giants. I was working for a Data General vendor in Malaysia during my first job in IT and they are now extinct. So has many other giants such as Sun. In ERP there are good names that have fallen or bought over. Such as Baan ERP, JD Edwards and Great Plains. Among Open Source ERP, Compiere is bought over from its original owner and mover by a company that does not seem to know what to do next with such free beer. Openbravo which is another commercial open source vendor which forked the idea and design from Compiere has also started introducing commercial fees for some of its code. Wait a minute. I thought they should still have free beer? Well, things get murky. Follow the next essay explaining the difference between community based open source and commercialised open source.


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