Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software can automate processes, provide insights, improve internal controls and generally make your business more efficient. But how do you choose the right software for your business and make sure the implementation goes smoothly?
ERP guru Trina Michels joins the EB & Flow podcast to talk through the basics and the journey of this process.
Contact us if you have any questions about the topic of this episode or to inquire about any business challenges you are experiencing.
A powerful ERP tool is imperative to operating your business efficiently. Learn the eight key elements for a successful ERP implementation.
Show Notes and Resources
- Eide Bailly's EB & Flow Podcast
- Eide Bailly's ERP Solution - NetSuite
- How to Know You Need a New Business Management Software
- 8 Key Elements for a Successful ERP Implementation
- The ROI of NetSuite
Clinton Larson: Hello and welcome to EB & Flow, I'm your host, Clinton Larson, and joining me today on the podcast is Trina Michels, a senior manager at Eide Bailly and an ERP guru. Welcome to the podcast, Trina.
Trina Michels: Thanks, Clinton. I'm excited to be here.
Clinton Larson: We're excited to have you. And why don't you just give a little intro about yourself to help our listeners know a little bit more about you?
Trina Michels: I have been working here at Eide Bailly exclusively with NetSuite for the past eight years, and I absolutely love working with business systems and companies and helping them work and learn better.
People a lot of times will ask me, Trina, how are you so passionate about what you do? And it really ties back to my father. So my father didn't speak English until he went to school and I grew up on a farm. So he went through his farming. And when he retired, he started working at a manufacturing company and he loved it. He worked in materials management and just adored what he did until a few years after he started working there, they started doing what he called all of this computer stuff.
And he said, you know, Trina, it's like all of these people in the offices are making all of these decisions and not paying any attention to really how things are happening on the floor. At the time I was getting my MBA, I was focusing on business intelligence and also focusing just kind of on systems. And I really filed that in the back of my head. And I really, you know, it stuck with me because I realized our systems create our work environments. And when we can have good systems, we can have happy employees and happy employees create great families and great families, create great communities. And from there you have a great society. And so that is my guiding principle on why I'm so passionate about it, because I believe good systems within a business truly build society.
Clinton Larson: That's great. That's a really awesome story. I'm glad you shared that because it ties in so well with what we've been talking about a lot on the podcast, which is just coming out of the pandemic this last year, and just how businesses have had to transform so quickly and how they've been thrust into sort of a digital transformation in many ways just because of, you know, the necessities that were brought on by dealing with a pandemic. And to me, like business intelligence is one of those things that now that businesses have gotten a taste for it or they've jumped in like they realize, like this is something they have to keep doing, like this is a technology, this is a space that's going to keep growing and it's really going to start separating businesses from their competition.
And so speaking on NetSuite and ERP, maybe we should start, before we get too far down the rabbit hole. Maybe we should start with just some basics. Like how would you describe an ERP? What is an ERP?
Trina Michels: So at its core, Clinton, an ERP automates business processes. It helps provide insights as well as internal controls. And really a robust system has a central database that is collecting all of that information from various departments, various operations within the business, including accounting. If you're a manufacturer on the manufacturing floor, your supply chain, sales, marketing, human resources, all built into one system.
And when you talk about the pandemic, I know people are getting tired of actually talking about the pandemic, but you really, the digital transformation is completely so important and it has become critical. And what businesses realized with the pandemic, with so many people having to work remotely, the shortcomings that they would have from on premise systems.
And the idea, I read a study, it was from the predictive index and it showed what CEOs concerns were. And in 2019, concerns of a CEO, the number one, nothing was anything about remote workers. And in 2020, that was the number one concern about CEOs, is how do you have effective remote working. And that boils down to having modern systems that you can access from anywhere and be able to operate no matter where you're located, whether you're at home or in the office.
Clinton Larson: Thank you for bringing that up because that's a good defining quality that we should talk about is the on premise versus the in the cloud type of software where they're talking about. Because NetSuite ERP the modern systems, these are systems that are in the cloud, right?
Trina Michels: Yes, NetSuite is fully cloud based and it's browser agnostic. So whether you log in onto your phone or you log in through Chrome or Explorer, it doesn't matter. It is Safari as well. So you can just access it from anywhere provided you have the permissions to access it.
Clinton Larson: You talked about how this is a system that connects all these different departments in your business or organization. So what's sort of the value that you see coming out of once those systems are put together? Like what is the value of an ERP when you have all those things running together?
Trina Michels: So Clinton, it's interesting. Every day I get to talk with businesses about the challenges that they have with disconnected systems. I have accounting that says I have no idea what sales is doing. I have service delivery organizations that say I have no idea what sales is doing. I don't know how to properly staff or finance not understanding what kind of outlays they're going to be having based off of the supply chain. Sales orders coming in, not understanding the inventory impacts that that is going to need to have. And so what the value of an ERP provides you is that you have this central place and this one view. So instead of you going into a meeting and everyone has their spreadsheet or your knowledge workers spending a bunch of time pulling reports doing pivot tables, v workups, anything being those Excel gurus, it changes the dynamic from them having to format that data to put it into a meaningful way to having meaningful data and being able to be strategic with that and make better business decisions.
Clinton Larson: Obviously, that's something that sounds like most businesses would want and gain efficiency from. But obviously, technology is one of those things that's it always seems like it's evolving. It's always kind of when should I jump in? When you're a business owner, you obviously you're juggling a lot of balls. So what's the push to get someone to make that leap into an ERP or to update their system? What's a good reason to get involved?
Trina Michels: So I have two different types of businesses that I typically work with. I have those that are feeling so much pain with what they are having today that they are forced into this situation. Whether that is they're losing support on their antiquated system. They just have no sense of really where their business is because they don't have good visibility into the business.
And then the second type of organization that I have are those that are strategic and are looking at making sure that they are setting the foundation for themselves to be able to scale and do the growth that they see coming down the pipeline. So it's really two different mentalities of do I have something that's broken and I need to fix it or what is my future looking like? And how do I make sure that I can handle whatever comes my way and that flexibility for the future and growth?
Clinton Larson: That's interesting because we've talked on the podcast and I'm sure a lot of business owners hear the phrase data driven company or data is the next big thing. You know, is this something where you're seeing this sort of data driven economy being something that's really going to separate businesses in the future? Like how quickly are things moving? How like how quickly do we need to jump on that train?
Trina Michels: Data driven companies are the wave of the current. I wouldn't even say it's the wave of the future. If you do not become a data driven company, you will die. I know that's very bold for me to say, but when you start thinking about companies today, right, Facebook, it is the largest content on the Internet and they produce none of their own content. Uber one of the largest taxi type services, they own hardly any of their own fleet. It really becomes when you have the data and you can access that data in meaningful ways, that you can make decisions and that you can be strategic and visionary within your space.
Clinton Larson: So let's maybe talk a little bit about selecting any ERP. If you were going to select this cloud-based software, what should be your first steps? Where do you begin? You know, what does the process look like?
Trina Michels: Well, I think everybody probably just goes to Google and starts looking at the hey, what ERP should I look at and that is a great place to start, honestly, for your research. Now I do work exclusively with NetSuite and NetSuite is a great cloud-based platform for companies in wholesale distribution, manufacturing, services, software, e-commerce, health and beauty, apparel, footwear and accessories, food and beverage. Those are really great places where they fit, including health care as well.
And what you need to look for, number one, is understanding how your business and what kind of pain points that you're currently having or what is the vision that you are having. And I think as you kind of go into an ERP buying process, it becomes incredibly interesting. You come across different types of business development people. You have those who are consultative who are going to actually give you more information than what you had gone into the meeting with and provide you insights. And then you may have those who are just going to try to sell you.
And I really encourage you as you start looking at an ERP, make sure that you have a really good fit with the person who is in business development. Nobody ever wants to lose a sale. And so you can challenge when you're in that process of asking, could I, is there somebody else I could work with? But you want to make sure that number one you find someone that you can trust and what are ways that you can tell you can trust a person who is in business development? Number one, that they don't say yes to everything and that they will tell you this isn't a place where this software is going to be a good fit for you. Maybe you need to add on a third party. If you're always hearing yes, I would dig a little bit deeper.
So oftentimes, when you are working with a good, good business development person, that process he or she is going to be guiding you through that process. And so buying an ERP is something that a company undertakes maybe once every 10 years. And that is becoming less frequent because platforms today are having automatic upgrades. So you're not having the need to upgrade your system because it's outdated. It's staying up to date. That's where you have that whole software as a service. So really working with a good business development person is number one.
And making sure in your buying process that it's not a one person show. So I will just tell you, sometimes we have a conversation with somebody in finance and what finance needs is going to be very different than maybe what supply chain needs. And so it's important to identify within your organization who are really my subject matter experts and what areas do I need this system to touch? And maybe you don't know the answer to that, but it doesn't hurt to have more people involved.
Another important step in selecting an ERP is understanding what is your company comfortable in spending? That doesn't mean that that's actually what you will spend but having a comfort level. If you are comfortable spending three thousand dollars a year and that is the max that you're really going to want to be spending, then an ERP is not something that's going to scale down to that level. There is an investment that needs to happen. So it's important to identify stakeholders, understand your budget and understand timeline. Ideally, when do I want to be live?
Implementations, good implementations, take time and it takes time to have good consulting because you want to have good consultants who will help you through the process of that implementation, who maybe make you a little uncomfortable. Right. As you're making some of those business decisions. But when you have that the buy in, it just really helps the entire buying process.
Clinton Larson: So you mentioned stakeholders, you mentioned budget. You mentioned having a realistic timeline in place. And you also mentioned possibly having a vision when you come to the table about what you want this to be. What are some of the common things that you see in business visions? What are some of the common things that people want to do that they're able to achieve?
Trina Michels: That's a super interesting question, Clinton. And I'm glad that you asked it. I recently worked with a prospect who selected a different ERP a few years ago, and this prospect when I had a conversation with him, I said, you know, I don't understand. You just did this three years ago. Why are you looking now today? And he said, Trena, the way that we operated our business three years ago, we used a 3PL. We didn't assemble internally and just had everything outsourced. And now we find ourselves three years later where we are having that all be brought in-house. And now my inventory doesn't talk to my sales because the platform that we chose is very financials focused and there's no inventory portion to it that can handle our requirements.
So from a vision perspective, you want to make sure that your future proofing your company, what you are doing today, take a look at what you're doing today and have an idea of various scenarios of what could happen tomorrow. If you're outsourcing today, is it possible is there a remote chance that you may bring that in? The answer to that if that's yes, then you want to make sure that you're going to have something that has those inventory capabilities. Right? Each business is unique in its ways, but an overall vision for what are my operations today, where do I think that it could go tomorrow and do I have the flexibility in that platform to be able to address that?
Clinton Larson: So now you've made your selection, you've decided to go all in on the group. What does that implementation process look like? Are there typical things that people can expect? Or is there no such thing as a typical implementation?
Trina Michels: Well, each business is unique, just like people, right? Every business has its own quirks and unique ways that it operates. But the basics of an implementation are the same. Now as someone goes through and analyzes, goes through the buying process, there will be different prices that people will come across from implementations. And so there's two main approaches within an implementation. One is a directed approach where you are told by the consultants this is how you need to operate. And a lot of that configuration and setting up of that system would be done outside of meetings with you. Right.
And then there's a more consultative approach. And what that consultative approach allows is it allows more strategic decisions to be made over time so that you're having more consulting with the consultants. I would also say for people, make sure that you work with an organization who focuses on having their consultants be more than simply software consultants. You want them to have some industry experience, having worked with companies within your industry and not a not so laser focused completely on the software, if that makes sense.
But in the more consultative approach, you'll start out with doing a discovery. And so those discoveries are when the consultants go at an even deeper level than you're going through the sales cycle and they're going to identify, hey, this is how you operate today. This is how the software operates out of the box. And now you have some choices to make. Do you want to change some of your business processes to meet these practices of the software, or is there some flexing of the system that we need to do or that you'd like to do in order to meet that requirement?
And then from there you move into the configuration. That's when you're really tailoring the system to operate efficiently for your company. And from there you move into a testing phase. And that's a place, Clinton, where I can see a lot of companies tend to fall, is in their testing phase because they just can sometimes be a little bit tired of going through the implementation process and can gloss over some of that testing. But the testing is incredibly important. What you invest in testing is what is going to make your go live go a lot smoother. So after you make it through the testing and complete end to end walk throughs, you get to the fun part, which when I was in consulting, I loved it. It was the go live. And so that's when you have the nice clean handshake from your old system to your new system and you're operating on your new ERP.
It's also important to make sure as you are selecting an ERP, as you say, Clinton, you're selecting ERP, you're also selecting a provider, somebody who is going to deliver those services. And that is just as crucial, if not more crucial, than selecting the ERP. You want. And you get a flavor of what it is like to work with that company as you're working with them in the sales cycle so highly, highly, I cannot stress enough that it's important that you have a good fit with that from the implementation perspective, because. If you have poor consulting, they it doesn't matter how good the software is, if that consultant can't translate your needs into what the software can do, then you're really going to fall flat on your face and have a failed implementation, if that makes sense.
Clinton Larson: That was actually my next question. Once you've gone through implementation, is there a way to tell? How do you measure success? How do you know if it has been unsuccessful? How do you know if it's not working? Is there things people should be looking for after that implementation phase to really make sure that it's fitting their needs?
Trina Michels: Yeah, you know, at the beginning of our implementations here at Eide Bailly, we focus on what are the key success criteria. And so that may be a single view of truth, that may be reducing the number of days to close automating intercompany transactions or integrations to other systems as well. Those are all different success criteria.
Ultimately, Clinton, I'm just going to have to be frank. There is a period we actually call it the Valley of Despair. And it's this point where I don't know if you run or anything. I used to run, but at that point when you're like working out and you're like, I just can't do this anymore, this is just going to be it's so arduous, right. It can feel like that in an implementation. But then, you know, it's like it's at that other point, like at a workout, where then you get the high and that's when you can tell what that success looks like.
So success. Are you going to know seven days after you've implemented that you're successful? The answer to that is no, because you're still learning a new system. Your company is up and running and doing that. But when you start looking three, six, nine months post-implementation, that is when you start seeing the resistance that you sort of would run into in your processes, it's almost like you're beginning to experience that grease in the wheel and that's over time. So success different for every company. But overall, I would say it would be less friction within your business processes that would happen over time.
Clinton Larson: So it once you're live, once the contract is through all that stuff. What's next after that? What is the next steps? I know you said sometimes this can be a long process and software updates, but what should businesses, organizations expect once they've once they've got through the other side?
Trina Michels: Well, Clinton, I wrote something several years back and I talk about why you need to treat your ERP like an employee, because that's really what it is. I think anyone in human resources or anyone in business would say would think it would be ridiculous that I would hire someone and I would never invest in them ever again in their tenure at our organization, that is a challenge that I say to businesses is you really need to do an annual review on your ERP. Where is it excelling? Where are places for improvement? What other capabilities do I want it to have and how does that growth plan look? And because when you think about it an ERP doesn't take any time off and it never calls in sick. Right. And if you humanize the system, you really can start to have the magic of that, because what you've invested in it, it doesn't forget. And so you continue to make those improvements over time.
So I will say ERP is not implement and forget. Some companies do that and that hamstrings them for their future growth. It is treat it like an employee, invest in it, make sure that you're including it in your strategic plans and your strategic direction. How are you going to have the system meet those needs?
The other thing, too, you know, with ERP, especially with software as a service, you want to make sure that you are taking a look at release notes. I know with NetSuite there are two major releases that happen each year and review that with the company that you are working with. What are some of the additional functionality that can take place?
Clinton, I did think of something else when we talk about cloud and cloud is a term that companies use very frequently. You just hear it. It's a big buzz word in the industry. But there is cloud and then there's true cloud. Right. And there is a difference and there is a distinction between the two. So cloud in some cases can mean hosted. Right. I've just simply taken my on premise software. And now instead of me having a server in my back room, I have it hosted to the cloud. That does not solve the problems that you have from an on premise software perspective, which is upgrades your customizations or configurations breaking from those upgrades. It is a very, very important as you are going through a purchasing process to understand what do they mean when they say cloud. Is that hosted?
One question that I would challenge people to ask as they go through that selection process is, is this a multitenant cloud solution? Multitenant cloud is just a fancy term for something that I would just kind of put in place. This is how I put it in plain English, Clinton. When you have something that pops up on your phone and it says, hey, you're supposed to have an update, do you want to run your update now? And you're like, yeah, I never worry is my phone going to work or my apps still going to work afterwards? That's what the multitenant cloud solution does. That architecture, it allows it to all be deployed.
So conversations, when you are at like a conference or a user group, when you are with a multitenant cloud solution, it is not what version are you on? There are no versions. There is a single version of the software. So everybody is running the same thing.
Another big benefit that companies don't necessarily think about isn't as obvious is that when you are in a multitenant cloud solution and everyone is on the same version and you have companies as small as pre-revenue and companies larger than a billion dollars on that same software, you have those large enterprise customers pushing the software publisher for functionality. Which then benefits the entire whole. When you have something that is cloud hosted, you are really in your own bubble and you're not able to see anything beyond what you yourself, as the company can imagine. Right. And so that is another huge benefit of what I would say from a multitenant cloud and making sure that you evaluate that in your purchasing process.
Clinton Larson: So when we're talking about businesses being competitive, staying ahead in this digital space, it sounds like true cloud is the way to do that by taking advantage of the people bigger than you who are here pushing for those changes and really keeps you on the cutting edge.
Trina Michels: It does keep you on the cutting edge without you even having to understand what the cutting edge is. You just get it like it's all ships rise.
Clinton Larson: Wow. This has been very illuminating. Trina, thank you very much. And I just had one final question, I guess, as we wrap up. For an organization that's still on the fence about whether or not an ERP is right for them or whether they should make the leap, what are some final thoughts from you on what you would say to organizations who are still thinking about this?
Trina Michels: If you're still on the fence about whether or not an ERP is a good fit for you, I would advise reaching out to people who are in the industry. So I talk to companies all the time. And some companies, they are too small for ERP today and that's OK. That conversation, that vision, you can set the stage for that early on and know, hey, maybe this is a decision that's for me in a year from now or three years from now. But having that conversation earlier allows you to set yourself up for success and can make you very judicious about the investments that you are going to make when you know that in the future you'll be doing an ERP. So maybe you won't invest in some of the technical debt that you would have to get rid of and save up for investing in what is going to be able to propel your business to the future.
I'll just say I am so passionate about helping companies and I talk with companies all the time and find someone like me who is willing to have those conversations with you and who will help guide you, because your job is to have your business run successfully and you're not a technology guru. That's why we people like myself dedicate their lives to this. And so there are so many resources and Googling can get very, very overwhelming. So make sure that you find someone that you can trust, that you can have a conversation with and who will be an advisor to you over time.
Clinton Larson: Thank you very much. This has been a great conversation.
Trina Michels: Well, thank you. I enjoyed it.