Sabre is a company that has successfully migrated from an all on-site Microsoft Dynamics implementation methodology to an all remote implementation methodology over the past five years. Our specific skills are with Dynamics 365 Business Central, and our remote deployment refinement has focused on that product.
As a company experienced in remote deployment, we are in a unique position to share our experiences and expertise during this remarkable time. Given the new reality of COVID-19 and the global pandemic, the need for expertise in implementing ERP remotely (and maybe more important, at receiving a remote implementation) is something nobody could have anticipated.
Our experience is that remote deployment, particularly for the SMB (Small and Medium Business) is more efficient and less disruptive than traditional ERP. It reduces risks and can greatly reduce costs.
Here’s a bit of a summary of our findings:
5 Drawbacks of the Traditional Microsoft Dynamics Implementation
- Very Disruptive: The “three or four day” Consultant visit is highly disruptive to your staff, who have jobs to do and fall badly behind during training. The first few weeks after the consultant leaves is spent catching up.
- Homework Never Done: As said, much of the four weeks between these intense visits are not used to complete the “homework” that has been assigned. Experience says that only the last 2 or 3 days before the consultant returns is spent working on these activities.
- Diminishing Returns: Long consultant visits create diminishing returns as staff “zone out” and lose focus by the end of the first day. This is why colleges do not teach courses in three or four back to back eight-hour days.
- Imperfect Memory: Your team and the Consultant have not really seen each other since the last visit, and everyone needs to try and remember things as they were left a month ago. This results in wasted time and money.
- Intermittent Contact: While they are away, the consultant is spending a week at each of the three other clients they have. It is very difficult to reach them during regular business hours and impossible to get much of their time.
6 Benefits of a Remote Dynamics 365 Implementation
- Brief Sessions: Remote sessions are kept short – 3 hours at an absolute maximum. Staff do not lose an entire week and are more focused. We selected this length for the same reason college lectures never exceed 3 hours.
- More Contact: Consultants are not tied up for full weeks at other Microsoft Dynamics implementation clients. They are available with much more frequency to both conduct training and check in to see how things are going. Consultants behave more like instructors and can tutor their “students”.
- Better Rhythm: Sessions are more evenly spread out (level loaded in Lean terms) which creates a good rhythm in the project. Things are moving along a little bit each week.
- Homework Complete: Short sessions mean less homework. Staff have a few days to get a few hours of homework done between sessions. Feedback on incomplete homework is faster.
- Recordings for Review: This is the biggest benefit that we have seen. Brief sessions can be recorded so staff can review and re-watch. These videos become training materials for new staff in the future.
- Smaller Teams: Since the training is done in more frequently but in smaller recorded sessions, smaller trainee teams tends to work out much better.
- Social Distancing: A remote Microsoft Dynamics implementation is by its nature entirely social distanced, something critical in today’s world.
Just an aside: You may be interested in
my other post on Dynamics 365 Implementation mistakes.
Traditional Microsoft Dynamics Implementation Methods
At Sabre we followed the traditional ERP deployment in the past.
The traditional Microsoft Dynamics implementation was built around in person sessions, presented in a board room to a group of customer employees. The conventional wisdom was that customer staff needed to see the trainer to learn. That the in person, “look them in the eyes” approach was best. Since the customer was paying for the time, they would pack those board rooms with staff. This seemed logical and obvious.
Full day sessions were a necessity, because with the drive time it was impossible to visit another customer. The customer and the consultant needed to maximize the amount of time spent on-site during the Microsoft Dynamics implementation. It often was the case that without the consultant present, the staff didn’t make any progress. Sometimes the consultant was a very (very) well paid babysitter. We always tried to provide the most value possible, but frankly there were times we really were there just to warm a seat.
When customers were further away, travel time was much longer. Overnight stays were required. It was necessary to have a three- or four-day training session. Returning to do a one day touch up training refresher was not practical. Staff were unavailable to see other customers. Scheduling became more difficult. The customer staff were even less likely to do work between visits. Who wants to work on “assignments” when they know they’re going to be tied up for an entire week next month.
Why the Traditional Dynamics 365 Implementation was Terribly Inefficient
The cost of a service is very much related to how efficient and risky it is. One or the other party needs to pay for the inherent risk in any service. A traditional Microsoft Dynamics implementation is extremely inefficient, and very risky.
If you think about all the risks that are loaded onto the customer, it’s remarkable that people continue to want to use this in-person approach even today. Let me list some of the risks inherent in the process:
- You can’t control how well employees absorb information and failure to understand will increase costs. Sometimes this is due to the training being provided as part of the Dynamics 365 implementation, but most of the time it is simply a fact that different people learn at different speeds.
- You are paying for at least a whole day if not several days on site. Any disruption (eg: A surprise customer visit) can add up to very large costs very quickly.
- You pay for the travel time and the fares and accommodation of the consultant, which can be high even before the first minute of training occurs.
- Almost all Microsoft Dynamics implementation training is bespoke, so there is no curriculum, text book, training DVD or other resource to draw on.
- You don’t want to pay the consultant to keep notes and records; and your staff are probably not very good at record keeping. This results in rework.
- Every time the consultant returns for a day there is a wasted time reviewing materials; checking on status; catching up on vacation stories and other wasted activities.
- Not all staff learn at the same rate, so generally the consultant works to the lowest common denominator – meaning most staff are wasting at least some of their time waiting for their colleagues. It also means the consultant is being paid to teach slowly, not quickly.
Ways a Remote Microsoft Dynamics implementation Increases Success and Reduces Risk
If you look at the risks above, you can see that the traditional approach looks like a terrible way to teach people a complex technology and ensure they are able to use it successfully.
There is one area of society where we regularly teach complex ideas and expect people to successfully understand it and apply it in the real world: college. The goals of a College course are not the same as those of a Microsoft Dynamics implementation, but they are similar.
If you apply the techniques used in college to a Dynamics 365 implementation, you get a very different looking implementation approach; and you really change the risks. Replacing the inefficiencies and high risk of the traditional ERP method with this “college course” style, addresses many of the risks we mentioned before.
- You divide the Microsoft Dynamics implementation into “streams,” and focus on both training and setting up the system in each stream.
- You hold shorter 3 hour sessions about once a week, like a college class. Cancelling or missing one session has a dramatically lower impact than missing a day or two.
- Delivering these sessions on-line is much more palatable to your staff; and reduces essentially all the travel costs.
- Employees who are having trouble with the content can re-watch video recordings of the sessions.
- Bespoke Microsoft Dynamics implementation training which is recorded provides resources to use for other reasons, such as training new employees.
And a Sabre specific finding…
- Start with smaller “classes” and pick the strongest learners to participate. Once they are really comfortable with the system, invite more staff and these “power users” can coach and help the weaker team members.
The risks are fewer, and more manageable:
- Staff decide not to participate and don’t do any homework or activities between sessions.
- Staff are too busy to participate, and are not given the time to make the project work.
- Staff cannot learn except in an “in class” environment.
These three risks can be mitigated by picking the right staff to participate in the project, especially in the beginning.
How you can Make your Remote Microsoft Dynamics Implementation Successful
It may seem obvious, but executing the Microsoft Dynamics implementation correctly is the key to the whole thing. Setup is mostly about loading the right data into the system; and deciding how you will use it to process that data into a working business system. The Microsoft Dynamics itself usually has a “best practices” workflow that it is designed to execute. Sometimes this is adjusted, but as a general rule of thumb you should follow the out of the box design.
The workflows in Dynamics 365 are a bit like a spider web; there is more than one path that can be followed to achieve an outcome. This spider web is what makes a Microsoft Dynamics implementation so difficult. Knowing which path to follow depends on your specific business needs and processes.
As a company looking to implement Microsoft Dynamics there is a very important step that can make this process successful. For some companies, this is relatively easy. For others it can be extremely hard and very stressful.
Companies that have a good understanding of how an ERP works are going to generally be more successful implementing it, because they will have experienced this workflow before. ERP systems have used more or less the same process flow for decades. Although no two ERP are exactly the same, they (almost all) follow the same general design pattern.
Companies that have never worked with a fully integrated ERP system like Microsoft Dynamics are going to find the process much harder. As the consultants explain the process, it will be hard to understand as it is very different from the manual processes most businesses use. One of the best things a company in this position can do is hire an outside ERP consultant to work with them, or a contract employee to join the team during the implementation. We call this a Business Analyst, and we’ll explain it in more detail a little later.
In either case, this path finding exercise is best done by a small group of “power users” who drive the Microsoft Dynamics implementation. These should be people who are comfortable with technology, and who know the business from end to end. Often these are senior staff members that are trusted by management to make the right decisions on how things should be. This should always be a trusted group, and only when they have validated that the right choices are made, should more staff be brought in.
If this is done right, you will have a system that is basically ready to hand to your entire organization “ready to go.” You want the rest of the company to learn and then demonstrate they can use the new software, but the heavy thinking and analysis will have been done by then. At this point it should be a matter of “here’s the new software, and here’s how it works.”
The Business Analyst
As I mentioned above, one of the more important skill sets that is often lacking in the small business is the business analyst. The BA is someone who understands the basic flow of an ERP system, is good with software, and (usually) who knows your business. You can definitely find this within your team, especially if you have already been using an ERP system. The BA is going to understand the system holistically, and is going to guide the team through the Microsoft Dynamics implementation and be a leader. You may have more than one of these people on your team. Generally, you’ll know who they are.
Sometimes there isn’t someone on the team that can fill this role. This usually happens when you don’t have an existing system and there isn’t any deep experience in the group with this kind of software.
This often leads to trying to outsource the role.
If hiring someone as a consultant to fill this role, it is very important when choosing a BA to focus on these skills:
- Experience with ERP systems in the same class as the one you are buying.
- Experience in your industry.
- Experience with a minimum of 8 ERP implementations.
- A good Project Manager
It can be counter productive to find someone with experience in the ERP you are purchasing. This for a few reasons:
- You are already paying the consultants to have that experience.
- They will almost always be at significant a premium if they are any good.
- They may have bad habits from a previous Microsoft Dynamics implementation.
- They will often see the consultants as competitors and it can create conflict (especially if they are not as strong as they claim and are threatened).
- It may lead you to select someone with too little implementation experience.
- It may lead you to select someone little to no experience in your industry
The last 2 bullets are the most significant as they can create huge problems for the implementation if the BA doesn’t understand your business or has a lack of experience.
The business analyst can make or break an Dynamics 365 implementation, especially if the rest of the team is weak or not engaged in the project.
Trust the Dynamics 365 Implementation Consultants
This section applies to both kinds of business (those with ERP experience and those without). The reasons are not quite the same.
If you want to keep your costs down (whether you have a BA on staff or not) you want to follow this advice.
If you are from the organization that hasn’t got a lot of ERP experience, and you choose to skip adding a BA to your team, then this is critical. You will need to rely on the ERP consulting firm you’ve selected to guide you through the implementation. In much the same way that you are going to select a BA, you should select this company.
You should look at a Dynamics 365 implementation vendor or consultant who:
- Has specific experience and ideally specializes in your industry.
- Who’s consultants regularly work on projects of your size and for businesses like yours.
- Have a good process that matches much of what we’ve discussed above.
- Are honest about the risks and the difficulty.
If you find this vendor, then you need to trust them! This is a hard thing to do, because you’re going to change your business fairly radically with a new ERP. They are going to suggest things you may not understand, and they will tell you that other companies have done the same thing successfully.
If you don’t trust them, you need to look elsewhere.
Be very careful of the vendor who promises that it will be easy. It is hard work to execute a Dynamics 365 implementation. It can be made easier, if you approach it correctly, but it is never easy.
Need some help?
Looking for pricing for Business Central or other Dynamics 365 products? You can find the current pricing at Microsoft.com. If you need help with a Microsoft Dynamics implementation, especially executing one remotely, give us a call at: (519) 585-7524 x.45 or contact our team, we're excited to talk with you soon!