Once a company has evaluated, purchased and implemented its supply chain management (SCM) software, it might seem as if the hard part is done. But user adoption and user supply chain management training for SCM software create a new set of challenges around the day-to-day effort of using the new SCM tools.
"All this time is spent up-front [purchasing software] and can have a dramatic effect on business," said Joey Benadretti, president of supply chain software vendor Syspro USA. "Companies start to get into it, and they lose direction." However, there are some common best practices that can make the SCM switch smooth.
Introduce users to SCM tools
Readying users for new SCM tools, whether it's a brand-new installation or a switch in vendors, requires advance preparation. Syspro's education and training manager, Joan Rood, said that "one of the greatest challenges in uptake and education is managing change. Users like doing things that are familiar. They like the way they currently work." Take the time to manage the upcoming changes to avoid surprises.
Make sure there's a clear plan up-front. "When you get started, define and document everything you're trying to do," said Mark Humphlett, director supply chain, global solutions marketing at Infor, a supplier of business applications for manufacturers, including ERP, CRM, SCM and enterprise asset management software. "Have a clear defined set of objectives that are measurable, and three months down the road, measure those goals and objectives to make sure you are doing what you wanted."
Try to trust the technology you've purchased. "If at all possible, avoid making software modifications [when implementing SCM software]," Humphlett said. "Every organization likes to think they're unique, but a supply chain problem is a supply chain problem, and 99% can be solved with the software as is."
Involve the right people in SCM adoption
Getting buy-in from different departments and levels goes a long way toward having a successful SCM system. "Commitment starts at the top of the company," Rood said. "You've got to have commitment from upper management in order to have change management in order to have the resources and discipline in how the new system is going to work."
Keeping outside SCM vendors, suppliers and partners involved is also a must. Greg Palmer, quality engineer at auto parts manufacturer Magna Powertrain, said that when his company implemented Plex Online in addition to SAP for its ERP and SCM needs, all the company's users were involved.
"It was pretty smooth," Palmer said. "We started with suppliers we worked with the most," he said. "We had a 'supplier day' and walked them through the systems, gave everyone user names and passwords and rolled it out." Now, he said, the supplier management tools are probably the strongest part of their system.
Take time for SCM training
In tough economic times, supply chain management training might seem like an obvious budget cut. Not so, said Infor's Humphlett. "More times than not, we'll see training as the first thing to get cut," he said. "Organizations just train a few people and then train as they go. But thorough training of end users is critical."
Online training and self-help methods like virtual classrooms and remote tools are becoming more prevalent, Rood said. "Education has to be a major focus of rolling out supply chain software," she said, with internal and external users, as well as in different layers throughout the supply chain.
"You need to have material and structure targeted at those different layers," she continued. "People working within different areas are going to need training down to job-specific areas. It needs to cover the entire hierarchy."
Keep improving the SCM system
"Start looking at what's missing from what you're using" after implementing SCM, advised Elinor Price, director of product marketing at Aspen Technologies Inc., a vendor of supply chain optimization software for process manufacturers. Then concentrate on creating what's on that "gap list" for the next business release. "Be iterative in the process of implementation," she said, "and get good user acceptance [that way]."
"What happens to an organization over the course of time? People leave, they get replaced, the way a company does business changes," Benadretti said. And the technology has to keep changing with it.
About the author: Christine Cignoli is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers IT infrastructures and storage technology. She is a regular contributor to SearchManufacturingERP. Contact her through her website.