Controlled-environment development speeds ERP projects

Implementing an ERP system typically involves a significant degree of software customization, and that means a lot of frustrations and challenges are incurred. On top of that, the process is disruptive to the rest of the business.

It’s not unusual to hear of organizations that installed customized versions of well-known packages, such as PeopleSoft and JD Edwards, and then spent years trying to work out all the residual programming bugs. Because the entire process occurs on-site at the organization implementing the ERP system, the software development headaches are compounded by the disruptions they cause to the company’s normal operations as the system is implemented, tested and refined.

One way to minimize these problems is to move the entire ERP development project outside the organization. The planning, scoping, customizing and testing of the ERP system occurs in a controlled environment. Only the final phase – the installation of the fully-tested system – takes place on-site. That final step normally accounts for just 20 per cent of the total project time. This process can deliver advantages when compared to more traditional in-house development approaches.

For instance, off-site developments typically have shorter time frames since the project occurs in an environment that is more intense than it would be within the organization. In part, that is because the organization’s own ERP team works away from the company and the distractions and delays that often occur when team members are pulled back to resolve issues that arise out of their normal business responsibilities. The controlled environment also makes it easier to isolate and correct problems since they aren’t likely to be masked or distorted by the organization’s ongoing business processes. As well, it allows for the use of more aggressive testing processes because there is no need to guard against these tests disrupting regular business.

Of course, there are some sacrifices that must be made. The ERP team must transport at least two of its workstations to the development centre. These are necessary to ensure that the software is customized to match the exact specifications and unique characteristics of the organization’s equipment and other software protocols. These workstations are also critical during the testing phase; once the system runs problem-free on them, there should be no more than minor adjustments to make when transferring and implementing the fully developed system within the organization itself.

Most significantly, because the organization’s ERP team works away from the company, it must be dedicated to the project for its duration. While such dedication should also be the case with in-house developments, it isn’t uncommon for organizations to attempt to reduce their ERP project costs and the disruption to their ongoing business by either understaffing the ERP project or adding it to people’s normal responsibilities.

Therefore, the greater people issue is that the project team will need to live out of a suitcase for the two months or so necessary for most development projects.

In the end, these inconveniences normally pale when compared to what is perhaps the most appreciated advantage of a controlled-environment ERP project: these projects are almost always much less costly than traditional on-site projects – a direct result of their faster development time.

Cooke is a senior manager responsible for Deloitte & Touche Management Solutions’ Express Software Development Centre.