Why do ERP upgrades have to be difficult?

ERP software is developed by very clever people, so you would think that they would have enough sense to make the application upgrade process straightforward.

A few years ago I managed a Microsoft Dynamics reseller group that did Navision (OK, I know Microsoft wants it called Dynamics NAV, but lots of people still use the old name). I was responsible sales, account management and project management, and got to learn about the hassles of ERP upgrades firsthand and repeatedly.

If you are a NAV customer who has customised their application, the process of upgrading involves:

  1. installing the new version of NAV without customisations
  2. migrating and testing each customisation separately
  3. final testing of the new version with customisations
  4. make the new version live

Step 2 can be a serious project phase if the customisations are numerous or complex. For a few of my NAV customers, it might have been cheaper to buy a new ERP than upgrade.

I saw this post from the Sapmesideways blog, detailing his ongoing SAP project, and was interested to read what it’s like trying to manage SAP software upgrades.

When I started selling SYSPRO 3 years ago, one of the things that really impressed me was how easy upgrades were (caveat: be on SYSPRO 6 and Windows). Again, I had firsthand experience of its relative simplicity in 2008. The customer is a large manufacturer with over 1000 employees, with multiple points of integration between SYSPRO and specialist third party applications, and with some serious customisation for its particular ETO type of business.

There was fairly thorough discussion and planning for the upgrade in the weeks leading to the event. The preparation for the upgrade started at the beginning of the week, but the actual upgrade process to SYSPRO 6 Service Pack 2 took one weekend. A significant part of that time was taken up by backing up and restoring the SQL Server transaction database. The upgrade was done by Sunday morning, and the rest of the weekend was used to test the application and the integration with other systems.

The most serious issue after the upgrade was training the accounting staff on a new A/P payment cycle that was introduced with SP2.

As SYSPRO moves towards the next major software release in May – SYSPRO 6.1 – the issue of upgrades comes up frequently. The beauty about SYSPRO is that any customisations done on the user or module side are carried through from the previous version 6 into 6.1. Interfacing between SYSPRO and other applications is done using SYSPRO’s e.net solutions, a Microsoft .NET-based integration layer, and that doesn’t change. So the integration with external applications doesn’t need to be re-developed.

Making upgrades easier is important for the market that SYSPRO addresses – the mid-market distribution and/or manufacturing organisation. IT resources, skills and budgets for these types of companies are limited, so having an ERP that actually reduces complexity should be a plus.

There used to be a TV advert for a South African bank that coined a phrase “Makes you think, doesn’t it?” Makes me wonder what other ERP applications have done the necessary work on their application internals to take the hard work out of upgrades?

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