Understanding ERP

October 20, 2011 Steve Bassaw

Years ago I worked as a junior procurement officer at a medium sized Canadian manufacturing company. Within my first year, our production scheduler resigned and to my surprise, I was promoted to her position. I was terrified because I didn't have a background in operations management and I didn't understand its mysterious jargon. Acronyms like MPS, MRP, BOM, and the like were foreign to me. I also did not have a good grasp of our ERP system (SYSPRO).

And yet, after two weeks of rushed handover training from my predecessor, there I was: the new production scheduler of a busy 24/7 plant. As the operations manager used to tell me: "You're the driver of the bus now, and the rest of us are your passengers." Although his comment was intended to inspire me, I was also worried because I felt I didn't have the necessary skills to "drive the bus".

I knew that I needed practical education in planning and scheduling. I enrolled for a Manufacturing Planning and Scheduling workshop at a local technical institution, which seemed to be a good way to get some education in this field quickly. The workshop was excellent. The facilitators taught me the basic concepts in a practical, hands-on way that made it relevant to my daily work. They also helped me to understand how our planning and scheduling software worked. The training I received from our ERP consultants suddenly made much more sense. The newly acquired knowledge even allowed me to figure out some parts of the software on my own. I felt much more confident that I had the basics to become a better production scheduler.

The moral of my story is that getting training on functional industry concepts and best practices was even more important than getting training on the ERP system itself. Over the years I continued to attend courses on different aspects of manufacturing management. These collectively served me well, both at the manufacturing company and when I later went on to join SYSPRO Canada.

Industry education and training is one of the most overlooked critical success factors in getting value from an ERP system, not just in manufacturing but in all aspects of the business, including financial management, supply chain, human resources, inventory control, etc. All good ERP systems are modeled after industry best practices in terms of concepts, terminology and business flows. It therefore makes sense that industry education leads to a better understanding of your ERP system – and to getting more value from it. It is not unlike the bookkeeper who cannot really apply a bookkeeping solution in their work unless they also understand the basic principles of bookkeeping.

Now working for SYSPRO and frequently training our ERP users, I experience it from the other side of the fence. It’s much more difficult when users don’t understand basic business concepts. How do you explain the use of an MRP module when the user has no inkling what MRP (Material Requirements Planning) is? Such a user will not get immediate maximum value from the module, nor will they be able to value the process in its full context.

In Canada, SYSPRO is involved in industry education in several ways. We work with Canadian educational institutions such as British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) where we helped develop curricula to train operations management students on ERP and manufacturing concepts.

Over the years SYSPRO has hired many BCIT graduates to staff our support team. You might think we would look to hire “computer software” people, but in fact we look for people with a sound foundation in business principles. They have the basis on which we can teach them the true value of our software.

There’s that humorous old saying… “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”


About the Author

Steve Bassaw

Steve is a Product Manager at SYSPRO Canada and having been with SYSPRO since 1998, has an in-depth knowledge of the product. He previously worked at a SYSPRO customer using SYSPRO in a manufacturing plant. Steve’s responsibilities include assisting with pre-sales work, product training to resellers and customers, quality assurance of marketing collateral, seminar presentations, and technical support. He has been an avid APICS member since 1999 and has developed a sound knowledge of produc

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