ERP: 9 ways to strengthen your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for remote work
As workers hunker down at home to help flatten the coronavirus curve, many organizations are using their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems in a remote-work ecosystem for the first time. While telecommuting has long been routine among certain U.S. workers, it has never been attempted at a massive scale or implemented so quickly.
Even companies with established remote-work programs may not have established or updated policies that are specific to ERP systems and workers. The absence of remote-work programs can contribute to communications breakdowns, declines in productivity, difficulties with timely reporting and financial closes, and increased cybersecurity risks, to name a few.
Getting your ERP systems up to speed in today’s remote-work reality will require that you assess, update, and automate processes and technologies – and make sure that workers are adequately trained on the complexities of performing all of their tasks outside the office.
Following are nine key tips to help enhance the functionality of your ERP solution as we work via a remote ecosystem.
1. Empower remote work and productivity
Right now, ensuring that the right remote-work technologies, processes, and training are in place and operating adequately is the most pressing priority for most businesses. Updated remote-work policies will be essential to help drive employee productivity and continuity if internet service and other communications are disrupted. Businesses will also need to create or update remote-access workflows and test their communications networks and VPN performance.
Beyond the corporate campus, critical workers will require adequate internet access for high-bandwidth applications like videoconferencing, as well as maintenance of ERP systems. It’s important to quickly provide employees with guidelines regarding essential equipment like laptops and smartphones, as well as securing home networks to protect sensitive information and data like vendor account numbers.
To help preserve productivity, businesses should implement tools and policies that enable homebound workers to effortlessly collaborate with internal teams. Organizations will also need to build collaborative workflows within their ERP system, and then train employees on new processes and security protocols.
Cybersecurity is another critical concern. In addition to risks associated with an overworked IT staff, threat actors are preying on distracted employees with new phishing campaigns based on coronavirus lures. Organizations will need to review their cybersecurity and privacy programs to make sure that the basics – strong password policies, secure file transfers, and up-to-date incident response plans – are in place and work well in a remote ecosystem. Updated cybersecurity and awareness training should be offered immediately.
2. Ensure access to ERP systems
It’s critical that essential staff be able to securely access ERP systems via VPN or a web-based portal, and that configurations for remote IT support be up-to-date and tested. Cloud-based ERP solutions offer an advantage over on-premise systems because they are designed to be remotely managed; they also offer immediate scalability and flexibility for fluctuations in business needs.
3. Automate manual business practices
Inside and outside of ERP, organizations will need to automate manual business processes and workflows to create operational efficiencies in a remote-work environment. They should, for example, consider automation of approval workflows like ordering and processing of invoices. Similarly, the practice of using manual spreadsheets for reporting and forecasting will need to be replaced with something automated and centralized. Organizations may also consider adoption of technologies like artificial intelligence to help automate warehouse functions such as receiving, returns, and processing of EDI purchase orders. For companies with warehouse operations, automated picking, packing, and shipping can help stabilize business activities during times of crisis.
4. Anticipate changes in accounting and financial filings
The devastating economic impact of COVID-19 is sure to result in new accounting rules. Consequently, ERP specialists will very likely need to expose new or unusual line items on balance sheets and financial filings. They should also be prepared to track and report COVID-19 costs, create new ledgers and projects, and possibly redesign their chart of accounts. In some cases, businesses that are working together on virus-related capital projects – automakers and health-device manufacturers, for instance, are jointly producing protective gear and ventilators – may need to configure new reporting processes and accounting rules.
It’s too soon to know what accounting rules may be introduced. But it seems likely that businesses will be able to separate COVID-19-related items that are deemed “unusual” or “infrequent” on their income statements from costs incurred from normal operations. If the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issues new guidance on accounting rules related to COVID-19, ERP specialists should be prepared to reconfigure their systems.
5. Digitize AP processing
Organizations that have not automated their accounts payable (AP) functions are likely to find it difficult to manually process invoices, transmit physical checks, and deposit receivables. For many, the first steps will be developing contingency plans and implementing processes and technologies to make electronic ACH payments. Essential will be a governance process to streamline the electronic payment process and integrate security controls to help safeguard transmission of sensitive data to workers’ personal devices and home networks. These updates should be documented and communicated to finance employees.
6. Enable AR processes
In national emergencies, it may be difficult to contact entities that have not paid their invoices or to deposit payments received. To help stabilize cash flow, accounts receivable (AR) modules can be added to ERP systems to help organizations send out dunning notices, determine optimal payment terms, and track payments. Businesses may want to consider their approach to handling AR. The traditional approach of following strict rules regarding late payments, dunning letters, defaults, and write-offs may not be as effective a strategy. On the other hand, focusing on enhanced communications with customers, offering incentives for early payments, allowing payment holds, and discounting may produce better AR results.
7. Take advantage of reporting and dashboards
Many employees are both dispersed and virtual, and that can interrupt reporting and data analytics processes and workflows. Dashboards and workflows built into ERP solutions can help businesses manage remote reporting. They can also be customized to help teams manage unexpected costs, new ledger items, and financial closes.
8. Streamline remote financial closes
Unfamiliar processes, technological hurdles, and disconnected systems can add time and complexity to financial closes. A lack of effective collaborative workflows and capabilities will further slow the process. Most ERP packages have tools such as a task list or a watch list that can help remotely manage and consolidate close activities. ERP dashboards, too, can be used to identify close tasks and create task flows. Alternately, third-party add-on software can also be deployed to automate and manage the close.
9. Prepare for virtual training
Virtual training of both current staff and new hires typically presents challenges not found in on-site learning, but most ERP solutions have a video recording tool, as well as content development, deployment, and maintenance platforms, that can be used to create and distribute training content and videos. It seems likely that some of today’s ERP specialists will separate from companies once the pandemic is suppressed. Businesses should prepare for this uncertainty by updating their ERP training programs for new hires and making sure that effective remote training is available once the pandemic has been contained.
Toward a more resilient response
Depending on your specific business needs and existing processes and IT infrastructure, taking the right combination of these nine recommendations can help improve the productivity of today’s remote workforce. Your organization will be better positioned to flexibly manage the operational impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, automate processes and increase efficiencies, and instill a culture of preparedness. These steps will also enable businesses to improve resilience during this ongoing global emergency and prepare for a future in which today’s operating anomalies become tomorrow’s norms.
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