Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are powerful and complex tools for managing your business. Qualified professionals with ERP skills help keep projects on track, and like many technology specialists, they are in high demand. They align the ERP implementation with business functions; help shape user experiences that enhance performance; help manage expectations regarding budget, schedule and resources; and manage change and contingency plans.
What Is ERP?
ERP systems help integrate and manage critical business processes within a company, from finance, sales and marketing to procurement, inventory, the supply chain and HR. ERP can be considered the backbone of an organization because it encompasses so many systems and data sources. ERP software can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud, although more companies are choosing cloud implementations thanks to a lower total cost of ownership and the ability to get the system up and running faster.
Today’s ERP systems handle many advanced tasks such as real-time reporting and analysis as well as automating business processes. A good ERP vendor can help companies become more adept at predictive analytics, integration with internet of things (IoT) technology and even the application of artificial intelligence (AI).
What Is an ERP Professional? What Do They Do?
Because ERP systems manage so many aspects of the business and usually require integration with other systems, they can be complex, requiring companies to hire ERP professionals to handle the deployment. These professionals have specialized ERP skills and knowledge to not only get an organization up and running on ERP software—whether that’s for the first time or as an upgrade to a new system—but also manage the project, drive change management initiatives and educate users.
ERP professionals typically fall into a few broad categories:
Functional consultants are involved in the high-level strategic thinking that underpins an ERP implementation or migration. They provide insight into managing the workflow processes of various departments, including human resources, accounting, sales and marketing, and materials management—which all influence the implementation strategy.
Technical consultants are responsible for the tasks required to implement a new ERP solution. They handle programming, integration, installation and customizing the system to meet the company’s requirements. They also set up automation and reporting tools that various employees need to facilitate their jobs.
Techno-functional consultants play hybrid roles. They understand both the business processes and the technical requirements for a particular area of ERP, like inventory or finance, and can work on the implementation and management end to end.
Which ERP is best for your company?
What all ERP professionals have in common is an understanding of how ERP works within an organization. They can map software to the business problem, adjust strategies as needed, assist with business process improvement and change management, and see an implementation through the initial planning stages all the way to go-live.
3 Types of ERP System Implementations
Organizations can choose from three models for implementing their ERP systems: in the cloud, on-premises or in a hybrid model.
In a cloud ERP implementation, the entire system—hardware and software—is hosted by an ERP provider. This eliminates the need to sink capital into servers and other equipment, as well as hire extra technology specialists to install and maintain the equipment. These implementations typically are faster, and systems are easier to deploy and maintain. However, the broad adoption of cloud ERP solutions stands to exacerbate an existing ERP skills gap, particularly when it comes to soft skills like defining business requirements and working with employees and stakeholders.
On-premises implementations are hosted entirely on a company’s own servers. The company is responsible for maintaining the software and hardware, including patches and regular upgrades. Companies that choose an on-premises implementation typically do so because they want to customize their ERP software extensively, although the best cloud ERP solutions also offer robust customization.
A hybrid ERP implementation combines features of both cloud and on-premises ERP. For example, a company might have a heavy investment in an on-premises system but want to introduce functionality for a business subsidiary that’s only available with a cloud solution. It can implement a two-tier ERP system that syncs data between the on-premises and cloud solutions .
Top 4 ERP Skills for an ERP Professional
Given the complexity of an ERP system, professionals need to have a variety of skills to make themselves invaluable to organizations seeking help with an ERP deployment.
What does an ERP consultant do?
An ERP consultant needs to understand the existing software landscape and document existing ERP configurations in preparation for a new system. As part of their responsibilities, they also need to serve on the change management and technical team, write design specifications based on the organization’s requirements, and offer insight and advice to management.
What skills does an ERP consultant need?
Not every ERP professional will have all these skills, but a good one will be able to draw from technical, managerial, professional and soft skills to contribute to the team.
Technical skills. Technical and techno-functional ERP professionals must have the knowledge and experience to implement hardware and software.
These skills can come from hands-on experience in ERP development and can include coding skills. As ERP systems from different vendors can vary greatly, these professionals need to know the ins and outs of each system with which they work. ERP vendors typically offer certifications for ERP consultants, which can help professionals demonstrate their knowledge of a specific system.
Professionals may also need big-data and data-management expertise, knowledge of APIs and connectors, and other specialized knowledge in newer technology like AI, predictive analytics and robotic process automation. Other skills required include the ability to develop custom reports, work with the legacy ERP system (if there is one) and data migration.
HR and management skills. A large part of any ERP implementation is keeping the project on track. Functional and techno-functional consultants need to be able to find the right people to staff the project, as well as delegate tasks and ensure those tasks stay on schedule. They also must be able to manage any third-party vendors as well as the internal team. This is particularly important during a cloud implementation; ERP consultants need to ensure service level agreements and goals are met, regardless of where the team is based.
They’ll also need to be involved in managing any of the changes to business processes that come with a new implementation, as well as risk and crisis management should something go wrong. Planning skills are also critical, as consultants work with different departments and vendors to determine the project timeline and requirements.
Project management skills are also essential. Working with remote teams requires accommodating schedules, setting up formal and informal communication channels, and deploying remote project management and training solutions.
Professional skills. ERP implementations help business units achieve a higher level of efficiency, so ERP consultants need professional skills in the functional areas that will be affected. These could include skills in accounting and finance, sales and marketing, supply chain management, materials management, and purchasing and procurement processes.
These skills are necessary to assist with setting up workflows that align with business processes. ERP consultant résumés often include “business requirements” as a skillset. This means they’re able to prepare business-requirements documents, translate the requirements into technical specifications and assist with designing the ERP system to meet those requirements.
Soft skills. ERP implementations involve people as well as technology—and there may be many people involved, from end users to executives. Some of the most important ERP skills are soft skills: collaboration, teamwork and conflict resolution. Just as individual business processes and systems need to work together, so do people.
Consultants need excellent communication skills to lead an ERP implementation or upgrade, including the ability to communicate well in writing. They also need to be able to train others on the system and rally the team if the project gets off track.
Finally, they need a certain amount of political acumen to build relationships within the organization. This requires knowing how to compromise and what to emphasize when speaking to different stakeholders about the implementation’s effect on their department. Your vendor will often have a professional services team that can handle implementations for you.
How to Become an ERP Consultant
Formal education. Most ERP professionals have a bachelor’s degree, typically in a field like computer science or IT. Some ERP consultants may have a business administration degree, either at the bachelor’s or master’s level.
Experience and background. Additionally, ERP consultants usually have a business or technology background. Some companies will want ERP consultants with accounting experience. Most consultants have worked on ERP implementations as part of a team; experienced consultants may have worked on ERP systems in a variety of industries.
Certifications and requirements. Being certified in specific ERP systems is definitely a plus for consultants. These certifications demonstrate to companies that the professional has undergone comprehensive training and has expertise in the system. Obtaining certification often includes multiple weeks of instruction, experience in implementing the software and sitting for an exam.
Industries That Use ERP Professionals
Businesses of all sizes in virtually all industries use some form of ERP—including manufacturing, retail, third-party logistics, oil and gas, consumer packaged goods, aerospace and defense, construction, and food and beverage. While small companies may rely on accounting software, most will start augmenting those accounting tools with inventory or sales order add-ons as they grow.
These point solutions can be sufficient for a time—but once companies reach the point where they need an integrated suite of software to tie together business operations, optimize efficiency and grow revenue, they generally realize they need an ERP solution. At that point, they need to consider options for a cloud, on-premises or hybrid ERP implementation—and look for the right ERP professionals to help ensure success.