Learn five challenges you’ll need to address—and the approaches that five schools are taking to meet them—for your cloud-based ERP implementation to produce a worthwhile technology investment.
By Marye Colleen Larme, Research Associate, and Danielle Yardy, Senior Analyst
As replacing aging mainframe enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems grows critical, higher education executives are increasingly considering cloud-based solutions. Cloud-based ERPs promise to free time for IT staff by moving hardware, software, updates, and systems support management to third-party vendors. For institutions that have built customized modules and environments for their business units, cloud-based ERPs seem long overdue.
But carefully managing the transition to a cloud-based ERP is key to ensuring successful implementation and investment. IT staff must be prepared to implement and support the product while mitigating concerns from skeptics—yet organizational change management often goes beyond their historical expertise.
To assist our members in implementation preparation, IT leaders at five institutions shared five common challenges in change management and staffing they encountered during their cloud-based ERP implementation.
1. Generating buy-in for ongoing support
Successful ERP implementations require campus stakeholders to acknowledge and facilitate the transition. Leaders must proactively communicate the implementation’s purpose, length, and anticipated effects to people who aren’t versed in IT project engagement.
Unlike many IT projects with effects users can’t see, ERP implementations disrupt university business operations and alter staff workflow. Without understanding the project, staff may not take the time to attend trainings, users may become frustrated with service disruptions, and donors may question the institution’s ERP investment. Post-implementation job insecurity may even cause some IT or administrative staff to leave the institution.
Clear articulation of IT and unit staff’s responsibilities and how the ERP transition will affect their job is paramount to maintain morale through implementation and beyond.
2. Identifying a project lead
ERP implementation requires coordinating processes that are typically managed by separate units on an extended timeline. Decentralized leadership and over-populated management teams can cause gridlock and ultimately delay implementation, but a designated implementation leader acts as a central point of contact to make decisions and move the project forward.
When hiring external consultants, they must work closely with an internal staff member to ensure self-sufficiency after project completion. Otherwise, current staff will be unable to maintain operations once the consultant “completes” the implementation.
Institutions that cannot hire an external implementation leader should consider internal candidates with transferable technical project management skills.
3. Training end users at scale
The user learning curve is the most challenging aspect of implementation, according to IT leaders we spoke with. Hundreds of users must quickly gain new skills to perform their job and difficulty navigating the new ERP decreases productivity.
Data assets are also at risk. Shifting data entry responsibilities from a small group of trained specialists to hundreds of individuals can significantly impact data quality. Individual departments typically lack the capacity to provide tech support to struggling users, leaving central IT staff charged with training the whole institution.
To scale training, one institution used “Train-the-Trainer” models to provide training and project updates to users without overburdening IT staff. Another IT division surveyed functional areas to identify the most critical knowledge gaps and targeted training to those areas.
4. Juggling implementation duties while maintaining day-to-day functions
Administrators often assign IT staff to implementation activities (such as data migration, data cleaning and conversion, technical integration, and testing strains IT units) because they lack resources to dedicate a full staff.
This practice is cost-effective, but can lead to employee burnout. Additional duties strain already busy staff and complicate completion of regular job responsibilities. Administrators must structure duties that allow staff to balance their current roles with implementation.
While backfilling for implementation staff may seem like the clear-cut solution, leaders may want to limit ongoing costs and avoid worker displacement once the project finishes. These administrators can shift some IT staff into full-time implementation roles, but must determine tasks that remaining staff should de-prioritize. Other institutions split highly specialized staff’s work weeks between implementation and operation tasks.
5. Restructuring IT to support cloud systems
Cloud-based ERPs eliminate many roles required to operate legacy systems, drastically shifting the IT division’s role from system customization and creation to integration, technical support, and user training. IT staff may resist this change: New roles are fundamentally different from typical duties and employees may require significant reskilling. IT must restructure reporting lines to accommodate the new system while preparing employees for changing responsibilities.
Some profiled institutions move cloud-based ERP management out of the IT division and into its corresponding functional area (e.g., HR, Finance). Implementation leaders communicate IT role changes as early as possible to prepare their team for their new jobs and minimize resistance.
How can you and your team navigate these challenges?