These days, most large and medium-sized companies are also active abroad. This naturally means that they have foreign branches which need to be kitted out with IT equipment and connected and integrated into corporate IT systems. Involving your international offices in a software rollout requires specialist know-how and cultural sensitivity. If language hurdles weren’t enough, there are also various country-specific laws and legislation to consider. This makes such a project extremely challenging. However, the eight perspectives in SEEBURGER‘s SEEOcta series are particularly helpful for international software rollouts.
The SEEOcta blog series highlights the eight most important perspectives for successful project management. Discover all the areas you need to consider when planning digitalisation and integration projects in your company. Armed with the ideas and knowledge in the articles, you will have a solid foundation for planning your IT project and a guide to help you ensure that no one gets left behind.
The variety of different IT systems often found in an international company’s subsidiaries makes company-wide collaboration a challenge. One the one hand, it’s understandable that a lot of decision-making is often devolved to the subsidiaries. They are working under different conditions to those in the international headquarters, and need the flexibility to react quickly to changing legislation or market conditions in their parts of the world. On the other hand, the corporate IT environment needs to be harmonised and standardised to such an extent that employees worldwide can work with one another, and that a company’s processes are efficient and transparent to all. Marrying these two approaches requires careful, thorough preparation. Before rolling out a software package to all employees worldwide, you need to consider the following aspects:
Best practices in an international software rollout:
- Process and data analysis
In order to determine how an international software roll out should be conducted for your company, you need to do a comprehensive target/actual analysis of your company’s data structures and processes. This will give you the basis for new templates as well as an initial pilot project, including a business blueprint and other documentation. Essentially, there are two approaches you can take in a rollout:
- Define the processes at headquarters and design and implement a system with a local team.
- Include a business process template in your system and install and customise a system copy on the local system.
- Legal compliance analysis
A company’s head office usually defines data structures and processes centrally. However, it is virtually impossible to transfer these wholesale to all branches worldwide, because legislation varies considerably from country to country.
For example, in most countries the total cost method is not permitted in accounting. If, however, you use the cost-of-sales method, you need a way to record the value of the as-yet unsold goods, and then transfer this sum to the financial accounts once the goods have been sold. There are also country-specific rules on archiving, including scope, retention period and even instructions on how the archiving is to be carried out. A company therefore needs to fully research local regulations and legislation and their implications before starting an international software rollout.
- Market and location analysis
Shared processes are necessary for the various locations to be able to work together as smoothly as possible across national borders. However, it is important to know the individual markets before you can start harmonising processes. Once you have analysed the processes and legal requirements, the next step is to carry out an analysis of the respective markets and locations before you start the international rollout. The goal is to avoid incurring costs for retrospective alterations to the system, as well as making international maintenance as simple as possible. Moreover, making processes more transparent company-wide enables better collaboration. It’s also the step which enables data generated in the individual countries to be properly used in your analytics. Market-specific distinctions can be more easily recognised and considered in your company’s ongoing strategy.
- Master data management
Before undertaking an international software rollout, it’s worth tidying up your master data. Start by defining a single solution for administering the master data from the global branches, as this will make updates, maintenance and analytics easier down the line. Global master data could be made centrally available through a master database in a master-client model. However, your current database will probably have the unique identifiers in the primary key fields in the language spoken in your headquarters. This may well be a language not understood by the majority of your overseas staff. One solution is to use numeric primary identifiers, while another option would be to choose English as this is often the official corporate language of an international company. Do, however, ensure that existing forms are translated before being exported to the user. It also makes sense to tidy up the data at head office beforehand and to standardise terms and terminology as this will reduce sources of translation errors and the amount of time and money spent on correcting them down the line. It is important to differentiate between global and local master data. This comes into play, for example, when global master records are supplemented with local details or certain master data needs to be managed locally, as is the case with the parameterisation of country-specific tax laws. Although it is time-consuming to coordinate master data and to develop a common concept, this groundwork will enable a common software solution to be used economically in all your locations.
- Minimise the need for local consultancy services
Something that can easily get out of hand in an international software rollout is consultancy. By careful planning in advance, the project management team can determine what consultancy is genuinely necessary in the individual branches, and what support can be offered remotely from the headquarters. Thanks to the process analysis and the careful data management you have already carried out, many of the tasks in implementing the software can now be done from headquarters without knowing the ins and outs of the local markets and customers. This reduces the need for on-site consultancy at the individual locations, significantly reducing your costs.
- Change management and communication
Cultural differences offer plenty of potential for conflict during an international software rollout, especially if coupled with globally standardising processes which users have become accustomed to. This may indeed be perceived as patronising, with ERP users bemoaning the superiority of the old ways. This conflict potential is best met pre-emptively with a good change management strategy. This should involve regular, personal communication between the project leadand the software users affected. Despite the proven success of this approach, practice has shown that the project resources often allocated to international software rollouts are usually so overloaded that there is too little time left for change and communication management. It is crucial for the acceptance of the new software environment that global software implementation projects are communicated and understood as process optimisation. If these are communicated as projects focused purely on reducing IT costs, they are often doomed to failure, especially in heterogeneous process landscapes.
- Dealing with cultural differences in an international software roll out.
International software rollouts are not solely IT projects. They affect every process in an organisation, and even at senior management level. Therefore, it’s not enough to give sole responsibility to the in-house IT department. The push must come from the top. Time and again it has been shown that there are two dimensions in particular that are either insufficiently or incorrectly taken into account in global ERP rollout projects:
- Whole-hearted support from top management, driving and taking responsibility for an international software rollout
- Considering cultural differences in other parts of the world
- Vet manufacturers and other partners carefully
As well as thoroughly researching and testing the software you’re going to roll out internationally, you also need to fully vet your software manufacturer. Is the company economically sound? Is it likely to be taken over by a competitor in the short or medium term? Does the manufacturer have enough personnel to ensure good service? Does its ethos fit to your company? Does the manufacturer have enough industry and project experience? And how are they planning to implement your project? To ensure that your project is carried out to a high quality, ideally the software manufacturer should offer both software and implementation.
- Software interfaces should be in the local language
In international companies, the corporate language is usually English. Therefore, corporate software usually has an English-language user interface and menus. However, if an employee’s first language isn’t English, then an English-language interface will slow him down in his work. You therefore need to include interfaces in the relevant language when rolling out to subsidiaries.
International software rollout projects rarely run smoothly. However, there are a number of risks which can be mitigated or even eliminated early on in the evaluation phase. It is important to plan in ample time to analyse the current software environment and how it needs to change. During the design and implementation phases, one of the most significant ways to ensure success is constant communication between the project team and the users. At the end of the roll out, professional end user support as well as a well-organised general support concept are significant factors in the roll out’s immediate and long-term success.
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Written by: Rolf HolickiRolf Holicki, Director BU E-Invoicing, SAP&Web Process, is responsible for the SAP/WEB applications. He has more than 25 years of experience in e-invoicing, SAP, Workflow and business process automation. Rolf Holicki has been with SEEBURGER since 2005.