Multinational ERP – First, Organize the Organization

Assuming you are approaching your multinational ERP implementation with a single instance, the organizational challenges you face are significantly more difficult than the technical challenges of making the software work.

Whether you are doing a big-bang ERP implementation (everything everywhere goes live the same day), or a phased approach, one thing will be true: your multinational ERP partners will not trust an implementation team from the headquarters country to understand their problems, care about their problems, or to implement an ERP solution that will not create an unmitigated disaster. So the very first organizational challenge you face is to engage and integrate the informal leaders from overseas locations into the ERP solution design, without abdicating decision-making control.

Understand Your Challenge

This is harder than it sounds, for a variety of reasons. The first is the understandable but erroneous belief by each location that they are pretty much the focal point of the company. A small operation of one hundred people in Eastern Europe - in a company of twenty thousand - will expect the ERP design should be optimized for them, and everyone else should adjust accordingly. There is no sense of global “role”. The second reason is language. Communication about ERP is difficult under the best of circumstances; discussion between people who are not speaking in their native language will generate misunderstandings. The third reason is that because of lack of working relationship and trust, foreign nationals will assume the reason you will not accommodate all of their requests is because you do not understand. They do not know that you have weighed their requests along with everyone else’s, and made the best decision possible for the company. So they will not become your local change agents; they will continue to put all of their energy into helping to make you “understand”.

Invest in Collaboration

There are mitigation steps you can take that will improve things. First, within the constraints of your budget, spend money for travel, and get as much face time as possible with your overseas subject matter experts. Secondly, if possible, get very good at video conferencing and teleconferencing. This means more than just dialing up a connection: it means ensuring that everyone can hear everything, that all participants are engaged, and that any visuals being shown in one location are being seen in all locations. Third, if possible, get an individual from each ERP implementation location assigned full time to be the change management representative, so that you have at least one focused point of contact. Fourth, begin formal weekly “ERP readiness meetings” with your overseas users as soon as practical. Fifth, do everything practical to conduct meetings on their normal time schedule, not yours. Lastly, listen to them, and make certain you truly understand their concerns.

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If you do these things well, you will likely achieve an uneasy alliance. If you don’t do these things, you will find your multinational ERP counterparts self-organizing into a shadow implementation team, and acting independently.

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Richard Barker

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Richard Barker