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It is probably no surprise, but: ERP projects rarely fail because the software itself doesn’t work.

That is the thing about ERP: when you buy it first, it’s always useless. It certainly has potential, but it hasn’t made anything easier or more efficient and it hasn’t replaced your old system. And how could it, it hasn’t been implemented yet. Turning its potential into reality is the job of an ERP consulting firm that supports your team with the implementation. Together, you either make the ERP system come to life or you don’t. 

This is why it is so important to not only focus on software functionalities when selecting ERP. To pull off a successful project, you need to evaluate the ERP consultants you will be working with just as closely as you evaluate the ERP itself.  

But how do you know if an ERP consulting company is the right partner for your project? First of all, it is important to determine whether you are actually dealing with a full-service ERP consultancy or a pure ERP implementer. In the following, we will tell you exactly where the difference lies and why you need both ERP consulting and implementation to make your ERP project a success.

ERP Consulting vs Implementation – Where is the difference? 

Theoretically, there is none. The two terms are usually treated as synonyms and often referred to as “ERP implementation consulting”. This blending is problematic because it leads to ambiguity and makes it difficult for the client to understand what he is getting himself into. After all, in practice, there is actually quite a big difference.  

The right implementation is crucial – but it’s not everything 

Implementation in its true sense describes the pure realization of software requirements. Put simply, this means that the customer comes to the implementer with almost finished tickets and requirements and tells him exactly what he should do. This means the main task of the implementer is actually only to realize the requirements cleanly in the software so the system works bug-free in the end. 

ERP consulting, on the other hand, is much broader. 

Consulting includes implementation as a subset, but not only. Rather, the consultant must decide whether requirements are sensible, to begin with, and know when it is time to critically question them. Likewise, the consultant has to recognize whether there are better possible solutions that the client has not even thought of and whether requirements that were initially intended to be implemented as complex customization might not also be realized far more simply & effectively with standard features. 

Let’s look at an example: 

A customer says he wants to connect 2 external systems to the ERP: accounting software and a CRM. Now, in the implementation, one would only consider what is the best technical solution to implement this requirement, e.g. which interface has to be developed, how exactly the API has to be written, how webhooks are created, etc.  The goal and process are therefore very straightforward: in the end, both systems should be integrated into the ERP, no further questions asked.

Consulting, on the other hand, starts much sooner. Here, the first questions would be: Why is an external accounting system needed in the first place, and shouldn’t the ERP be used instead? A discussion begins. If it is now concluded that there is no sensible reason why the old system should still be used, the focus would shift to migrating the data from the system and making a clean switch from the old accounting system to the ERP. 

An ERP consultant does therefore not implement requirements blindly but tries to determine through joint discussion with the customer where system customizations are really necessary, and where they are not. The general goal is to implement all current processes in the system with as few customizations as possible.

Consequently, the pure implementation part of the entire project is significantly reduced, and instead more process understanding is required.

Talks that pay off – Why you should look for a consulting partner who challenges you

Yes, involving a holistic ERP consultancy approach for your project means discussing your requirements more in-depth with your consulting partner and they will probably be challenged from time to time. Initially, this might require more energy on the part of the customer as well, since he must break away from the status quo and rethink his processes and requirements. However, the effort does pay off, both for the customer and the partner in several ways: 

1. Maintainability

Because fewer customizations are made, the system remains significantly leaner and thus less prone to errors. An ERP that works largely with standard code is also easier to maintain in the long term because there are no complicated customizations built on a logic that will no longer work with later ERP version updates.

2. Process optimization

 Because the consultant acts as an essential “sparring partner” and constantly puts the requirements to the test, many hidden optimization potentials can be discovered that the customer would never have thought of himself as he doesn’t have the required system know-how. 

3. Improved understanding of the system

Lively discussions about requirements are one thing. Nevertheless, even the best-implemented ERP is of no use if the customer does not know how to operate it.  For this reason, consulting also places a lot of emphasis on taking the customer along every step of the way with regular walk-throughs and training sessions, and on explaining what the ERP can do and how it can be used effectively.  In the end, the interplay of all these measures leads to a deeper understanding of the processes as a whole and how they function in the ERP, increasing productivity, and reducing user errors. 

4. Higher customer satisfaction and long-term retention

A holistic consulting approach is demanding and also requires a high level of competence from the partner, both for the technical side and for the business processes as such. The consultant has to constantly rethink the customer’s processes and decide which implementations in the ERP make the most sense and achieve the highest efficiency gains.

Ultimately, however, he also benefits from it. By always creating the best long-term solutions, the customer will eventually be more satisfied with his ERP, building up more trust, and is more likely to commit to his partner in the future as well.

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