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Managing the human issues of keeping legacy ERP

People issues can get in the way of keeping a legacy ERP system. Some users want a slick new system; some never want to change. Companies must deal with both.

Any decision to hold onto a legacy ERP system inevitably affects employees, and none more so than the people who...

use the system on a daily basis. ERP users will likely fall near one of two poles, experts say. On one side are those who are disappointed and frustrated because they were hoping for a new system. On the other side are people who want everything to stay the same -- forever. Companies must figure out how to  create a change management strategy to deal with both.

Handling the ERP upgrade resister

ERP experts caution that the latter group will be unhappy with any change, even if the company retains its legacy application. If it upgrades the application or layers in some new functions, the company should expect the grumbling to begin. Humans are notoriously resistant to change, and they like change that threatens their work productivity even less.

“If you have people who have been doing a job the same way, using the same screens for the last five years, it’s not always easy for them to change,” said Mark Hadler, consulting partner at Cognizant Technology Solutions, based in Teaneck, N.J. “The solution is to communicate that the functionality in the new software release or point solution will position the organization to reduce cost and increase efficiency by taking steps out of the process.”

Manufacturers should be sure that whatever change is introduced in the legacy ERP system makes it easier for users to do their jobs once they get the hang of it, said Cindy Jutras, principal at Mint Jutras, a Windham, N.H.-based consulting firm. “Just put them in front of the system and have them do it. The software itself has to sell them. It has to be really easy to use.”

Reining in the maverick

As a rule of thumb, for every five change resistors in the organization, managers will likely have one maverick who is pushing for radical change in the ERP system. So if change isn’t destined to happen anytime soon, the company will need to address this cohort’s disappointment and try to keep them in the fold, according to these experts.

They recommend first sharing the company’s ERP modernization and optimization plans, whether they be an application upgrade or new functionality added through a “point” solution or Web tool. Still, the maverick group will likely remain vocal in its desire for change and feel the plan doesn't go far enough.

Here, the solution is to choose a few of the most influential and vocal change agents to lead the organization through the transition. Make sure they understand why the decision came out the way it did. (Ideally, it will come down to more than just saving money.) Present these would-be superusers with the new ERP functions, ask them to help improve business processes and then train the rest of the group.

User resistance and frustration are some of the biggest obstacles manufacturers and other companies face in trying to get the most out of their ERP systems, according to Jutras. In a Mint Jutras survey that included responses from 300 manufacturing IT professionals, respondents cited difficulty in managing change, user frustration with the system and user resistance to processes as their top three ERP challenges.

As companies work to help users assimilate the change associated with their ERP systems -- or lack of it -- they can take comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

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