The design and implementation of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is an integral part of a life sciences supply chain management process. Using a phased approach involving the development and integration of future state process improvements helps to ensure the suitability and longevity of the system and maximize return on investment. This article focuses on four key drivers of a successful implementation.

Understanding Business Needs

This critical first step provides the foundation for implementation goals and system structure design. The ERP owner should be integrally involved and responsible for approving business processes, defining implementation prioritization (based on organizational goals), and ensuring alignment with the quality, product development, manufacturing, and finance functions.

Conducting site walkthroughs, group sessions, and individual interviews at all levels of the organization is highly recommended to identify process gaps and improvement needs. There are three additional drivers to focus on:

  1. Develop a future state vision at the onset and integrate it into the implementation planning. A failure to address the process gaps early will result in having to perform additional configuration changes in the later stages of the project, adding to costs and lengthening the timeline. Establishing rigorous prioritization metrics will help align the project scope with the business objectives.

  2. Empower business owners to drive the decision-making process and keep the information technology professionals focused on technical support. To avoid critical deficiencies, ERP system processes should align with the key business processes instead of a default standard. For example, inventory valuation will be accurate only if master data is consistent with valuation methods in the organization and if inventoried items are configured and designed to flow through the system both from a supply chain and finance perspective. Any discrepancy may severely affect the organization’s ability to report accurate financial results.

  3. Build a strong implementation core team using a skill set assessment framework and ensure that they have capacity. Use external supply chain and ERP system subject matter experts as needed.

Mapping the business needs against ERP implementation will serve as the roadmap for organizational adoption and process improvement.

Fostering Stakeholders’ Engagement

After identifying business needs, the project team should work on identifying any critical obstacles that they may face before executing the implementation. Offset stakeholder engagement issues with a change management communications plan to help with organizational adoption early on. Scheduling regular demos and a structured process in obtaining feedback are effective means of hearing what users have to say while also offering some valuable insights on end-user’s experience. As an example, involve the finance department in the planning process as it will have a direct impact on client billing and cash collection.

Another tactic in garnering support is using near-real time data and involving end users while walking through the processes end-to-end. This approach will highlight unique issues and identify qualified end users who could become trainers and help acclimate subject matter experts to the configuration.

Placing an emphasis on getting the organization onboard with implementation is essential for success following the go-live stage and allows for effective mapping of specifications and the refining of processes for use with the new system.

Developing a Comprehensive Data Methodology

When the time comes to review the system functionalities against the business needs, the selection of an implementation partner with knowledge of technology, future state processes, and a successful track record is essential. We recommend working with your procurement team to establish selection criteria and a solid vendor vetting process. A quality implementation partner will act as a catalyst, will be quicker to onboard, will provide highly qualified guidance and support, and will increase synergy with the supply chain subject matter experts and information technology business analysts.

This core team will produce recommendations, a feasibility assessment, and a data migration plan. An important note here regarding the rigor of the data migration plan — organizations migrating from paper-based records will face the unique challenge of having to define a standard data terminology. Collaborating with data owners on developing data verification protocols to review and determine data attributes, applicability, consistency, and accuracy will make a major difference during this process. Implementing a diligent master data cleansing methodology will help avoid the pitfalls of an inaccurate inventory-at-hand picture, as well as added inventory costs and confusion regarding materials used during the production.

Recognizing Process Improvement Opportunities

Identifying business process improvements opportunities is another key step to ensure success. The development of a comprehensive business process improvement model that follows the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) framework is an excellent place to start. Encouraging end users and operational leadership to feed ideas into a centralized vetting process will standardize how these process improvements are defined and allow for a uniform platform to track these improvements from start to finish. Including stage gate reviews and a regular cadence around tracking and reporting progress will build accountability and regularity to the execution of these enhancements, help discard non relevant ideas and identify roadblocks.

Approving and documenting these processes within a controlled framework is time consuming. So, planning and performing some of these tasks concurrently — such as preparing the supportive documentation for Change Control Review Board approval or starting the standard operating procedures (SOPs) write-up process in the Document Control System — will also make a difference.

To tackle the inherent need for expertise and guidance for specification development, process revision, and testing, organizations can set up a Center of Excellence. With representation from all relevant business units, they will vet, prioritize, and resource key system and process improvements, bringing together leaders and fostering a greater sense of unity between the business units in solving problems.

In dealing with multiple sites, another tool to consider is the use of a pilot site to define and verify the applicability of these process advancements while still using near-real data. This lower risk alternative will reveal potential roadblocks prior to full implementation, offering more flexibility for adjustments and a lower cost option in vetting the system. It will be most effective when all sites are planning to use a standardized approach. Whether or not a pilot site is used for this phase, an in-depth training plan will provide the additional benefit of end users who are more familiar with the system and configurations and can become training and subject matter experts for their respective roles.

This article was written by Segolene Balling, a Business Change Enablement – Manager, and Matt Ulinski, an Operational & Organizational Transformation Associate at Grant Thornton LLP. For more information, visit here .