Practical Advice for ERP Modernization

6 minute read | 15 Nov 2022

By Mark Emmons

“When implementing an ERP, keep the connectivity piece in mind. You need a tool that supports different applications, different equipment, and different assets. You want something to simplify your overall system architecture.”

– Jessica Kinman, Senior Technical Advisor, Boomi


Brett Knittle knows how to build stuff. He’s overseen the construction of two homes and remodeled two others as a general contractor. At his day job, he’s a senior principal engineer for the Baxter International healthcare company with more than 20 years of experience in manufacturing process design and development.

Home improvement projects, Knittle believes, have more in common with ERP modernization efforts than you think.

“They require a lot of work,” Knittle said, during a recent CXOsync webinar on successful ERP modernization initiatives. “The first thing you need to ask yourself is, ‘Why are you doing it?’ That’s because it’s not a small undertaking. The fastest I’ve ever seen implementing an ERP system is 18 months.”

Knittle joined Boomi experts Michael Bachman and Jessica Kinman to share what they’ve learned about planning ERP modernization implementations that transform business operations – and don’t end in sheer frustration.

“The ERP system and all of the satellites of data that orbit around it are the lifeblood of an organization,” said Bachman, global architect and principal technologist at Boomi. “That’s why it’s so critical for businesses to get this right.”

In their wide-ranging discussion, the panelists explained how to avoid unexpected challenges, stay within an established budget, and select reliable vendors to help you meet deadlines. So, you’ll reach your goals for today and tomorrow.

“The bottom line for a growing family and a growing business is the same,” Knittle said. “I believe you’ll quickly see that the benefits of having the entire team on the same page using validated data will outweigh the cost of implementing an ERP system. Better yet, having peace of mind, knowing that your business and your family are safe and sound, is priceless.”

Here are some takeaways from their conversation that focused solely on software tools – and not power tools.

Getting IT and the Business on the Same Page

Kinman, a senior technical advisor in Boomi’s Office of the CTO, said her experience managing ERP implementations at large companies had taught her to make sure IT and business units are both at the table when designing the project.

“Traditionally, we had business on one side and IT on the other,” Kinman said. “It was more transactional. The business made a request, and IT answered. Then there were clarifications and delays. It was very segregated.”

But closer communication eliminates the “guessing game” that inevitably leads to confusion and elevated tension. Bringing together the technical expertise and the business perspective at the start will prevent headaches later.

“When you talk about an ERP implementation, everybody cringes,” Kinman added. “As Brett pointed out, the shortest timeframe for some of these is 18 months. If you don’t figure out how to integrate these teams and make decisions together, that will push the schedule out and drive up costs. You need a much more collaborative approach when taking on these projects instead of having the usual back and forth.”

Plan, Plan, Plan

Bachman said it’s common for people to be overwhelmed at the start of an ERP implementation project. There’s so much to consider, and the ramifications of missteps will ripple throughout the business.

“None of us is a stranger to having this feeling when you walk into a room between your stakeholders, and they feel underprepared,” he said. “Preparation essentially amounts to the first half of the problem. The implementation is half-solved once you properly prepare for everything. And having everybody in the room can help folks feel more prepared to take on some of these challenges.”

Kinman picked up on that last point.

“There are a few key things that make or break a project,” she said. “One is having the right team. That means bringing to the table people not just with hard technical skills but also soft skills. If you’re doing a major ERP project that impacts the entire business, people will be hashing out differences. You’ll need a good referee, one person who can manage the project and be the leader to meet your objectives.”

The Role of Integration

An upgraded ERP takes advantage of cloud agility, incorporates best-of-breed applications, and helps the business move faster. But that requires connecting all those wondrous systems. Legacy middleware or basic point-to-point integration tools can’t keep pace with business expectations.

Kinman recommended finding a comprehensive connectivity platform with a broad range of capabilities — ideally one that has:

  • Connectivity to any application because it’s “systems-agnostic”
  • Out-of-the-box connectors for faster implementation
  • Reusable connectors so you’re not constantly building integrations from scratch
  • Hybrid environment connectivity, including for on-premises systems and databases

“When implementing an ERP, keep the connectivity piece in mind,” Kinman said. “You need a tool that supports different applications, different equipment, and different assets. You want something to simplify your overall system architecture. So, think about that when people start brainstorming. You want a tool that will work across the board.”

It’s Okay to Look for Help

Knittle, Kinman, and Bachman touched on the tight job market for IT skills. Every industry faces a shortage of high-demand technical talent, such as integration development. So when it comes to get-it-right-or-else projects like ERP modernization, outside experts can bridge that knowledge gap.

“It’s hard to make an IT project work when you don’t have the right people,” Kinman said. “Some companies will look internally and see they don’t have them. That’s when it makes sense to work with consulting partners to bring on that experience to get the ball rolling. It’s a hard decision to bring people in to help. But you almost have to in some of these cases.”