Viewing archives for IT strategy and vision

Top 8 challenges for IT leaders in 2021

At the beginning of 2021, outlined what they believed would be this year’s top eight challenges for IT leaders:

  1. Facilitating the future of work
  2. Securing the hybrid enterprise
  3. Flipping the 80/20 IT landscape
  4.  Skilling up for accelerated digital roadmaps
  5. Scrutinising IT budgets
  6. Maintaining 24/7 uptime
  7. Battling burnout
  8. Blending safety and innovation

Well, okay, I get all these. But is this as good as it gets? Couldn’t we aim a bit higher?

For example, we shouldn’t be ‘facilitating the future of work,’ we should be driving it! As for 24/7 uptime, surely we’ve all got that in place already? Particularly now, when technology has enabled businesses to carry on despite the pandemic?

I think we can easily come up with a more inspirational and impactful list—especially when we’re looking for talking points to bring to the CEO.

In this accelerated moment, CEO attentions are more than usually divided. But part of your job as a CIO is to make a case to the CEO for how technology makes a difference to competitive advantage. Technology can and should be the key to more rapid growth, to outstripping the competition, and to becoming more profitable.

And yet the above list would have us focus on infrastructure. If we were in a car, it’s as if the next five sets of traffic lights have all turned green, and yet we’re driving along in second gear: admiring the scenery when we should be hitting the gas.

So, what do I think we should be doing now? We need to focus on getting the CEO excited about their IT. And we need to demonstrate, as CIOs, that we’re commercially astute businesspeople and not propeller heads. We need to show that we’re thinking about how to help the company grow faster and make more money.

So, what about this list instead:

1.      Omnichannel everywhere. Everyone engages with the business however they wish, whether they’re suppliers, customers, or employees.

2.      Bring the customers closer. Digitisation of everything—now!

3.      Integrate and automate to speed up the business; RPA, APIs and Middleware to deliver a connected business.

4.      Real BI/MI to make delivering data the lifeblood of the business and enable fantastic decision-making.

5.      Give the business what it wants. Departments should want to come to you first.

6.      Support innovation. Create sandboxes where employees can safely innovate.

7.      Programmes and projects delivered on time, within budget, and to specification. Always.

8.      Right person in the right seat on the right bus. Wrong people off the bus.

Consider this list less about challenges than priorities. After all, if there is anything that past eighteen months has taught us, it’s that challenges have a way of finding you whether you plan for them or not.

Are you on your “A”​ game? Keeping yourself up to date has never been more vital…

FACT: The CIO/CTO position is the only Board position where the necessary knowledge and skills need constant updating. Just like Moore’s Law has seen the exponential increase in computing power, so has the IT expert’s need to stay abreast of technology. It can be a nightmare. CEOs want their teams to be on their ‘A’ Game, and for us that means constantly updating our knowledge and our ability to handle new tech.

And the stakes are high. IT increasingly underpins all strategic business objectives—no department can deliver them without IT. It’s our team that increasingly underwrites the strategic objectives and enables the CEO to deliver them and to provide shareholder value. So we absolutely must understand the latest technology and being able to discuss options, ideas, and principles with department heads.

We don’t have to know everything. I’m not talking about in-depth ‘build-a-layered-network’ type of knowledge. I mean having enough technical knowledge to be able to innovate, to make informed strategic decisions, to keep the business ahead of the competition, and to know what the technicians are talking about.

This means that a fundamental part of knowledge acquisition is deciding what to learn, how to learn and when to learn. So, how do you choose?

We use a simple diagram:

No alt text provided for this image

The idea then is to figure out where each bit of technology falls on the continuum. Here is what I suggest:

1. Think about your current situation and the needs. You might even make a list:

·      What do you need?

·      What does the company need?

·      What does your team need?

2. Once you have the needs in front of you, prioritise:

Where is the most urgent need for knowledge? Concentrate on that area, but don’t ignore the others—make sure they have an appropriate place in the order.

3. Work out how best to gain this knowledge. There are a number of ways to learn:

·      The traditional route. Websites, books, magazine articles, etc. Many CIOs we know set up Google Alerts on topics they want to stay on top of. This method is useful for finding new knowledge or innovative ideas.

·      The on-the-go route. Podcasts, TED sessions, audiobooks and the like—sources that you can learn from when you’re driving or exercising. This method works well for topic assessment or getting under the skin of a specific technology.

·      The planned attendance route. These are occasions when you’ve signed up to a training session, a conference, or a webinar, because the topic is interesting and useful, but it’s not an immediate priority. It’s also useful for ‘large topic’ learning.

·      Just-in-time. This is when you’re just a few pages ahead of those you’re working with. This sort of knowledge can be gained from peers, colleagues, or even the technical teams. You just need to know how to ask the right questions. This is not a substitute for the other routes; it has to be ‘as-well-as,’ not ‘instead-of.’

·      ‘Find an expert who knows.’ Look within your network for someone with an in-depth knowledge of the subject. Buy them a coffee or lunch and find out the salient points. Also: ask the expert how he or she acquires their knowledge; they may know a website or seminar you haven’t heard of.

Remember that for the most part this is not about monolithic knowledge. It’s about distinguishing which pieces of knowledge will be useful to you and the business. Prince2, for example, is all very well. But if you try and implement the whole thing you lose credibility. Instead, implement a few useful parts as the basis of sensible project management. The key to knowledge acquisition is knowing which bits to leave on the cutting room floor.

CIOs and CTOs have a complex job, and their knowledge base reflects that. It’s not just the functional IT knowledge they need to keep improving, there’s all the IT leadership knowledge as well. Not to mention the business and commercial skills, like forecasting and budgets. Whilst these other areas of knowledge don’t change at half the speed functional IT does, they do move on. So you need to constantly review the diagram above, adjusting your learning objectives accordingly.

A successful CIO or CTO will be the one who invests time and energy in judiciously updating their knowledge and skills. If it’s not yet a priority for you, it damn well should be! The fundamental point is don’t let it become something that you look back on and realise you should have done more of. Regret can be a painful thing to have in a career.


Do I need a CISO?

A Chief Information Security Officer is a senior-level executive responsible for protecting your data and intellectual property and your information systems and processes. They understand your business strategy, your legal and market requirements, and your business’s risk appetite, and they ensure that these are all met.

They are also responsible for planning and implementing a business’s IT security strategy, to make security decisions, to assess risk, and to keep the Board apprised of risk and risk management.

More broadly, they provide leadership and management throughout the business at an IT, process, and cultural level.

The fact is that security has become an enormous concern in our lives, and we need to keep our eyes open.

In a business the problem is magnified ten- or a hundred-fold. Aside from email and phone scams, which target businesses as well as individuals, there is a security risk every time your business hires a new employee or vendor, inks a new contract, connects your network to a new device, outsources any task, even makes a simple financial transaction. The risk is bigger when you take on investors or merge with or acquire another company.

This is why many companies hire a CISO. This is not the person who will help your company streamline its systems and processes or guide it through an ERP project. Nor is it the person who will setup the firewalls or install anti-virus software. Instead, a CISO is a strategic hire to put security at the heart of your business systems and processes.

CISOs become especially valuable as businesses become larger and more established. The job of security and risk management will simply become too big for the CIO or CTO. Another way to look at it is that the CISO frees up the CIO to implement the IT and technology that will help the business grow.

In the meantime, you can read CIO vs CTO: What’s the difference?

Why does it need to be someone on the Board? Because security is not simply a matter of clever tech. Many of the highest-profile hacks have affected companies with highly expert teams and the most sophisticated security technology. Good security requires a commercially minded leader who fully understands the detailed technical issues rather than just a technical expert.

A serious security lapse could cause your business catastrophic financial and reputational damage. A minor security lapse will cost you time and money. Any kind of lapse may have legal implications, resulting in lawsuits and fines.

On the other hand, addressing security concerns can provide a marketing advantage. In many industries, companies select suppliers who have impressive cyber security and compliance certifications. Thus, having a credible leader like a CISO enables you to gain new clients, or secure funding, or generally raise your business’s profile.

CISOs are highly specialized and in-demand, so they command high salaries. Many mid-market businesses simply can’t afford to pay another executive’s full salary. Or they may be in an in-between stage where the security concerns are too time-consuming for a CIO but don’t yet merit a full-time salary. That’s why we often suggest a ‘fractional’ or part-time CISO.

If you have questions about CISOs, or any other aspect of IT and technology, feel free to get in touch. We’re always up for a no-strings conversation about cyber security or any other aspect of running a mid-market business.

Visit our CIOs, CTOs & CISOs Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

The future of manufacturing part 3: Getting data right

In previous instalments of this series, we discussed the key trends in the future of manufacturing and provided a checklist for new ERP and MRP projects. Now we need to talk about a critical commercial issue for any manufacturing business: getting the data right.

We meet many manufacturing CEOs who are frustrated that, despite spending huge sums on new systems, they lack visibility of the true cost of production, have higher than expected waste, and have no clear view of inventory.

New systems like IFS, Nav, AX or Dynamics 365, SAP, Sage, Epicor, Oracle or Syspro can cost big money. But if the project fails to deliver, often the root cause is that the master data is wrong. The system may be fine (though often it isn’t!), but if the data is wrong then everything is built on sand.

Poorly controlled master data confuses everything, embedding waste, errors and poor service in the organisation. For example, product costings, bills of material, recipes, or routings, may have not been set up correctly in the first place or may have become out of date.

We’ve frequently seen examples of businesses where the same customers, finished goods (FGs) or raw materials (RMs) are entered multiple times, but called different things, creating all kinds of confusion. The bigger and more widely distributed the company, the more possible this can happen.

This often results in reports that are wrong or time-consuming to fix. Staff costs increase, especially for the finance team, who may have to clear up the mess in Excel.

Procurement may over-order to create safety stocks, tying up cash; sales can’t accurately forecast delivery dates. Eager salespeople may pinch items from different orders to fulfil today’s priority, creating more problems down the line. Inventory turn is lower than planned and OTIF targets get missed.

Customers are disappointed by long lead-times or upset by incorrect, incomplete or late delivery. Labels or documents may be wrong, which is inconvenient at best and, at worst, can have legal or safety implications.

On the other hand, well-structured manufacturing data provides insights to senior managers, allowing them to answer important questions:

Well-structured data also allows for accurate real-time data, empowering supervisors to organise work within defined boundaries.

Fundamentally, poor data can make it hard to take advantage of efficiencies of scale. You can roll out new systems, but the problems will remain. And a growing business becomes less profitable rather than more profitable.

So then, how does a mid-market manufacturing business get data right?



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1. Strong leadership and ownership.

Data is difficult and detailed. And let’s be honest: it’s not very interesting. Solution vendors are contracted to deliver some tech, so they don’t really care about the data. Everyone’s too busy doing their day job, so it may get left to the Finance or IT teams to sort it out, and they may not have the knowledge to fix issues or the authority to get people to change bad habits.

But this issue has strategic implications, so a Board-level leader needs to take ownership. And whoever takes charge of the data needs to have time to get to the bottom of the issues, the experience of this kind of work, and authority to make decisions and get things done.

Production and business teams will have to be involved as well, taking responsibility to help get the data right and keep it that way. And since data quality is an ongoing exercise, the senior team should receive reports at regular meetings.

2. Identify the problems and their solutions.

It may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked: data quality issues will keep reoccurring and snowballing if you don’t find the root causes and create solutions.

One place to start is to look for who is supposed to be in charge of data quality – if anyone. Data problems often reflect process problems or a lack of alignment between people and departments. It may not be clear internally who is responsible for what, for updating data as things change, or for correcting data when errors are found.

Perhaps data quality falls to some very overstretched, helpful people who may be vital but have a very low profile (the Directors wonder what they’re doing all day!). Or there may be no-one who has time to manage data quality.

Using multiple systems without proper integration is another common cause of data quality issues. Sales, finance and production teams’ reports simply won’t agree if they are working from different base information. Fixing the problem may require process changes, technology changes and some retraining (or even ‘redeployment’ if the real issue is particular people!).

There may be good reasons for using multiple systems: for example, specialist warehouse management solutions that work with advanced technology such as voice- or sight-picking, which isn’t supported by a basic ERP platform. But with separate systems, there must be clarity as to which system owns what data (e.g. ERP owns stock quantities, WHM owns stock location) and the interfaces need to be tested and working.

3. Make rational decisions about when to solve problems.

Data issues often arise because time and commercial pressures make shortcuts necessary. Getting data right may be a matter of diminishing returns, as obscure problems can be very difficult and time-consuming to fix, and they may just not be worth it!

The most important thing is to make considered and rational decisions. List the data problems, estimate the necessary effort for each and the business impact.

If short-term pressures mean that it won’t be fixed now, then perhaps it’s on the list for next month. In the meantime, monitor the impact of the problem. Deciding to tolerate a problem, for now, might be sensible. Ignoring it or sweeping it under the carpet isn’t!

Even poor systems can work effectively if the data is structured, maintained and policed. Most importantly, this is a good platform for system improvements: maintaining data quality can eliminate a whole range of problems and inefficiencies, can boost profitability, and can give everyone new energy as less time is wasted on distractions and snags.

Get in touch to contact your Regional Director

The future of manufacturing content series:

Part 1: The six key trends of manufacturing 4.0
Part 2: Board checklist for successful MRP/ERP projects
Part 3: Getting data right

Visit our Manufacturing Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of IT leaders. We frequently work with manufacturing clients to help deliver transformational programs. We work only for you: we are entirely independent of any technology or suppliers. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

The future of manufacturing part 1: The six key trends of manufacturing 4.0

The IT industry often deliberately spreads ‘fear, uncertainty and doubt’ in the market. They create confusion about the future, and then, of course, sell you the perfect solution to a possibly non-existent problem. Is the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and ‘Manufacturing 4.0’ part of the usual befuddlement bandwagon?

What is really happening? What are the technologies that will form this change? And what difference do they really make? Read the 6 key trends, but for a top line perspective watch the short video below.

Shop floor technology is increasingly information technology

First, a little context. Historically, there was a clear distinction: your operations teams owned shop-floor tech, and the IT team owned IT. But this gap is rapidly closing. For many companies, the challenge now is to have the right leadership to effectively lead these cross-border initiatives and to deliver value.

The winners will be those companies who are smart enough to use technology and data to meet customer needs more effectively and to innovate ahead of the competition. This is as much about leadership as it is about technology.

We believe there are six key trends to this generation of tech:

  1. IoT/5G
  2. Improved collaboration
  3. Big data, AI and machine learning
  4. Robots/cobots
  5. Servitisation
  6. 3D printing

Here’s what they each mean.

1. How will IoT/5G make a difference to manufacturing?

Just to be clear, ‘IoT’ means the ‘Internet of Things,’ or using connectivity to control machinery and harvest data. ‘5G’ is the fifth generation of technology for cellular networks.

When it comes to manufacturing, IoT and 5G is about incorporating sensors and controllers on the shop floor to make the production activity more visible and controllable in real-time. This requires new systems as well.

Most importantly, it requires skilled staff to deliver the benefits, which will include minimising costs and maximising output with more accurate ordering, production, and stock management.

One of the best aspects of IoT and 5G for manufacturers is how it improves reporting. Rather than basing decisions on reports that were manually created a week or a month ago, information flows into your ERP or MRP systems to provide accurate, up-to-the-minute information, with minimal manual intervention.

Ultimately, IoT lowers costs, increases profits, and delivers better quality and service to customers.

Continue reading the key trends below the video.


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2. How will Manufacturing 4.0 improve internal and external collaboration?

When you hear ‘Manufacturing 4.0’ or ‘Industry 4.0’ it generally means increasingly autonomous systems and information in real-time.

More specifically, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) allow the capture of more data about detailed process activities and individual operations on individual items. MES can make use of barcode or QR-code scanning, or automated collection of RFID information, or similar smart-monitoring.

As more real-time information is available, and office IT like Microsoft Teams becomes mainstream, your management, supervisors, and even skilled operators no longer need to be on the shop floor to manage production. Managers and supervisors can see precisely what is happening, managing production in real-time, or detecting issues as they happen. They can also look backwards to understand costs, cycle-times and quality. Managers can assess effectiveness of processes, teams, production batches, and even individual machines or staff.

E-commerce has reset customer expectations across all industries. Your customers will increasingly expect to be able to see and assess the progress of their own orders through your factory.

This technology has external implications as well. Fortunately, with Manufacturing 4.0, integration of your production activities with your customers, suppliers and partners becomes possible at a far more detailed level.

3. The impact of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in manufacturing

Of course, large volumes of data create new challenges as well as opportunities. Manufacturers need new tools to understand data patterns. Technologies such as Tableau and Snowflake make vast number-crunching and visualisation easy, and once the data is digestible it’s a small step to introduce automation for some aspects of decision-making.

It doesn’t have to be rocket science. It can be a structure of simple rules, such as alerting the customer to reorder ahead of time. Or it can be sophisticated Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

The combination of data, AI, and machine learning is already proving to be extremely powerful. But it doesn’t mean that people no longer matter. The issue is often one of skilled leadership. Manufacturers need tech-savvy leaders to set the vision and to create a culture of data-driven, analytical decision-making. With the right tech leadership it becomes much easier—and more profitable—to exploit all this new technology.

4. The new generation of robots and cobots

In the past, due to their high cost, and the production volumes necessary to justify the expense, industrial robots were often confined to large manufacturers.

But now we have a new generation of collaborative robots, or cobots, which automate tactical elements of production activity. Their simplicity and flexibility mean they are easier to deploy and can quickly deliver value, which makes them far more appropriate to the mid-market.

Again, implementing this fantastic technology creates a leadership challenge. Cobots are often configured and programmed by skilled production operators working in tandem with IT staff. You’ll need a skilled IT leader who can facilitate this collaboration.

5. Servitisation Creates Greater Value

‘Servitisation’ simply means the shift from selling products to selling services. We live in an era where companies want to buy everything ‘as a service’; manufacturers can increasingly look to a future where they charge customers for using their products rather than buying them. Whether it’s car tyres, aircraft engines, or workwear, manufacturers are charging recurring revenues or licenses to their customers for the use of the products, often with support and replacement bundled in.

Servitisation will increasingly work in tandem with other aspects of Manufacturing 4.0. Perhaps the greatest opportunities are in monitoring and communicating with your products while in use. This enables new models for preventative maintenance, guaranteed service and support.

We will also see entirely new opportunities for value-added services, along with greater opportunities for upselling and better customer lock-in. The bottom line is that reliable, recurring revenues are more valuable than one-off sales. Manufacturers who make this change will become increasingly dominant.

6. The 3D printing revolution continues

3D printing will have a revolutionary effect on many aspects of manufacturing. Rw apid prototyping and iteration are already becoming the norm, but the real revolutions will be in mass customisation where customer expectations will undergo a major change. Customers will expect endless product versions and variations.

For manufacturers, the benefits are also enormous: 3D printing now allows for a wider range of materials, and data can be included directly onto the product. For example, QR codes or human-readable product IDs can be printed as part of the production process, with obvious benefits for process monitoring and stock management.

And 3D printing will massively reduce the need for stock holding, especially for spares, which will free up cash. This may have a transformative effect on smaller companies and their ability to invest in these new trends.

What this means for everybody (and the mid-market)

Along with the increased flexibility for customers and manufacturers, the above trends will have massive effects worldwide.

These changes will reduce labour costs, which in turn will reduce the attractiveness of low-cost economies as well as economies of scale. Together with an increased post-COVID focus on security of supply, this will enable a return to more local manufacturing.

Finally, it’s worth noting that more local manufacture would be a reversal of decades (or centuries) of growth in global trade of manufactured goods. Despite forecast increases in consumption, a recent ING report estimates a reduction in world trade by as much as 40% by 2040!

The reduction will affect a wide range of industries, from shipping to insurance, and may have very broad-ranging geopolitical ramifications as well. It won’t be the first time that manufacturing has changed the world!

It seems then quite reasonable to speak of another industrial revolution. But while many in the IT industry will want to sell solutions, we see it more as a leadership challenge. We believe that ambitious mid-sized businesses will find huge opportunities, so long as they have the right leadership in terms of their IT and technology.

Find out what a Tech Leader can do for your business: Get in touch

The future of manufacturing content series:

Part 1: The six key trends of manufacturing 4.0
Part 2: Board checklist for successful MRP/ERP projects
Part 3: Getting data right

Visit our Manufacturing Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of IT leaders. We frequently work with manufacturing clients to help deliver transformational programs. We work only for you: we are entirely independent of any technology or suppliers. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

The future of manufacturing part 2: Board checklist for successful MRP/ERP projects

Our previous instalment on the future of manufacturing discussed the main trends and their effects on mid-market businesses.

In this instalment, we’ll discuss something of direct importance to mid-market manufacturers: Material Requirements Planning systems (MRPs), which help manage manufacturing processes, and Enterprise Resource Planning systems (ERPs), which integrate your main businesses processes.

More specifically, how to ensure you get them right.

A manufacturing company’s internal efficiency and effectiveness are highly reliant on sound MRP or ERP systems. But all too often we meet CEOs whose systems just tie them in knots, add cost, and hamper customer service. These systems become a brake on expansion and growth.

Large systems projects are expensive exercises. And yet the results are often disappointing and rarely meet their business objectives. And then you are stuck with them: MRP or ERP systems generally have a lifetime of seven years or more. Get it wrong, and you can repent at leisure!

How can you avoid this?

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

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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 these? 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.

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 to sign off—yes, put ink on the paper!

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 MRP or 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 in the project. 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.

For example, it can make sense to select a standard ERP and a specialist warehousing product for better goods handling (picking, putaways etc), or a dedicated Manufacturing Execution System to collect detailed process efficiency data. 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, customise 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.

7. Insist that your partners have a plan.

The vendor or implementation partner must provide a credible plan, and you must extend it to your own plans for things like communication, data setup, and retraining. Most importantly, the plan needs to show all activities to deliver the business objectives, not just delivery of the tech; and the plan should include all the resources and commitments, not just the supplier.

8. Define target business processes.

Working with the implementation partner, you need to design your target processes.

Many MRP and ERP projects fail because companies try to configure new software to match the way they always have worked, as opposed to designing the most efficient processes.

This often leads to expensive bespoking; and, if the implementation partner is charging for this, then their salespeople will be delighted to help you make bad decisions!

9. Identify process and organisational changes.

With new systems come new ways of working. And change can be hard for some. You need to plan, document, and carefully roll out these changes, and communicate frequently with everyone involved. This may be the most difficult part of the entire project, especially if some of your teams are remote and not often in the office. It will not happen by accident; without proper management, many people will go to great lengths to avoid changing how they do their jobs!

10. Take the opportunity to clean up your data.

Start cleaning your data today. Because getting the data right can be make-or-break for a new system, and this task can be the biggest and most critical part of the project.

After all one of the key benefits of an ERP or MRP is how the information helps decision-making; if you take away that with poor and inaccurate data, you’re taking away the whole point.

Think about product codes and bills of material and how they can best be structured to deliver the information the business needs. Seriously, start now. Don’t wait until go-live. In our experience, those who wait until go-live end up bringing inaccurate and unclean data across to the new system!

11. Manage device integration.

Devices are going to be integrated with these news systems, so get started on identifying them and testing as soon as possible. For example, shop-floor data collection devices like scales, environmental sensors, barcode scanners, or RFID trackers are increasingly key sources of efficiency, so they shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Remember to test for more than just if the new software works. Are the devices suitable for the environment? Consider temperature, humidity, vibration etc. Whenever you can, involve the device suppliers.

12. Run a testing and conference-room pilot.

By making the vendor run their product through your business processes, you can check that the system and business practices will fit and that the key staff are ready for change. A pilot is more than a last chance to stop problems. It’s a great way to get superusers onto the system; it may also be an opportunity to identify additional benefits.

13. Manage the implementation / cutover / go-live.

A ‘big bang’ go-live can be complicated and risky; different parts of the new system may be ready at different times; and different phases will deliver different benefits. So there will normally be a progressive adoption of the new system(s) and decommissioning of the old ones. This needs to be thought through and carefully managed.

14. Train and monitor staff.

Staff will need training and coaching in how to work with new systems and processes. There may be a period of de-snagging and minor changes. This needs careful monitoring and policing to ensure that employees have clear ways of working and do not adopt bad habits. You should be prepared for some pushback: for many, change is daunting and can cause stress and resentment. And when they don’t yet fully understand the new way of working, they may blame the system for mistakes or slower processes.

15. Get specific about who has ownership moving forward.

The project owners need to ensure the original business objectives and cost benefits materialise. But this is also the moment when the new system becomes ‘legacy,’ so it’s critical that ongoing ownership is clear.

Ongoing monitoring must be part of the routine, and new issues must be addressed quickly and without a fuss. Whose job is that?

In addition, you will need an annual budget for vendor support, for training of new staff, for fixes, and for amendments so the system stays aligned as working practices and products change (as they inevitably will).

Lay the foundation for your future

All too often we see a lack of focus on the key points of this checklist. As a result, projects become bogged down, with overruns of both costs and timescales. Eventually, in the dash to finish, the original vision is forgotten, there is no more time or money, and the aim becomes to ‘just get it done’!

But if you follow the checklist, you greatly increase the risk of success, and along with it, the transformational benefits of a new ERP or MRP system. Many of our clients have achieved significant uplift in efficiency and service and find new confidence to grow because their business starts to feel like a platform for scaling up!

When system issues are no longer on the agenda, the Board have more time to talk about strategy and growth. And effective systems provide data and reports to feed those conversations.

Get in touch to contact your Regional Director

The future of manufacturing content series:

Part 1: The six key trends of manufacturing 4.0
Part 2: Board checklist for successful MRP/ERP projects
Part 3: Getting data right

Visit our Manufacturing Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of IT leaders. We frequently work with manufacturing clients to help deliver transformational programs. We work only for you: we are entirely independent of any technology or suppliers. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

17 critical cyber security questions to ask your IT team

Suddenly the office is closed, and everyone’s working from home.

The IT team is coping, but you’ve got a nagging doubt about whether these hasty arrangements are secure. You ask the IT team a few questions about cybersecurity, but the answers seem to be in a different language!

Well, you should be concerned. Criminals are ramping up their activities, because systems are more vulnerable when people work from home.

But there’s no need for panic. Most cyberattacks are successful simply because basic steps haven’t been taken.

Here is a simple checklist to ask the person responsible for IT. The answers should all be YES!

Protect your data

1. Do we know for sure that our backups are actually working?
2. Does data stored on a home user’s hard drive get backed up?
3. Does our central data storage have versioning?
4. Have we got a Data Loss Prevention system running?

Protect your remote devices

5. Do we have multi-factor authentication set up for our systems?
6. Will our anti-virus, anti-malware and patching tools automatically update for home users?
7. Has everyone who’s working from home signed a communications and internet usage policy?
8. Have we given cyber security training to the team within the last six months?
9. Are our GDPR policies appropriate for people working remotely and at home?

To continue reading, download the article above.

Visit our Cyber Security and Hybrid Working & Post-Pandemic knowledge centres, which include more content related to these topics.


Here’s a brief video of one of our founders, Steve Clarke, explaining how the IR35 change is affecting small operators, interims and freelancers. Steve explains how our model is different and means we don’t have these tax issues.

Bitcoin – What is it and what does it mean to businesses?

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a “crypto currency” that was created in 2009. It has many (or perhaps all) of the characteristics of a currency. The total value of Bitcoins in circulation is now over $190Bn, and it is widely used as a currency around the world, every day!

Specifically Bitcoin is based on sophisticated maths which limits the number of Bitcoins that can ever be produced. And the mechanism for recording Bitcoins transactions, which is called Blockchain, is secure and reliable.

These things make Bitcoin very much like an ordinary currency, but Bitcoin is unusual as conventional currencies are controlled by banks and governments. Bitcoin exists without any sponsorship like this and parties transact without requiring a trusted third party (such as a bank) at all….

Read the full CEO’s Briefing on Bitcoin here:

The Scale Up Phenomenon October 2019

At one of our recent joint events, Ivan McKeever explained 8 Key Drivers that can significantly impact your company’s value both negatively and positively. The event involved meeting and networking with other local business leaders to gain insights and expand perspectives.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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