Who could have guessed that someone’s job would be to do jigsaw puzzles all day? Well, a different type of puzzle, one that uses a certain type of software as the board. And the pieces of that puzzle are the problems and wishes of a customer that need to be fulfilled. I’m talking about an ERP consultant and ERP software. If you don’t know what an ERP is, this article will explain it. This piece focuses on the ERP consulting part and what an ERP consultant does.
Before going into what an ERP consultant does, let’s see how this role appeared in the first place. Back in the 20th century, companies started to grow in complexity so much that they needed help to cope with it. The solution? Software! At first, companies built software in-house for their specific needs. The first batch of software that is considered the precursor to the ERP was developed around the 1960s (source). But not many companies could afford to build their own software.
As time passed and technology developed, a new industry appeared. The first ERP vendors opened their doors in the 1990s. But, now that there were software solutions that companies could implement, a new problem surfaced. To have this software, a company couldn’t just buy it and use it right away. They needed someone to understand their business and tailor that software accordingly. And here comes into play the ERP consultant. Let’s see what this role implies:
The role of an ERP consultant
In a nutshell, an ERP consultant is the bridge between a business and ERP software. In the same way, a mechanic is a bridge between a broken car and a fixed one. An ERP consultant finds the problems, needs, and wants of a business. He uses the gained information to help that business solve those needs through the ERP.
The role is critical during the whole implementation of the project, from start to finish. The whole project molds through their understanding of the customer’s business. To paint a better picture, I’ve split the implementation project into 5 phases. I will go over each one of them and explain the role played by the ERP consultant.
This is the first phase and the most important one of the entire implementation project. This is where the ERP consultant interviews the customer and collects all requirements. They document all findings in a requirements document. This will be the foundation of the whole project. If things were done badly here, everything else could be in danger. The ERP consultant plays a big role in the next phase, while not being the main player.
Developers are the main players in this phase. But, they can’t do this part properly if not assisted by ERP consultants. They guide developers to build the right functionality with the right specs. When the development is done, ERP consultants come back as the main characters. They now have to test those functionalities to check if everything is alright. Things could go bad at this point as well, and, in that case, the project will suffer. The next phase is vital for the project as well.
Regardless of the functionalities’ type (standard or custom), users must train for them. As long as the training is done correctly, the project will succeed. Otherwise, not only the project has to suffer, but the whole business. Especially in the years to come, users will have a hard time using the software. ERP consultants are responsible for the training process and for what comes in the next phase.
No company can just start from scratch when they implement a new ERP. They need to migrate the data from the old software to the new one. Not all the data is needed here, just the one that keeps the business running. With the guidance of an ERP consultant, the customer knows what data to prepare for this step. After that, the ERP consultant imports the data into the new software. If they mess up this phase, it could be hard to correct later on. The next phase is also important to ensure everything runs smoothly in the end.
It has two key moments: support when the project is first up and running and maintenance support. It is compulsory to have an ERP consultant in this phase, but they can differ here. The customer relies on the ERP consultant to fix the problem they encounter. A business might also need extra development which will be noticeable a year after implementation. In that case, they rely on the ERP consultant to understand their new needs and fix them. It can be done either through existing functionalities or through custom ones.
ERP consultant vs Business Analyst
In many instances, an ERP consultant role is similar to a Business Analyst one. If you don’t know what a Business Analyst is, check out this article. But, while they have similarities, in as many instances these two roles differ. Just like a corporate lawyer is different from a divorce lawyer. They both practice law, but how they apply it to their job is very different. Let’s get into more detail about the differences between these two roles.
A Business Analyst could have the luxury of no technology limitation for a project. Like starting with a blank sheet of paper. They gather requirements from the customer and go from there. ERP consultants have technical limitations with the software they implement. They have to take into consideration what the software can do while gathering the requirements of the customer. This applies to the rest of the project. From this overly simplistic example, you can see the approach of ERP consultants differs from that of Business Analysts.
Another thing that separates these two roles is the importance of technical knowledge. Both need domain knowledge, but I feel is more critical for the ERP implementation. The reasoning behind this is that a business has multiple linked departments. The ERP implementation team needs to understand these links and the constraints they bring with them. In this way, they can set up the software properly. Domain knowledge helps tremendously when it comes to understanding these links and constraints. Regardless of the project’s size, requirements, and industry, ERP consultants need technical knowledge. Without it, they can’t ask the right question and propose the right setup or customization. This brings us to a more subtle difference.
On the soft skills side, versatility is a must-have, as ERP consultants work with individuals in various roles. From the CEO to management, HR specialists, customer support, warehouse workers, and so on. They need to communicate with them, gather their requirements, train them, and support them in using the software daily. This is not a task for a business analyst. With this in mind, you’ll easily know to spot the difference between these two roles. They serve different purposes and it’s important to know who to contact depending on what you need.
Soft skills are all about details, and another aspect that is all about details is the business process map a Business Analyst is required to do for each project. The main difference here, between the two roles, is the level of detail that is required. On the ERP consultant side, the details might only cover what employees have to do within the software to do their daily job. But the Business Analyst might cover a user’s workflow and the underlying activities that might happen. For example, consider the devices involved in a particular workflow. Or, think about who/what initiatives events that rigger some other workflow. Much, much more detail that an ERP might ever need in an implementation project. To put things into perspective, the next point helps to visualize these two roles more.
ERP consultant is part of a more brother Functional Consultant role. If you were to make a spectrum, on the one side it would be the Functional Consultant role, and on the other the Business Analyst role. There isn’t a black-and-white explanation for each role, but rather a nuanced one based on each job, team, and technology used. This is why you get the feeling that one explanation might be true for both roles, or when someone describes one role, they seem to describe what the other role does also. It’s just that these roles can overlap from one company to another. Let’s see what a day in the life of an ERP consultant looks like:
A typical day for an ERP consultant
When it comes to a typical day of an ERP consultant, the only constant is there is no typical day. Projects might be similar from the implementation phase point of view, but the details that are covered each day are different from one project to another. Some days might be just meetings with the customer. Other days might be some internal meetings with other consultants or developers. To have a better understanding of what an ERP consultant does, we can group tasks into the following categories:
From requirement gathering meetings to training sessions. From clarifying data import meetings to support meetings when a user gets an error. All of them are meetings with the customer and their employees.
Meetings within the implementation team. This could be meetings between consultants to discuss workflows. To discuss issues found in the implementation. Meetings between ERP consultants and developers to discuss needed customizations.
In this type of task, there could be activities like setting up the training environment. Another activity can be setting up the Live environment. Where the customer will execute his day-to-day after the implementation is done.
Then, ERP Consultants set up workflows in the software based on requirements and customer situations. After that, they test the workflows to ensure they fit the customer’s requirements. For example, invoicing items in different scenarios. This way, they ensure the workflows cover all potential situations.
Customers might have requirements that are not standard in the ERP. These functionalities need to be built. To make sure they are built properly, they need to be tested by ERP consultants. Like workflow testing, the consultant tests different scenarios to validate new functionality.
Data from the old software needs to be imported into the new one. This is the responsibility of the ERP consultant. An example could be to import the list of customers.
It might not seem like it, but an ERP consultant does a lot of writing. From writing emails to the customer to writing requirement documents or workflow procedures.
At the end of the day, the ERP consultant role is a versatile one. It requires a mix of technical and soft skills to do the job. And, in this role, no day is the same, as no day looks like the other. At the same time, it’s a rewarding career option that helps anyone develop in multiple areas at the same time.
If you’re interested in entering the ERP consultant role, here are some suggestions. A bachelor’s degree might be required (especially if you want to work on the accounting side of the implementation). Also, a certification might be necessary for the beginning. The best thing to do is to find an ERP (maybe from one of the big vendors, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) go on their website, look at the certification requirement, and read their documentation. The one thing you will get back to, even after years of experience is the vendor’s documentation. One example might be Microsoft with one of their ERPs, Dynamics 365 Business Central. Here you can find the documentation and here you can find the certification page.
Interested in ERP services? Look no further! Through our partnership with Microsoft, we make sure our clients take advantage of the full capabilities of one of the best ERPs on the market. For more details about how we can help companies looking for ERP implementation services, check out this link.
Article written by Dumitru Pop