10 Top Lessons Learned in 30 Years of Food ERP Implementations


We’ve been helping food and beverage businesses transition from older, outdated systems and spreadsheets to state-of-the-art ERP software for more than three decades. Here’s the top ten things that contribute to a successful project.

Lesson 1: Define Goals and Engage All Stakeholders Early

Before starting a Food ERP project, the most important step is to establish agreed-upon and achievable goals and objectives and engage key stakeholders early on.

Often during onboarding, middle and upper management staff provide directives based on their understanding of how their current operations work. However, during training or worse at go live, front line users will find that those directives were incorrect and will re-prioritize issues. This can delay the go live and add significant costs to rework previous development based on erroneous information.

It’s critical to establish clear goals for the project and involve users from each functional area early in the project. This will ensure that everyone understands if there are any red flags preventing their current business processes (or reporting) from working within the system.

We recommend that customers assign one senior executive to own the project from start to finish. It’s also important to have a clear decision-maker with authority to approve/deny new or modified requirements to evaluate if they are worth making a change to the project budget or schedule.

Lesson 2: Develop a Detailed Plan and Monitor Progress

Successful ERP deployments start with a well-defined plan that is followed through to completion. The implementation plan should clearly state an agreed-upon schedule of project milestones.

Plan to devote time working with the ERP vendor for the entire project. Everything from the site survey, key testing, training, and the final go-live require your input. Poor implementations usually lack of strong senior leadership at the client, leading to poor communication between the ERP vendor and the client as well as poor attention to detail.

It’s also essential to monitor and measure progress on a regular basis to identify potential issues, anticipate problems, and make course corrections as needed. Are you on track with the plan? Is your team accomplishing the assignments given by the ERP vendor?

Lesson 3: Phase in New Functionality Over Time

Customers often find that, even after using a new ERP for a full year, they are only using a percentage of the system’s capabilities and are still discovering what other tasks it can manage.

An important consideration is to understand where the client is coming from. Introducing advanced capabilities like currency conversions, kilo to pound conversions, alternate units of measure, and broker commissions can overwhelm a new client coming from a world of spreadsheets and Google docs. In many cases, we opt to not to suggest additional features unless they are either simple or applicable to the client. These clients are often better served by initially focusing on learning the basics of the ERP software.

At the same time, a client with experience running another ERP system may lobby for additional features at go live. It’s important to recognize that the new ERP system may not fully emulate your legacy system. That’s because clients often have developed systems, either internal or external, resulting in highly customized software. Many of those customizations simply may not exist in the new solution. Identifying the must haves early on is important to properly scope the time and money involved to integrate changes when required or to, preferably, explore optional tools in your new ERP that may be available.

Lesson 4: Understand the Results of the Site Survey

ERP vendors should perform a detailed site survey or fact-finding process during the early stages of onboarding a new client. The site survey identifies key business operations and functions as well as any interactions with other internal and external systems. The site survey also identifies the ERP features needed to implement the software without sacrificing critical current capabilities—and perhaps adding some new functionality.

It’s important to carefully review the site survey to avoid surprises that can increase project cost and duration. If details are overlooked, the ERP software may not be configured appropriately in the initial setup and additional work may be required.

Lesson 5: Clean Data Leads to a Timely Deployment

Customers who don’t adequately focus on data conversion often experience project delays. Every ERP software requires customer files and invoices, product information and vendor data to conform to a specific layout or format. ERP vendors can often provide templates to simplify conversions. We recommend assigning an individual or individuals to own data quality, cleanliness, and consistency to keep data conversions on track. Starting a new ERP implementation offers a great opportunity to clean up your customer files and invoices, product information and vendor data. This data cleansing should begin even before the project kicks-off.

Lesson 6: Practice Makes Perfect!

Successful implementations are characterized by users having access to and familiarizing themselves with the new software after formal training has been completed and prior to actual go live. This eliminates many of the early issues that can arise as your team begins using the new software in the production environment.

Lesson 7: Establish Metrics for Before and After Comparisons

When improvement is incremental it can be difficult to realize how far you’ve come. To determine the measurable benefits of a new ERP system, customers first need to understand their current processes and metrics to later compare against results with the new ERP system.

Lesson 8: Don’t Be the Exception to the Rule

Occasionally we’ll see senior management decide they’re going to do things ‘like they always have’. This could be making buys without entering purchase orders, offering discounts outside the established framework, or skipping some of the steps involved in setting up a new customer. Customers don’t get the benefits of an ERP system if they permit users to circumvent processes.

Lesson 9: Communicate Regularly

During the project, make sure to communicate regularly with stakeholders to ensure that everyone is on the same page, all expectations are being met, and the project is delivered on time and on budget. This will ensure that everyone’s feedback is taken into consideration and if changes are necessary, they can be made as needed prior to go-live.

Lesson 10: Don’t Wait!

Once you’ve selected an ERP vendor, don’t put off getting started. Schedule the kick-off meeting with the ERP vendor and be sure that critical stakeholders attend. Whether it is a new hire you hope to obtain, a new facility that is being constructed, or waiting for supplier prices to fall, the time wasted waiting means you will delay reaping the benefits of the new system.

Lessons for Success:

  1. Define Goals and Engage All Stakeholders Early
  2. Develop a Detailed Plan and Monitor Progress\
  3. Phase in New Functionality Over Time
  4. Understand the Results of the Site Survey
  5. Clean Data Leads to a Timely Deployment
  6. Practice Makes Perfect!
  7. Establish Metrics for Before and After Comparisons
  8. Don’t Be the Exception to the Rule
  9. Communicate Regularly
  10. Don’t Wait!

Learn more about CAI’s Food ERP solutions today
by scheduling a call with a member of our team.