To empower customers worldwide, start by empowering your everyday business users.
This was the philosophy that the direct sales gurus at cabi used to launch an ERP system that worked for their company’s thousands of stylists, not against them. While the business had flourished by building in-home, personal shopping relationships between stylists and customers, their technology hadn’t been built with the relationship sales model in mind.
Their original commerce system was outdated. And their first attempt to modernize it had totally missed the mark. “When I came on board, I realized that the previous systems had been developed in an IT black hole, without speaking to the stylists at all,” explains Kris Shenk, cabi CIO and VP of Information Technology. This lead to internal frustrations, makeshift workarounds, and a can’t-do attitude from stylists who struggled to navigate a labyrinth of patched together systems each day.
Shenk set out to change all that. Her IT team reversed course and began working with HotWax Systems to implement a new Apache OFBiz-based ERP system that could train stylists in direct selling, enable them to set personalized goals, and help them track the status of their businesses in real time—so they were truly empowered to change the way women work and shop.
“I watched our system develop and held its hand through every step of the implementation,” says Shenk, who partnered closely with HotWax during the process for both strategic guidance and technical expertise.
“The new ERP system has been one of the best things that ever happened to this company,” she says. “Our stylists have gone from being handcuffed to technology that wouldn’t help them to really thinking about the vast possibilities of an integrated, relationship-based system.”
Seven ERP Lessons
Here, Shenk shares her top secrets and style points for ERP implementation success—no matter what type of empire you’re building.
Know what you need.
Before getting dazzled by an ERP system’s bells and whistles, make a clear and comprehensive list of your unique business needs. Then, match the system’s features and functions to your own minimal requirements. “The ERP definition is really broad, which means all the systems are completely different from each other,” says Shenk. “On top of this, every workplace is different, so you have to be very careful about what you’re comparing against.” When you know exactly what you want to do, it’s easier to find a system that will meet your needs.
Think beyond the price tag.
Even after you’ve found a system that’s a great fit for your organization, keep in mind that it will most likely need further customization. You’ll also need help integrating and converting all your legacy data. And then there’s the cost of supporting and maintaining your system. That’s why you can’t go on the implementation sticker price alone. “Things inevitably get added on and removed,” says Shenk. “The first cost is never the final cost.”
Keep it open.
With an open source solution, your ERP system is infinitely customizable. And affordable. “HotWax can help us bolt anything we want onto our OFBiz-based system,” says Shenk. “If our marketing team requests a new social media app, it’s easy to add it.” Plus, since you own your solution when its open source, you’re never locked in to a single vendor.
Choose a vendor you can trust.
Once you know what you need and want, it’s crucial to find a vendor who will be forthright about what they can and can’t do. “You need to be able to ask a question and get an honest answer, not a salesperson’s answer,” says Shenk. “HotWax will always give us a reality check when we need it.”
Turn business users into design partners.
Your technology can be the best on planet, but that doesn’t matter if no one uses it. For instance, if your business users were expecting a function to send emails to customers and you don’t deliver it, they won’t just complain. They’ll find another solution. “When you’ve got users running rogue, you miss the opportunity to build a unified system with integrated customer data,” says Shenk. “Design with the user in mind, involve them in the development process, and let them tell you how the system should work and flow.”
Sweat every detail.
“Too many CIOs just skate around at the high level,” says Shenk. “If you don’t get into the details, then you don’t know where the train goes off tracks.” Even when you have a whole army of IT experts to help you get the job done, you still have to understand what’s going on in every module of your ERP system.
Make ongoing support an essential priority.
Don’t forget that you’ll need ongoing support and continuous improvements to keep your ERP system humming. To ensure that you get the help you need when you need it, consider the size and scale of your ERP support partner. “If you want help from a large IT company, you may have to wait six months just to get a proposal. HotWax moves when we want to move. With their help, we have a built-in global IT team to support our core internal group.”
Throughout it all, remember that technology alone can only take you so far. The best solutions almost always live at the intersection of human and machine. “Technologists talk a lot about automation, and taking the human out,” says Shenk. “We don’t do that. Our system actually helps build human relationships between stylists and customers.”
It’s this commitment to both people and platforms that made the cabi ERP implementation so successful. And it’s what great commerce is all about.
Originally published in ERP Essentials 2016.