More than “Going Live”: Achieving Institutional Transformation through ERP Implementation

Conclusion and Action Planning at Your Institution


Drawing on EDUCAUSE's definition of digital transformation at the institution, we know that successful transformation requires attention to the institution's culture, workforce, and technology. Inattention to any one of these three elements would prevent the institution from realizing meaningful, lasting transformation. The same can be said for the institution's ERP implementation. A system as complex and deeply impactful as the ERP warrants an implementation strategy that is equally as complex and deeply impactful across the institution.

If implementing a new ERP involved nothing more than simply selecting a new system to adopt on behalf of one's institution, this study would have been relatively short and straightforward. But what we've seen to be true through the collection of these data—and what anyone who has undertaken an ERP implementation knows to be true—is that these implementations are notoriously (and, at times, prohibitively) complex and challenging. These projects impact a substantial number of stakeholders and processes within the institution, and they are financially, humanly, and culturally demanding and costly.

What we have highlighted throughout this report is that strategies to undertake a new ERP implementation must account for more than the new system. ERP implementation strategies must address the short- and long-term financial and staffing dependencies this initiative will introduce. They must account for the institution's diverse business needs and structural requirements driving and informing the decision to adopt and use a new ERP system. And, most of all, they must account for the human aspects of these implementations—the end users' system preferences and experiences, the institution's culture around system and data usage, and the collaborative relationships that exist, or could exist, between the teams and individuals who have an interest in these systems.

Action Planning at Your Institution

Adapting concepts and activities from the Institute from the Future, we propose a series of next steps or actions you might consider taking at your institution, depending on where you are in your ERP transformation journey. Each institution's journey is unique, so we encourage you to adapt these ideas to fit your context and goals.

Needs Assessment

Every ERP journey must begin with understanding your institution's current state, including pain points, opportunities, and how the ERP implementation can best serve the institution's needs. You can use this activity to engage key stakeholders at your institution and develop a shared understanding of institutional needs and articulate the project goals.

  • Make a list of key stakeholders at your institution who will be interested in and/or impacted by the ERP implementation project. Consider a wide range of perspectives from different operational units, including stakeholders who will use different aspects of the ERP and represent a variety use cases. Giving everyone who is interested a seat at the table sets the change management process into action.
  • Talk to a sample of stakeholders about the present and future state of ERP functioning at your institution. Below are guiding questions you might consider asking of different groups.
    • Questions for department leaders:
      • Which business processes are strong and which are weak, and why? What inhibits or is causing issues in the student experience?
      • What are student workers' experiences in dealing with this office in their role as a student? Who on your team best knows the student journey through the office?
      • Assess your current team: Who knows your current software best? Who embraces change, and who resists change? Who has project management skills? Who interacts most with the other departments?
      • What changes are coming? Is legislation or software changes coming that will disrupt the work of your office?
      • What are the most significant processes in your office that have an official start date and completion date? When are the "slower times" in your office?
      • What major changes are coming to serve students or the community that might require new functionality or ways of operating that you don't currently do? What barriers are you facing in your system that would make adapting to those changes difficult?
      • What "structural record elements" make it difficult for you to report the way you need to? What would ideal elements look like in your new system? Do you need new naming conventions to accommodate changes to better reporting in the coming years?
      • Where do you currently have cloud systems, and how are they integrated? Have they changed how you operate in the office? What lessons have you learned in adopting these cloud systems?
      • What is the "tech stack" in your office?
      • Where do you need to improve your access and sharing with other offices, and what is inhibiting that right now?
      • Are you housing data in "shadow systems" that would need to be migrated to this new system? How will the data get into your new/improved system?
      • Are you documenting end-of-day, end-of-week, end-of-month, and end-of-year key processes? How easy or hard are they to complete?
    • Question for members of the president/chancellor's cabinet:
      • Assess your current team: Who will be open to change? Who will resist? Who is essential to retain for project success? Who has been through a project like this before? Who has project management skills?
      • Do you have a successive ERP project leader already in the office? Is there anything you can do to prepare them to take the helm if a leader or key player leaves at any point?
      • What are the current vacancies on your team? Who is going to retire over the next three to five years? Where are you having trouble hiring, and why?
      • Document each role on your team: Are they student-facing on a daily basis? Are they interacting with advising, billing, or other offices? Where are their peers automating key processes that your team does manually?
      • Where is manual data entry? Are there self-service forms that were never deployed? Is it possible to eliminate that data entry, and what would it take?
      • Are there changes in leadership and/or staffing that you should make before you start a project of this magnitude?
  • Capture key takeaways from your conversations. Include references to resources and documents, such as websites and institutional policies.
  • Reflect on your findings and consider if/how they align with your initial interests in implementing a new ERP. Is your institutional vision aligned with your ERP goals? Are there individuals at your institution who are ready to help you take next steps?
  • Make a plan for next steps. Leverage actions that you can take at no cost and with no or minimal approval. Usually, this starts with identifying key members of your professional network who can partner with you. Consider stakeholders who are ready to hit the ground running, colleagues who already have considerable influence and can break down barriers, and colleagues or units that might be resistant to change and need help seeing your vision (see the "Rally a Network" activity below).

Build an Action Roadmap

Now that you have a clear picture of where you are, where you want to go, and who is going to help, you're ready to develop an Action Roadmap. This activity is best accomplished collaboratively, so consider working with some of the individuals you identified in the Needs Assessment activity.

Start with the right side of the tool shown in figure 12, describing the goals of your ERP implementation and what your ideal future state will look like once it has been completed successfully. Then, review the findings you generated with your Needs Assessment and describe the short-, mid-, and long-term actions that will carry you from today's reality to your ideal future state.

Figure 12. Model for an Action Roadmap
Figure showing an action roadmap model. On the right side is blank area where the preferred future can be written/described. To its left are boxes where users describe the short-, mid-, and long-term actions that will lead to the preferred future.

Rally a Network

A key theme in this report is the people-related aspects of an ERP implementation—the importance of leadership, communication, collaboration, and stakeholder buy-in. The Rally a Network activity is intended to help you identify and begin to engage with the groups of individuals who will be critical to the success of your project. Given the scale of an ERP project, it would be beneficial for every senior leader to participate in this activity and, thus, provide a combination of networks and insights that could be used across your entire institution to see the whole project from a people perspective.

For this activity, you will review the actions you identified in your Action Roadmap (see above) and list the specific people who may have responsibilities or may need to be involved in implementing those actions. First, list the people you know, those "ready to go" and already on board and in your network. This may include the staff already on your team who will have specific tasks related to those actions or close collaborators with whom you've already established relationships and who will already be informed and prepared to support those actions. These individuals may require less outreach and relationship-building effort than the other groups in your network, but it is no less important to ensure that they are fully informed and involved in the actions you plan to implement through your project.

From there, move clockwise around the circle (see figure 13). Note potential future collaborators you may need to inform and engage. This may include leaders or staff outside your immediate network of colleagues who could have a defined role in the actions you've outlined for your project. ERP implementations are large and complex projects that may require new relationships and collaborations with individuals your team doesn't typically interact with. It will be important to identify and plan for establishing those new collaborations.

Figure 13. Rally a Network

From there, identify the skeptics at your institution who may need to be convinced to support the actions you plan to take. This may include system users who feel reluctant to change and adopt something new in their work, or it may include leaders or key decision makers who could withhold project funding, staffing, or support if not sufficiently convinced of the project's value. Direct and clear communications to these individuals early in your planning will help avoid unexpected roadblocks from impeding the actions you hope to take. It will also ensure appropriate attention is given to addressing valid questions or concerns.

Finally, consider the individuals who might lend "star power" to your project. This may include senior institutional leadership, strategic influencers, and key decision makers who command authority and respect at your institution and can help others get excited and buy into the actions you plan to take. Reach out to these individuals early in your project planning to ensure they're on board with your anticipated actions, and work with them to coordinate campus communications and key stakeholder conversations that will help generate support and move your project forward.