How has COVID-19 impacted ERP Delivery?
As the globe is still combatting the coronavirus pandemic, this insight focuses on how current ERP deployments have been impacted and how this could frame the “new-normal” post-pandemic ways of working.
Since March 2020, we have seen monumental changes to how in-flight ERP projects are managed. Sadly a number of them have been cancelled or delayed, whilst those not started have been indefinitely shelved. Primarily this is a consequence of businesses shifting their business models to exploit new channels or concede to discontinuing. However, some companies have struggled to implement a mainly traditional deployment methodology with little to no human contact.
“Most human beings have an infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”Aldous Huxley
New ways of working
As the pandemic took hold companies had to quickly adopt the ‘New Normal’ ways of working to maintain some level of business continuity. This new normal has led to fundamental changes in how our workforces function and interact:
- Workers have become mainly home-based or in co-working locations with almost 40% of UK employees working remotely at the peak of the first wave in June 2020
- Working patterns have changed significantly, with flexible working being favoured over normal office hours, extending the typical working day
- More agile ways of working have been adopted; in-person meetings are now virtual and emails have somewhat been replaced by instant messaging
- Business travel has been, in essence, all but eliminated
These changes have brought about new challenges in themselves:
- Lack of face to face interaction created a barrier for communication, which has been partially relieved by the use of collaborative technologies and remote team events
- Being invited (virtually) into people’s homes has led to increased intimacy compared with traditional working environments, blurring the lines between work and home and increasing the difficulty of striking a ‘work-life’ balance
- Resiliency has suffered, not only through the mental gravitas of the pandemic but due to the “always-on” expectations of balancing both home and work life in the same physical space
Impacts on ERP delivery
Where some aspects of working will return to normal over time, it is not expected that we will return to the pre-pandemic setup, carving out a new normal for post-pandemic life:
Work patterns are fundamentally changing due to:
- Home-based working – it has been reported that companies expect mainly remote working to continue for 30-40% of workers (depending on the sector)
- An increasing shift from corporate offices to co-working and managed offices
Companies are focusing more investment on collaborative technologies to support employees and enhanced security to combat the cybersecurity threats that have become increasingly prevalent throughout the pandemic. They will need to implement employee support mechanisms to proactively identify and assist employees with resiliency issues.
Organisations are expected to continue redesigning their corporate structures to reflect the new ways of working and significantly reduce their middle management layer.
With this shift to remote working, employers have access to a wider workforce than ever before, less restricted by geography and labour mobility. Country boundaries are softening, facilitating more offshoring, onshoring, and global collaboration.
Over the past decade, business travel has significantly increased, primarily due to advancements in transportation. In global ERP projects, this has allowed for frequent visits to remote sites throughout the project lifecycle.
The coronavirus pandemic has eliminated all but essential business travel and market indications show that this will not return to pre-pandemic levels in the future. This is not only due to the realisation that many projects have continued as planned solely through online collaboration, but also the need to find cost savings to counteract the losses borne from the pandemic.
The collaborative technology itself has raised the question “what benefit am I actually getting from being on-site?”
More companies are looking towards a “Brave New World” as the pandemic has illustrated how human society is not infallible. Over the coming years, there will be an increased focus on robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence – since robots don’t get sick!
Buying behaviour has also radically shifted from an in-person to a digital experience, which will further boost innovation in purchasing platforms, whether that be B2B, B2C, or B2E.
Corporate environments typically organise their floor plans in functional departments – traditionally believed to increase internal efficiencies but led to hierarchical challenges and silo-mentality. The breakdown of physical divides should improve cross-functional collaboration. This in turn may lead to less powerful departments being facilitators to decisions and changes, rather than adopters.
SUPPLY CHAIN SUSTAINABILITY
One of the key learnings from the pandemic is the importance of having a robust and sustainable supply chain. Over the past years, many companies have accepted higher risks in pursuit of cost savings and have now witnessed the detrimental impact of not ensuring their supply chain is robust enough to withstand a global crisis. This will derive more focus on ERP design and delivery.
Ignoring the particular nuances in project methodologies, projects typically go through standard stages for which the traditional working practices need to be amended post-covid:
Traditionally, this would require numerous face to face interactions with key stakeholders to lock down the scope and create an achievable plan. With collaborative tools such as MS Teams, this can be achieved online with support from all teams involved.
ERP system delivery projects are typically based on waterfall project management. Adoption of an agile approach to project management will allow for faster identification and reaction to changes. The verdict on the effectiveness of agile project management for ERP delivery is still to be determined, so a blended approach may offer the most appropriate solution.
The very nature of virtual projects requires that project governance and reporting be increasingly effective to ensure control over the workstreams, costs, and outcomes.
Effective design is dependent upon interacting with users and stakeholders to reconfirm business processes and the most appropriate solutions. This should not be impacted significantly as communication can be made effectively online through collaborative tools.
Collaborative tools have commonly been used to facilitate this activity in the traditional project management process so the impact on this stage is expected to be low.
However, it is essential that proper, interactive plans are maintained to monitor progress as the main challenge throughout the pandemic has been facilitating changes that require collaboration between customers, vendors, financial institutions, and other third parties.
The functional testing of an ERP system should be minimally impacted but challenges may arise during user testing, where training and adoption efforts are required.
Test monitoring and reporting can be adequately managed by the use of interactive electronic boards (i.e. MS Project Planner) that can facilitate workflows, capture commentary, and automate reporting. This is vital to highlight resource availability.
This phase typically requires a high level of in-person interaction to effectively manage the ramp-down, execution, and ramp-up of business operations. Therefore, comprehensive cutover management is fundamental to success.
Clear communication channels between management, logistics providers, suppliers, and customers are essential to ensuring processes such as stock builds and blackout periods are properly managed.