Q1: What's the best approach to moving ERP applications to the cloud?
Contrary to popular wisdom, the cloud is not suited for all workloads. Depending on how they are used, ERP systems can easily fall into the category of applications that should not move to the cloud. As such, the first step in moving an ERP system to the cloud is to figure out if it should even be there. Consider aspects of offline survivability and time sensitivity in the case of manufacturing or retail applications. It may be that only part of the ERP functionality would benefit from running in the cloud. If that is the case, understanding how on-premises and cloud will stay in sync is crucial.
Once the determination is made to move to the cloud, understanding the migration options is the next step. For most ERP systems, moving to the cloud involves, at the very least, an upgrade, if not a full blow re-implementation. Either way, the move to the cloud should be treated as a new install. Everything that the system does should be reviewed to ensure there will be no loss of functionality in the transition. Using existing documentation is probably not enough for this, even if the move is an upgrade. How things are supposed to run and how they actually run are often two different things.
Data, while always considered from a technical aspect, is often overlooked from a business and compliance aspect in a cloud migration. For any company that has potential regulatory or compliance issues, all data must be reviewed to ensure that moving outside the current four walls will not affect corporate liability.
Q2: What are the benefits of moving ERP applications to the cloud?
Perhaps the biggest benefit the cloud offers ERP systems is improved access to integrations. This is in addition to the fact that ERP systems can experience the same benefits as most other systems with a move to the cloud: reduced data center footprint, ease of access, global accessibility, etc. Almost every ERP system must connect to multiple external applications; however, being in the cloud can simplify this with easier network connectivity, improved bandwidth and native load balancing and security.
Q3: What's the best way to plan the transition?
Treating the move to the cloud as a new implementation will guide the transition. Multiple testing passes of data migration and functionality are required. Put together a team of power users to vet everything out and ensure there will be no surprises. Evaluate the possibility of doing a phased move while remaining open to the likelihood this will be a big bang cutover. Understanding the possibilities and planning for an all-hands event will make the transition go smoother.
Q4: How can disruption to existing operations be minimized?
Minimizing disruption requires putting in the effort during the test phase. Many companies are satisfied that they can log in and perform simple tasks, like generating an invoice or running Master Resource Planning (MRP), one of the most intense processes that manufactures run using ERP systems. Although these are critical tests, they are also run so often that the test cases will not always be complete. Although it requires extra effort, spending time duplicating a full day’s (or even week’s) worth of work in a test environment will go a long way in discovering missed configurations. There is always one customer/product/user that works a little different than the others. Testing these exceptions should be a top priority.
Q5: What is the biggest mistake organizations make when moving their ERP applications to the cloud?
When moving any application to the cloud, never forget about the user. This is especially true for ERP systems as users will have built up their own “best practices” for getting jobs done. For instance, some users export data to Excel, because it is easier to work with. Others open multiple sessions so they can quickly copy and paste between screens. Failing to understand what users do, or neglecting to verify they can continue to do so, is one of the biggest day-one frustrations in ERP moves. It can severely hamper user adoption and engagement.
A close second is failing to plan for the resources that can’t move to the cloud. For instance, printers, scanners, faxes and data exports all need to be documented and tested.
Q6: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Many ERP providers have spent a lot of time working and planning on how to get customers to move to the cloud. Those vendors and their partners will have great stories to tell about the benefits. Taking the time to understand how it all applies to your company, despite the hype, is the only way to make sure moving ERP to the cloud can be successful.
Scott Morley is a Principal Application Architect at OneNeck and responsible for providing guidance and advisory services. He centers his time on Microsoft Dynamics and Azure solutions in the areas of architecture, performance engineering, application integration and leveraging the hybrid cloud.
With more than 20 years of IT and business experience, Scott is proficient in software development, security and enterprise application implementation. He has an extensive technical background in the Microsoft stack and exceptional knowledge of MES systems. Prior to joining OneNeck, Scott was a technical manager on multiple ERP implementations. He also developed and managed an AX infrastructure team. He has assisted clients in re-architecting cloud environments to consolidate resources and alter networking to reduce monthly costs on infrastructure and data transfers. In addition, Scott has experience implementing IaaS, PaaS and SaaS solutions, including redesign of applications to move clients from IaaS to PaaS.
As an experienced business analyst and cloud infrastructure specialist, Scott has a data-centric approach which provides clients a unique perspective of the workloads and dependencies involved in architecting an effective cloud migration strategy. Scott holds a D.E.C. diploma in Computer Science from Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec. He has also earned Microsoft and SANS security certifications.