How to Deal with ERP Workarounds and Get to the Point

There is no such thing as a perfect ERP system. Workarounds are a temporary or permanent solution to overcome a limitation within a system, and occur for two main reasons:

1. The system doesn’t meet a specific need, and
2. The system is perceived to be unable to meet a specific need.

Established outside of an ERP, workarounds pose a serious risk to an organisation. ERPs are designed to utilise and share information across an entire company. This means information contained outside the ERP can’t be used, limiting the overall accuracy of information within the ERP. This can impact productivity and efficiency, reduce the accuracy of reports and the ability to make informed decisions.

Examples of workarounds include:

  • Entering or maintaining data in separate systems, such as a Microsoft Excel spread sheet,
  • Manually performing stocktakes and handwritten inventory checks,
  • Entering the same information into a system more than once and
  • Changing processes to accommodate system shortfalls

Workarounds can lead to knowledge silos. If a staff member is maintaining organisational data in a spreadsheet, there is a chance it is being duplicated in the system. In the event of the staff member leaving, this information might be lost.

There is also the lost advantage of real-time data insights. Accurate forecasting and informed decision making is impossible, hindering an organization's ability to respond quickly to market changes. The inefficiency of workarounds can cost in productivity, frustrate personnel and damage morale. A common example involves manual data entry. It is time consuming, laborious and runs the risk of human error. Can you imagine a warehouse stocktake without a barcode-scanning system?

Where Might I Find Workarounds?

Even if you think your ERP meets all your needs, it’s possible to have dozens of workarounds in place without realising. Below are some of the common workarounds to look out for.

Manual Tasks

Areas within an ERP that commonly involve manual data entry are a good place to start. If the data isn’t perceived as important, then it’s possible that not all the information (if any at all) will be entered into the system, impacting data integrity and transparency. Examples include stock balances, employee details, timesheets, inventory details, and contract and supplier information.

Workflow Approval Processes

Workflow approval procedures are designed to streamline communication across an organisation. Incorrectly implemented approval hierarchies can result in bottlenecks, with users sharing logins or bypassing the system to directly contact approvers. Areas in particular include work orders, invoices and leave requests.

Old System, Old Problems

ERP vendors continually update their product, which means their ERP users are required to regularly upgrade their system. This can get tiresome, however system upgrades offer new features, enhanced functionality and critical updates. These upgrades might contain features and functionality that remove the requirement for workarounds.

ERP mobility and flexibility is an increasing requirement for users. Enabling email and browser-based notifications and approvals allow users to easily and quickly perform these tasks, even when out of the office. This removes the requirement for staff to call other staff to ask for approval, or waiting for when they are next in the office.

Your Users

Ensure your ERP users have regular and relevant training and performance support. If your users aren’t confident to use the system, then they are likely to find alternative ways to do their job, minimising their interaction with the ERP. Before jumping to a new (or even upgraded) system, consider your ERP users and their skill level.

Hidden Data

Dashboards are a great place for users to view summarised organisation-wide data. If your ERP dashboards are lacking in value and usability, then it is likely users will revert to Microsoft Excel. Common examples include scheduled maintenance, staff rosters, stock performance and key performance indicators.

How can I avoid workarounds in the future?

It’s safe to say that an ERP is only as smart as those who use it. Providing users with a comprehensive training and performance support framework will increase their knowledge and understanding of ERP features and functionality. This will instil confidence and reduce resistance to using the ERP.

It might be worthwhile to take some time to perform an ERP audit, and consider the following points:

  • Are we using our ERP to its full potential?
  • How old is my ERP, and is it up-to-date with the latest industry trends?
  • What workarounds are we using, and what can we do to remove them?
  • How confident are our users in effectively using the ERP?

Keep in mind that not all workarounds are bad for the organisation. There are 3 types of workarounds – harmless, hindrance and essential. Harmless workarounds are those which don’t affect workflow or data accuracy in a significant manner, for example a minor edit to an exported report. Hindrance workarounds occur when a user avoids using the ERP, either due to unfamiliarity or poor system design, such as using Microsoft Excel to create a report. Essential workarounds are those which are required to complete a task. This might be contacting an approver outside of the ERP, such as higher management.

No ERP system is perfect, and it’s important to understand the workarounds within your system, why they exist and to provide your users with the required skills to overcome them. Why? Smarter user’s means a smarter system that you can use to streamline processes, make better decisions and more accurate forecasts to maximise your ERP investment and stay ahead of your competition.

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Jess Alexander

About the author…

Upon discovering the magic of the internet, Jess embarked on an adventure to demystify its inner workings. Her journey so far has included web and graphic design, social media and content creation, which sparked her passion for writing. She has been involved in large-scale web projects for a top-ranked Australian university and a major bank and currently works for Pulse Mining Systems. In her spare time she runs her hand-made jewellery business, and is heavily involved in her local community.

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Jess Alexander