So, you're thinking of implementing a new ERP system at your school board? We get it, it can be both exciting and terrifying at the same time. The reasons to move to a modern financial system are endless, but the hurdles to get there can seem daunting. No one likes change, and no one has the time to implement change on top of everything else that they have on their plate. Right? Well, I hope that I can shed a bit of light on how we at Waterloo Catholic DSB embarked on our ERP implementation so that it can help you in your upcoming project.
The Must-Have People
Having the right people on your ERP implementation team is what’s going to make or break the project. You want to get as many people in your Finance department involved as possible, but keep the team to a manageable size where people can still have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
Something very important to be aware of is ensuring that everyone that will be using the tool is included in the process. That means everyone from the Superintendent to the Supervisors and Clerks. That’s a key part of change management—if they feel they were a part of building the solution, they are far more likely to be fully on board once it’s rolled out. Depending on the size of your School Board, this may end up being a lot of people. Deciding on who will be included in the core group that are required to attend all meetings, and who will be simply be involved in providing input and testing, will ensure your team size doesn’t get out of hand.
Having someone from IT on the team is also key. They need to understand how the ERP system is going to integrate with all the other systems that are currently in place. They’ll also be the ones that can ask (and answer) the important technical questions that will arise around things such as log-ins, security, back-ups, availability, etc.
Setting the Right Expectations from the Start
In the case of Waterloo Catholic DSB, everyone was very keen on the project and excited to make improvements. In order to set them up for success, I wanted to make sure we set up a very realistic timeline from the start. The experienced Project Managers at Altus helped us greatly with that.
It was imperative that all clerks were able to take the time to test the system, but still be able to accomplish all their regular work as well. It was really a team effort to ensure that this happened; many others on the team helped by picking up the extra work to free up some time for the clerks. It did mean a few late nights once in a while, but because everyone knew how important this project was, they were willing to go beyond work hours to make sure it was a success.
Keeping the Team on Track
At Waterloo Catholic DSB we have a small Finance team that works in close proximity, so we pretty much had daily updates with each other on how the project was moving along. Even if we were a bigger team, we’d still want a way to connect frequently on status since the solution is such a mission-critical application for us.
We also set up a weekly call between our team and our Project Manager at Altus Dynamics. This was a great weekly deadline that ensured all team members completed their tasks on time, so as not to hold up the entire process. You didn’t want to show up for that meeting without your list checked off because you never wanted to be the one delaying things.
We then added in a lot of ad-hoc meetings with people from purchasing and IT at key points in the project to keep them up-to-date, gather their input, and share with them our progress. It’s extremely important at the start of the project to understand which other departments are impacted by the software and include them in the communication plan.
When I think about what defines a successful implementation, for me, it is one that met deadlines and delivered on the vision set out at the start. After all, we want to end up with a working financial system that allows us to gain efficiencies.
Many might think that once you put in a system that reduces the hours of manual entry required, people on your team would become redundant. We haven’t experienced that at all. They are still just as busy, but now they focus on more strategic, valuable tasks on the Finance team rather than data entry. That’s how I know we’ve been successful – we’ve found a new, innovative way to do something and now are working more effectively.
At the end of the project we set up a group de-brief to understand what went well and where we could have done better. There’s no implementation project that’s going to happen without a few bumps along the way. You can’t avoid them, but you can certainly learn from them.
The implementation of a new finance system is a huge project, and it is definitely not an easy task. However, with the right team in place and the right processes and expectations, you can make it run a lot smoother. Understand that you are going to have challenges and not everything is going to go as planned, but you’ll learn from those mistakes and have a stronger team because of it.
“We must be drawn by the idea of where we want to go more than we dislike the idea of all the work it is going to take to get there.”