ERP Implementations: The Hidden Danger


ISG has advised and supported more than 20 states and several of the largest institutions of higher education in their enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations. Where do public sector entities trip up most often?

Organizations spend time during ERP implementation aligning business processes and software configuration to reduce the need for customizations. And that’s a good thing. Project teams tend to focus on designing new business processes, configuring and testing the software in real-world scenarios and providing training to end users. This approach focuses on the human-to-ERP interactions, which is the most visible aspect of the implementation.

But this business-focused approach misses two critical points: 1) facilitating interfaces and integration between the ERP system and other administrative systems, and 2) managing organizational change to help those who interact with the new systems, including employees, vendors and customers, adapt to the new processes. This article focuses on the first of these.

Organization-wide ERP projects involve numerous internal interfaces, which are under the direct control of the central business offices, and numerous external interfaces, which are managed and controlled by external parties, departments or agencies. These external interfaces and systems enable departments or agencies to deliver their core missions and some – such as those from health and human services organizations – deliver vital services to citizen and even enable cash payments. 

To achieve a successful implementation on time and within budget, successful ERP projects must create a formal interface management structure that includes the following steps.

Three steps to successful ERP implementation

  1. Manage the interface scope.
    • Inventory all inbound and outbound interfaces, excluding the interfaces that will be eliminated due to the ERP systems, and include the revised interface list in the systems integrator (SI) RFP.
    • Identify all interfaces that are managed by external parties, establish a fund to pay for development and testing of these interfaces, and plan for additional time as the timeframe is not under the control of the organization.
    • Task the SI with validating the interfaces and identifying the appropriate technology solution for each interface.
  2. Manage the implementation team.
    • Mandate that departments/agencies create an “implementation team” and identify a technical manager.
    • Require your organization’s technical manager as well as the SI technical manager to review and sign off on the interface list as a part of the acceptance criteria of the software design deliverable.
    • Establish milestones and a feedback loop to assure the project technical manager is assertively managing interface development.
  3. Manage the processes.
    • Establish a contract deliverable for the detailed interface design specification and require that the specifications are delivered early in the implementation.
    • Provide an interface testing environment as early in the implementation as possible so designers and developers can test design approaches early and use iterative/agile development processes.
    • Publish an interface development schedule that requires departments or agencies to complete development and internal testing of interfaces early enough for the interfaces to be included in the integration and user acceptance test cycles.
    • Create and maintain a public interface status dashboard.
    • Report on the interface status at the steering committee level.
    • Test the interfaces, especially the critical interfaces, early and often.
    • Provide additional support to agencies that encounter challenges with their interfaces.
    • Publish testing and certification guidelines.
    • Require agencies to approve the interface test results and certify the interface is ready for production.

A formal interface management structure that includes steps for managing the scope, the team and the processes is critical to successfully implementing ERP systems. Combining these steps with business-focused ERP management and externally focused OCM efforts will enable an ERP journey that pays dividends on the investment.

ISG helps public sector and higher education entities structure their ERP implementation for success. Contact us to find out more.

About the authors

Kirk Teal

Kirk Teal is Partner of ISG Public Sector and has over 26 years of public sector experience, including 20 years of experience in the design, development, implementation and support of financial and procurement applications designed for public sector entities. He has expertise in the following functional areas: general ledger, accounts payable, budgetary control, budget preparation, grant and project accounting, purchasing, inventory management, and asset management. Kirk has considerable experience in assisting state and local governments, and institutions of higher education in evaluating ERP software offerings and implementation/integration services firms. 

John Cook

John Cook has been a Director in the ISG Public Sector Practice for more than fourteen (14) years, and has over thirty (30) years of proven experience in enterprise application software procurement, analysis, software design, project management, quality assurance, and implementation, with the last eighteen years working on public sector enterprise software projects in an advisory role. His recent public sector experience includes business case and requirements development, RFP authoring and procurement support, ERP vendor evaluation/selection, contract negotiations, cultural change management, and project management/quality assurance responsibility. He has recent experience evaluating software-as-a-service, cloud-based, and hosted systems for clients.