Viewing archives for Integration

Your ERP implementation plan

An Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project is when you integrate all your company’s core processes into a single system—finance, HR, manufacturing, supply chain, services, procurement, whatever else you need to run your business, back-end and front.

It sounds fantastic, and it is, when it’s done right. But large systems projects are expensive exercises. And too often the results are disappointing and rarely meet their business objectives. And then you are stuck with them: ERP systems generally have a lifetime of seven years or more.

This ERP implementation plan provides some key pointers. It can be a primer if you’re about to start, or even a useful review when you’re halfway through.


You may also be interested in our blog post Do you actually need an ERP project?


1. Get the business objectives clear.

Has there been an open workshop at Board level to agree on the basic business objectives? The objective isn’t to implement a new MRP or ERP, it’s to deliver specific business outcomes… What are they? Has everyone agreed on them?

Be specific. For example, an objective may be to halve manufacturing cycle/throughput time; to remove four FTEs by avoiding any rekeying between the ERP and website; or to eliminate errors in labelling by automating label production.

Get them all in writing and get all the senior team to sign off. Yes, put ink on the paper!

2. Be clear about the key requirements.

In everyday business language, document the key things the systems must do, or must enable, or must achieve. This might be a list of forty or fifty statements, such as, ‘telesales handling staff can see accurate stock info and pricing on any products within thirty seconds.’

Often the emphasis is on how you go about things today, but the focus should be on outcomes, as there may be better ways to get there. And all department heads need to be involved, to agree, and, again, to sign off.

3. Get specific about who is involved and who is accountable.

First, pick the right people to own the project. Are there experts on the business who will need to be assigned to the project team? Will their positions need to be backfilled?

And don’t assume that every techie in your business understands ERP projects. Increasingly the line is blurred between shop-floor technology, automation, and information technology. The Ops team (who might have owned this project a decade ago) may no longer have the right skills or experience.

Second, everyone must be clear on their roles. Are you aiming to involve some of your own people in the details so they can become expert superusers of your new system? Who on the Board is accountable for delivery? This should include not only delivery of the technology, but all the business outcomes identified at the start.

4. Get clear on the cost-benefit model.

Although you don’t know the detailed costs yet, you can establish the cost-benefit model. This means understanding how this project will deliver hard benefits, so that when compromises are necessary, you can identify what’s worth keeping and what you can drop. The cost-benefit should be based on improvements in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). For example, identify the target on-time, in-full (OTIF) and compare to current measurements of the same KPIs.

5. Select your products rationally.

There are hundreds of systems available: IFS, Nav, AX, SAP, SAGE, Epicor, Oracle, Syspro to name a few! This can be a minefield, but not if you’re clear-headed about it. Once you have all your requirements, you can use them to create selection criteria, a scoring system, and clear questions to ask.

You need to weigh up the advantages of integrated ERP with multiple specialised systems, which might offer better features but greater complexity. Make sure all the business stakeholders are part of the decision-making process so they all have a vested interest in success.

6. Select your partners rationally.

A partner will configure, customize, and support your systems. As you will need to have a long-term relationship, it is critical that there is trust and a good cultural fit. Take up references, and check everything! Ask around: are they experts in your sector? Are they financially secure? Have they got a stable team?

And start early, so that you have time to negotiate a good price and contract rather than having to cave in due to pressing deadlines.

To continue reading, download the article above.

Visit our ERP and Integration Issues Knowledge Centre, which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT directors, CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with SME and mid-market organisations, and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

New security challenges…and how to fight them

Cyber criminals are constantly getting more sophisticated and adept at what they do.

Recently, Microsoft blamed a Chinese state-backed group for attacks on Microsoft Mail platforms that allowed the attacker to access email inboxes, a crucial step in any well-run hack. And a short while ago, Solarwinds had to admit their software had been hacked prior to being distributed.

So, how do you make yourself safe? We use house security as an analogy: your house is safe once you’ve closed and locked the doors and windows. But you have to do it yourself; no-one will do it for you. The same can be said of online security: your company’s security is your responsibility.

Cyber criminals are scanning and testing your company all the time. They no longer use the doors or windows. They have ways of looking like your staff or suppliers; they’re already inside your office before you’ve shut and locked the doors!

And like a terrorist, the cyber-criminal only has to get lucky once. You have to be lucky all the time. And without your constant vigilance, the cyber-criminal will find a weakness.

As the owner of the business, you can’t be responsible for all the technical details. But you can, and must, ask the right questions and hold those who are responsible to account. We recommend you ask your IT team or suppliers four simple questions:

  1. Who on the Board is accountable for our security and risk strategy? When was the last time we reviewed and tested it?
  2. Are our security systems up to date and comprehensive? How do we know they’re up to date? Do we have assessments or accreditations?
  3. Does my staff (including the Board and the CEO!) get regularly trained in cyber security and social engineering? Have we ever tested that knowledge?
  4. If we do end up in trouble, who’s in charge and what’s the plan?

Most successful attacks use tried, tested and simple methods. The reason they’re successful is because companies have forgotten to get the basics right.

If you’d like a reminder of the basics, we recommend you follow our 13-point list of simple key steps a non-technical board member can take right now.

Also see our Cyber Security Knowledge Centre which includes more content related to this topic.

You don’t need to be the technical expert. But you do need to take the lead. No-one but you will keep your house or your business safe. Our briefing will provide you with free, straightforward advice.

If you have any other questions about cyber security or IT, feel free to get in touch. We’re always happy to talk.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Does your business run on Excel? Undo!

One of the UK’s leading health agencies, Public Health England (PHE), has revealed a massive under-reporting of covid-19 cases due to an Excel blunder.

The truth is that many mid-market CEOs know their own businesses are too dependent on Excel. We’ve all become stuck in an Excel circular reference. The challenge is how to escape. Excel has become ubiquitous for a reason. It is extremely simple to start and amazing what you can do quickly.

But for some mid-market businesses, Excel has become an unplanned core back-office system. It is often the link between systems and processes; it is sometimes used to store critical data; and it is often used to present and explore data throughout the business.

Finance people can’t get enough of it. The rest of us can’t remember the clever bits, but we still use it anyway.

But why is it dangerous?

  1. Excel is fundamentally unstructured and easy to change. This makes it incredibly convenient. But it also allows for continuous tinkering. And it can be very difficult to assess the impact of changes and to identify errors.
  2. Excel files, passed between people by email, or shared in folders (or worse on USB sticks!) are a recipe for error, confusion and unauthorised access. Good systems go hand-in-hand with good processes, and Excel encourages neither.
  3. Excel is a dead-end. There is no ‘pathway’ to formalise an Excel process into a more managed system with proper controls, an audit trail, security, data management and error-checking. Excel is not a sound basis for automation or integration.

In the meantime, see our ERP and integration knowledge centre for more on smoothing out systems and processes


In short, Excel can lead a mid-market business to the point where it is very difficult to scale and where they are exposed to fraud or blunders like PHE’s. But since it works most of the time, and the cost of replacement looks high, the easiest thing is just to carry on with it.

But the bottom line is that to run a business well you need integrated systems that support efficient, agile processes, and deliver useful management information to enable decision making. You won’t get all that with Excel.

Your company’s systems strategy should have some principles to avoid an overdependence on Excel. What might they be?

  1. Use Excel freely – when it’s appropriate. For example, new ideas, new opportunities, or an informal look at data. Use Excel as a personal tool for tackling problems.
  2. Establish your business’s timeframe or scale-of-use for Excel. For example, ‘We won’t use Excel to manage this project for more than nine months.’ Or: ‘It wouldn’t make sense to run a new business line on Excel once revenue exceeds £100k per month.’ Or: ‘We always ring alarm-bells when someone starts using Excel’s built-in coding platform’.
  3. Here’s the tricky part: you need an integrated set of systems and processes that can smoothly replace Excel when the time comes.

Excel is an amazing product; it is ubiquitous for a reason. But its convenience can be its downfall or yours. Like all powerful tools, handle it with care!

If your company needs help replacing Excel with an affordable integrated system, get in touch. We have a lot of experience helping mid-market businesses streamline their systems, and we’re always up for an informal chat.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How systems and digital drive business value for private equity (PE)

Private Equity (PE) ownership of mid-market companies is increasing. Of course, PE houses are driven by valuations and these days IT/technology is at the heart of business value.

There are 4 areas where IT strategy and execution drive value in the PE space:

1. Building in scalability

PE houses building an integrated group of companies will often aim for one of the companies to be the “platform” onto which the other businesses can be added.

The platform company will have well-implemented processes, technology and organization in order to run smoothly, provide good service at low cost, and to provide clear, flexible and timely management information. It will have the capability to grow and deliver high margins.

Most importantly the platform company may be valued at twice the multiple of the others due to its ability to assimilate and support acquisitions.

2. Due diligence

IT/technology due diligence in mid-market deals is often overlooked or a box-ticking exercise because traditional DD providers use lengthy old-fashioned checklists. These provide limited real value and lack commercial insight (and are often hugely over-priced!).

The basics need to be carefully checked: security, compliance, risks, contracts, people, suppliers and cost and legal exposures need to be assessed and itemised. But in the mid-market, DD expectations need to be realistic and, most importantly, value-focussed buyers need insight into future opportunities (rather than endless lists of risks).

3. Enabling marketing innovations

These days almost every marketing innovation has its roots in technology. Both businesses and consumers are increasingly finding, choosing and buying products and services online.

Brands that want to engage with consumers will tend to do so by establishing a 1-to-1 relationship with them and offering them immersive digital experiences that provide value to the consumer and insight and lock-in for themselves.

For B2B suppliers, the ability to integrate your systems with your clients can be critical, and areas like security and reliability can enable you to acquire and retain high-value corporate clients.

For marketing innovations to work successfully, marketing and technology execs need to work hand-in-glove.

4. Digital transformation

Even a smaller company can radically improve its internal operations and market proposition using digital technology. These days, a company’s size is no indication of its ability to transform the entire market.

We define 4 types of digital transformation depending on whether you are looking to transform your business or marketplace, your customers’ experiences, or your internal operations and risks. You can read more about it here. For PE-owned businesses, or businesses looking to maximize their value to PE houses, all 4 are important areas.

Our Principals work with companies on these issues every day. To discuss these or any other business IT strategic challenges just contact us. It all starts with a conversation.

To find out more, watch the video Focus on Private Equity, where Graeme Freeman explains four areas where well planned and executed IT strategy really drive business value.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How to Get Started with an ERP Project – Part II

This is the second in a two-part series on how to launch a successful Enterprise Planning Resource (ERP) project. For more information on ERP in plain English, check out our Knowledge Centre.

You can read Part I here.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

3 Focus Points for Successful Systems Integration

Freeman Clarke co-founder Graeme Freeman explains the three areas you’ll need to focus on for a successful systems integration project and provides ideas for building on that success.

You may find other posts in our ERP and Integration Knowledge Centre interesting.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

ERP pearls of wisdom from our experts

This audio focuses on ERP pearls of wisdom from our experts.

You can listen to the other audios in this series here.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

How to Get Started with an ERP Project – Part I

This is the first in a two-part series on how to launch a successful Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project. For more information on ERP in plain English, check out our Knowledge Centre.

You can read Part II here.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

3 common problems with systems integration

Integration challenges can be difficult to identify. In this video, Freeman Clarke Co-founder Graeme Freeman explains three of most common problems created by systems integration and how to get started on fixing them.

You may find other posts in our ERP and Integration Knowledge Centre interesting.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organizations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

A concise introduction to integration problems – Part II: How to solve them

This is the second of our two-part series on integration problems. Click here to read Part I: How to Spot Them.

So, you have identified that your company has integration problems. Morale is affected, reporting is overly complicated, you can’t plan for the future, and customer service is suffering. So, what can you do about it?

Look Before You Leap

When looking to fix integration problems, you have a spectrum of options: at one end is a long series of fixes to individual issues; at the other end is a major, transformational project.

Either way, strategise first! Before you do anything, your Board should consider these questions:

Be aware that this discussion can reveal personal tensions in your organisation. In most cases, when systems aren’t integrated, it means that departments aren’t communicating with each other — so this kind of discussion can be quite stormy, as departments may blame each other for your company’s struggles.

Avoid the blame-game. Aim for a dispassionate acceptance of the current realities and the need for change. Then figure out who will have ownership of the solution.

Putting Together Your Integration Dream Team

 You need focus to solve integration problems. So, start with a competent team that has resources and authority. Appoint a Director to be accountable and give them a twelve-week time frame within which solving integration problems is their priority.

Why twelve weeks? Because the time period needs to be long enough to actually make a difference, but short enough that business-as-usual issues can wait, so this project can genuinely be a priority.

The initial focus should be on creating a list of issues with (a) estimates of the three-year business impact of each, and (b) an assessment of how readily solvable the problem. From this list you can select, say, the top three or four problems with a commitment to solve or substantially reduce them in twelve weeks.

How to Take Small Steps Forward

Remember that integration solutions are on the spectrum between individual fixes and a big, transformational project. It may be tempting to think big — but it may not be necessary! For each issue, consider the following:

More Serious Redesign Projects

If it turns out that more serious redesigns are necessary, you’ll need an even more strategic approach. Go back to the beginning and consider how to reorganise your business to suit the needs of your customers. For example, automate manual activities wherever possible, unless it makes commercial sense or provides enhanced service that your customers value.

Then start thinking through the main processes, key performance indicators, and options for back-end systems. (Naturally, if you reduce the number of back-end systems, there will be fewer technical integrations, so there should be fewer sources of potential problems.)

A word of warning: some vendors market their solutions as a single brand, when, under the bonnet, they actually provide multiple products which are not fully integrated. So, one ‘product’ may actually be composed of many partly integrated pieces of software.

The solution may then lie in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Basically, ERP takes all of the core processes you need to run your company — finance, HR, manufacturing, supply chain, services, procurement, and others — and integrates them into a single system.

The goal is to provide all the separate aspects of your business with the same information in real-time. And the result can a huge springboard to scalability and growth.

You can read Part I: How to Spot Them here.

For more posts on ERP and Integration issues, visit our Knowledge Centre.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or ‘fractional,’ IT leaders. We work exclusively with organisations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

Subscribe to our Business Insights

Plain English board-level briefings focused on technology strategies to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

* Please enter an email address
newnewsletterrecipient

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.

Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

Subscribe to our Business Insights

Plain English board-level briefings focused on technology strategies to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

* Please enter an email address
newnewsletterrecipient

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.

Popular content for CEOs

Latest briefings written by IT experts
I would like to receive:

Popular content for CEOs

Latest briefings written by IT experts
I would like to receive: