ENTERPRISE RESOURCE PLANNING (ERP): Infrastructure Verification and Validation Assessment

VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE:
Public Sector Perspectives 

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP):
Infrastructure Verification and Validation Assessment

By their very nature, ERP systems are intended to be decentralized so employees closest to the work can input transactions directly. One of the goals of any ERP project is to take transaction input out of the hands of a few and spread it out amongst the field-level employees who are closest to the purpose of the transaction. In a large organization, like state government, that means thousands of employees and hundreds of worksites are points of origin for transaction input. Therefore, each worksite must have the needed infrastructure (e.g. PCs, telecommunication networks, printers, etc.) for employees to efficiently input and access information or the entire ERP implementation is put at risk. A flawless ERP configuration and implementation can quickly be tainted in the first several weeks of ‘go-live’ if the infrastructure to support the transaction input in the field is not in place. The end-users, already challenged by the new system, will quickly begin to long for the old system if each transaction now takes twice as long to input. In fact, not addressing infrastructure issues can cause collateral harm to other non-ERP systems. For example, congestion caused by an increase in network traffic related to ERP can significantly and negatively affect an agency’s ability to access other mission critical applications.

When the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decided to implement an ERP solution much time was spent anticipating potential barriers to success.  One of the defined barriers was the state government’s technology infrastructure and its ability to support an ERP system. All agreed that it was essential to perform a gap analysis; that is, inventory all the technology that agencies had in place to support the planned ERP implementation and measure it against what was needed to be successful.  Because of the lead time required to replace inadequate infrastructure, this component of our ERP project was started nearly a year in advance of the scheduled ERP implementation date. A plan and methodology was developed to inventory and evaluate each of the following technology components:

Personal Computers: The primary input and access device for ERP is the PC. Therefore, it was imperative that all potential users of ERP had a PC technically capable of performing all their existing work as well as the additional ERP transaction input and access. The analysis for personal computers should include:
  • Hardware Capacities — Ensure sufficient PC processing power and storage.
  • Required software — Confirm all required software is loaded and functional.
  • Software levels — Evaluate operating system, internet browser levels, etc.
  • Software Conflicts — Identify any potential software incompatibilities.
  • Virus Protection — Is the device adequately protected against virus attacks?
  • Access Control — For security reasons, does the device automatically timeout after “xx” minutes of inactivity?
Networks: Networks are the digital transport which allows access to the central ERP servers. These include Local Area Networks (LANS), Wide Area Networks (WANS) and access to the Internet. Many times pieces of these networks are managed by different entities, namely agencies, as well as the central “IT” organization. Accordingly, no one may be performing an overall capacity analysis to determine connectivity and bandwidth capabilities. Ensuring that users can gain access to the ERP system and have sufficient bandwidth to perform their ERP functions is another critical requisite of a successful ERP implementation. This includes any Web-based training associated with the transaction. The network analysis should include:
  • Connectivity — Confirm devices can access the ERP system.
  • Capacity/Bandwidth — Measure existing utilization and model expected ERP traffic, including online ERP training activity. Upgrade service, as necessary.
  • Network Reliability — What are the performance levels, and are there single points of failure that could adversely affect ERP activities?
  • Network Security — Are the various networks secure to transport confidential data? Should network traffic be encrypted to ensure point-to-point confidentiality?
Printers: Even though ERP systems are intended to be “paper-free” they are not, at least initially.  Therefore, printing of information or documents is a necessity. Each user or cluster of users must be associated with a printer. Given the wide variety of printers and different manufacturers there is a need to test each printer to assure all information is properly formatted and presented. The analysis of printers should include:
  • Capability/Capacity — Are existing printers robust enough to handle the ERP workload?
  • Compatibility with ERP System — Will ERP documents print accurately?
  • Location — Are printers positioned properly to support end-user needs?

 An infrastructure verification and validation effort can also address other technology-based issues that are inherent to ERP implementations. One is having an effective strategy and plan for technical support of ERP during conversion and once steady state is achieved. Since most technology needed for a successful ERP implementation is the responsibility of individual agencies there is a need to define a set of operating guidelines, helpdesk responsibilities/procedures and expected service levels. This will speed the response should a piece of hardware or software fail.

Pennsylvania also used the private sector to build a single sign-on capability for its ERP system. When employees logged into their e-mail accounts, they were automatically authenticated and therefore allowed to access the ERP system without re-entering a separate user-ID and password.  The e-mail system forced users to change their password at least quarterly.  Automatic timeouts were implemented for all PCs to ensure that after 15 minutes of inactivity a PC would require the re-entry of user-ID/password.  That helped mitigate the risk of unauthorized users gaining access to unattended PCs that were logged into the ERP application. Single sign-on was a huge success with the thousands of ERP end users and eliminated a potential problem of hundreds of users flooding the helpdesk requesting password resets because they forgot their ERP log-on credentials.

As the former CIO of Pennsylvania and chairman of the state’s ERP Executive Committee I cannot overstate the importance of the technology infrastructure.  During transition to Pennsylvania’s ERP system we encountered relatively few infrastructure problems because of all the analysis and remediation done months before. If we had not addressed the infrastructure issues, and just assumed they were sufficient, our staff would have been overwhelmed with technical issues and could not have focused on the ERP functionality; and, the perception of project success would have been altered considerably. Therefore, it is imperative that an infrastructure verification and validation assessment be conducted well in advance of any ERP implementation.

©2007, Gerhards Consulting Group. All rights reserved.
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