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Mastering ERP Customization: Best Practices to Avoid Common Pitfalls

Naama Aharoni  |  June 28, 2023

ERP Customization: Why, When and How to Do It?

As businesses grow, they rely more heavily on ERP software to streamline operations, minimize risk, and access data quickly. As essential as these systems are for running a successful business, it’s often necessary to customize them to make them work properly for a unique situation.

Unfortunately, mastering ERP customization is easier said than done — if you don't know what you're doing, you risk introducing errors and missing out on opportunities that could benefit your business.

It’s important for businesses to consider the advantages and disadvantages before diving into ERP customization.

That’s why we’ve created this best practices guide: To help you understand the key considerations before diving into a custom ERP solution and provide detailed best practices for customizing an ERP system while avoiding common mistakes in the process. We’ll also provide a step-by-step guide for how to plan ERP customization and explain why it’s important. So let's get started!

WHY CUSTOMIZING ERP SOFTWARE IS IMPORTANT?

Customizing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is a necessary step for any business that wants to continuously optimize their operational processes. Having the right ERP software in place enables businesses to access valuable insights, drive growth, and achieve their desired level of efficiency. There are several key benefits of customizing an ERP system, including:

  1. Enhanced Efficiency: Customizing an ERP system allows businesses to automate and streamline business processes, leading to improved efficiency. Through customization, irrelevant modules can be removed, and workflows can be rearranged to create a more efficient user experience.
  2. Improved Data Management: Customizing ERP software helps businesses better store and manage their data. Users can customize the system's data fields in order to better align with their organizational needs. This makes it easier for businesses to access relevant information quickly and accurately.
  3. Reduced Errors: By having a custom ERP system according to specific business requirements, organizations are able to reduce the risk of errors and make sure that tasks are completed accurately and on time. The customized system can be programmed to provide reminders and alerts when certain tasks need to be completed.
  4. Improved Decision Making: A custom ERP software allows businesses to access the data they need to make better decisions. Organizations can utilize the data to gain insights into customer behavior and understand how their processes are running. This helps them identify areas for improvement and increase overall performance.

Customizing ERP software is a complex and time-consuming process, but the benefits regarding efficiency, data management, and accuracy are substantial. For businesses to reap the maximum benefits from customization, it's important that they have a well-thought-out strategy in place as they embark on the customization journey.

CUSTOMIZATION VS. CONFIGURATION

Before delving into the topic of customization, it's essential to understand the difference between customization and configuration in the context of ERP systems.

Customization refers to altering the source code of the ERP software to modify its functionality or interface. This is typically done to tailor the system to a business's unique business processes that can't be managed effectively with the system's standard features. Customization is typically more complex and time-consuming, often requiring the expertise of an ERP development team or consultants.

On the other hand, configuration involves adjusting the settings and options within the system to meet business needs without changing the source code. Configuration is usually more straightforward and can often be handled by internal IT staff or end users.

5 KEY CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE DIVING INTO ERP CUSTOMIZATION

For ERP solutions to meet specific organizational needs, customization often becomes necessary. Although beneficial, ERP customization is a complex process that requires careful planning and execution. Here are key considerations before embarking on this task:

  1. Understand Your Business Needs 
    The first step before diving into ERP customization is gaining a thorough understanding of your business needs. A lack of clear objectives often leads to unnecessary customizations, inflating both costs and implementation times. Evaluate your current business processes, identify gaps, and pinpoint areas that could benefit from a customized ERP system. For instance, your organization might require unique workflows, reporting features, or user roles that a standard ERP solution doesn't provide.
  2. Assess the Customization Capabilities of Your ERP Software
    Not all ERP systems offer the same level of customization. Therefore, before embarking on the customization process, assess the capabilities of your current ERP software. Some solutions might only allow superficial modifications, while others may support extensive changes, including alterations to core features and functionalities. Ensure that your ERP platform can accommodate the customizations you have in mind without compromising system stability or performance.
  3. Cost vs. Benefit Analysis
    Customizing an ERP software can be expensive, depending on the complexity of the changes. Therefore, a thorough cost vs. benefit analysis is crucial. Quantify the projected benefits of customization: improved efficiency, reduced errors, and increased productivity. Compare these against the estimated costs, which could include software modification expenses, testing, training, and potential future upgrades. This analysis helps determine whether the potential benefits outweigh the costs.
  4. Compatibility with Future Upgrades
    Customizations can sometimes complicate future ERP upgrades, making the system difficult to maintain. When planning customizations, consider how they will affect your ability to apply future updates or migrate to a different ERP system if necessary. It's essential to strike a balance between customizing your ERP software to suit your current needs and maintaining flexibility for future growth and change.
  5. In-House Expertise vs. Outsourcing
    Depending on the complexity of the customizations, you might need expert assistance. Assess your in-house team's capabilities and determine whether they can handle the task or if outsourcing would be more beneficial. If you choose to outsource, select a reliable ERP vendor with a proven track record in successful ERP customization.
  6. User Training and Adoption
    ERP customizations can significantly change how users interact with the system. Consider the impact of these changes on your users and plan for adequate training to ensure a smooth transition. Remember, an ERP system's success largely depends on user adoption, so make sure that the customizations enhance rather than hinder usability.
  7. Regulatory Compliance
    Certain industries have stringent regulations regarding data handling and reporting. If your business operates in such an industry, ensure that your customizations adhere to all relevant regulatory standards. Non-compliance can lead to legal issues and hefty fines, so it's essential to understand the associated risks and take steps to mitigate them.

By keeping these considerations in mind before embarking on ERP customization, you can ensure that the process is smooth and successful. Follow best practices, thoroughly plan each step of your customization journey, and seek expert assistance if necessary. Doing so will help you optimize your ERP software for maximum performance and efficiency.

10 BEST PRACTICES FOR ERP CUSTOMIZATION

For businesses leveraging the power of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, customization is often a critical step to align the system with their unique business processes and requirements. However, this journey can be challenging without proper knowledge and guidance. If you're seeking to make the most out of your ERP through effective customization, this detailed guide presents best practices to steer your customization process in the right direction, helping you avoid common pitfalls and achieve your desired outcomes.

  1. Start With a Strategy
    Before making any changes to your ERP's functionality, have a comprehensive strategy in place. Understand the 'why' behind the customization - are you looking to improve efficiency, make the system more user-friendly, or enhance reporting capabilities? The strategy should align with your business objectives and the unique needs of your end-users.
  2. Customize Only When Necessary
    One of the cardinal rules of ERP customization is to do it only when necessary. Customizations can add complexity to the system, potentially introducing new issues. Therefore, thoroughly evaluate your business needs and consider whether the same result could be achieved through configuration or process changes before deciding on customization.
  3. Involve End Users in the Process
    The ultimate goal of ERP customization is to create a system that works effectively for its users. Therefore, involve end users from the initial stages of the customization process. Collect their input on what changes they would like to see and how they believe the system could better support their daily tasks.
  4. Prioritize Data Integrity
    While doing custom ERP development, it's vital to ensure that data integrity isn't compromised. All customizations should maintain, or ideally improve, the accuracy and consistency of your data. Plan for comprehensive testing to make sure that the customizations don't introduce data errors.
  5. Ensure Compliance
    Depending on the nature of your business, your custom solution may need to comply with various regulations. Ensure that any customizations you implement do not violate these regulations. Non-compliance could lead to significant legal issues and financial penalties.
  6. Document All Changes
    Good documentation is key to managing customizations effectively. This includes noting what changes were made, why they were made, and who approved them. Good documentation will make it easier to troubleshoot issues, manage system upgrades, and onboard new team members.
  7. Plan for Training and Support
    Customizations can change how users interact with ERP solutions. To facilitate a smooth transition, plan for comprehensive training to help users understand and adapt to the changes. Also, ensure you have a support plan in place to handle any issues or queries that might arise post-customization.
  8. Future-Proof Your Customizations
    Think about the future when planning your customizations. Will the changes you're making now make it difficult to upgrade the system in the future? Aim to create a system that can evolve with your business, considering growth, potential market changes, and technological advancements.
  9. Test Thoroughly
    Before going live with your customizations, conduct thorough testing to identify and fix any bugs or issues. This should include functional testing, integration testing, performance testing, and user acceptance testing. It's better to identify and fix problems during the testing phase than after the customizations have been rolled out to your users.
  10. Partner With the Right Vendor
    If you're outsourcing the customization process, ensure you partner with a reliable ERP software vendor with proven expertise in customization. They should understand your business needs, provide timely and effective communication, and be capable of delivering high-quality customization services.

WHEN COMPANIES SHOULD AVOID ERP CUSTOMIZATION

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are designed to provide an integrated view of key business processes, leading to increased efficiency and improved decision-making. While going through and development process and customizing these systems can provide a better fit for unique business needs, there are instances when customization can cause more harm than good. 

STANDARD FUNCTIONALITY IS SUFFICIENT

ERP solutions are equipped with a wide range of robust features that cater to various business needs. For instance, a small manufacturing firm might find that the standard inventory management module aligns perfectly with their processes. Rather than investing resources into ERP software development, they could take advantage of the system's inherent capabilities for efficient inventory tracking and management.

COSTS OF CUSTOMIZATION OUTWEIGH BENEFITS

A custom ERP software involves significant costs, including the development process, testing, deployment, and ongoing maintenance. For instance, a medium-sized retail business might consider customizing its ERP for a slightly better fit with its point-of-sale processes. However, after a detailed cost-benefit analysis, they might find that the high customization costs far outweigh the minor efficiency improvements. In such a case, using the system's standard functionalities would be more economical.

CUSTOMIZATION COMPLICATES SYSTEM UPGRADES

ERP vendors regularly release updates, including essential improvements and security fixes. However, a custom ERP system might encounter compatibility issues with these updates, complicating their implementation. For example, a healthcare provider with a custom ERP software might struggle to implement a critical security update due to compatibility issues, leaving the system vulnerable to potential security breaches.

LACK OF INTERNAL IT EXPERTISE

Customizing ERP systems require technical expertise. If an organization lacks this expertise in-house, managing a customized ERP system could be a challenge. A non-profit organization with limited IT resources might find that a standard ERP system is more manageable and cost-effective than a customized solution.

REGULATORY COMPLIANCE CONSIDERATIONS

In highly regulated industries, custom ERP software could complicate compliance with regulatory standards. As an example, a pharmaceutical company operating under stringent FDA regulations might find it easier and safer to use a standard ERP system designed with regulatory compliance in mind rather than customizing their system.

CONCLUSION

Customizing an ERP system can often lead to improved performance and efficiency. However, companies should carefully consider the costs and potential risks associated with customization before making any decisions.

It's important to ensure that you have adequate internal IT expertise, as well as a reliable third-party provider who understands your business needs and is able to deliver high-quality solutions. Additionally, organizations in regulated industries must consider regulatory compliance before opting for a customized ERP system.

By taking the time to understand your business needs and goals, you can make an informed decision about whether customization is right for you. Ultimately, striving for perfect alignment between your ERP solution and processes will ensure system optimization and long-term success.