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ERP maintenance: 5 tips to sustain your ERP system

Your ERP is a mission-critical asset and the nervous system of your business. Here are some tips and best practices for maintaining it to keep things running smoothly.

ERP serves as the informational backbone of most organizations. When implemented properly, modern ERP software can increase efficiency, speed up the flow of information, enhance customer satisfaction and improve decision-making.

As with any mission-critical asset, routine ERP maintenance is vitally important. You probably invested a lot of time and money to get your ERP system up and running. To maximize your long-term return on that investment and keep things running smoothly, you must proactively tend to its ongoing health.

Why is ERP maintenance important?

Over time, data quality and performance tend to degrade. Business requirements change. External applications come and go, creating new integration requirements. Novel cybersecurity threats emerge. This constantly changing landscape calls for a proactive maintenance plan.

Meanwhile, ERP vendors update their products to add capabilities, creating new opportunities to streamline processes, improve service levels and generate cost savings. A periodic review of the software's capabilities relative to changing business requirements can be a valuable component of a full-spectrum maintenance plan.

5 tips for ERP system maintenance

Here are some tips and best practices for ERP system maintenance.

1. Create a written ERP maintenance plan

First and foremost, you need to ensure your ERP system continues to perform adequately. Create a written plan to review technical limits and specifications, then make sure your team stays ahead of any potential problems.

If you come close to running out of disk space, for example, the ERP software might simply cease to function properly. The worst-case scenario involves learning about the problem after it has occurred, especially if it coincides with a peak business activity.

If you haven't kept up to date with security patches, you could end up with a crisis on your hands. Cybercriminals are increasingly attacking SMBs, and ERP databases are a popular ransomware target. Following a scheduled routine and checklist of potential problem areas can help you avoid these kinds of headaches, many of which arise from simple neglect.

2. Perform periodic functional reviews

Is your ERP system still serving you as well today as it did when it first went live? A typical ERP implementation is a well-defined project with a definite beginning and end. As your business requirements evolve, and your ERP vendor releases new versions of the software, you should consider making adjustments to your ERP configuration.

Talk to stakeholders periodically and find out what has changed. Are there new business processes or changes to existing ones? Has your ERP vendor released new features that might benefit the company? Do manual processes and workarounds consume valuable staff time? Have external systems changed, requiring new points of integration? Are there looming compliance standards the company must adhere to?

By checking in with department leads every three to six months and asking these kinds of questions, you can do a better job of adjusting your ERP system's capabilities to match the needs of your organization.

3. Read those routine updates from your ERP vendor

Chances are, someone in your organization receives emails that describe software patches, major version upgrades and functionality planned for future releases. Although a lot of that information might seem irrelevant to your company, it's still important to delve into the details and understand what changes might be looming on the horizon.

Security bulletins can be especially important. So, too, are notices of pending discontinuation of support for certain technologies or integrations. Keeping up with this information as it becomes available ensures you have ample time to plan your response.

4. Prepare for the unexpected

It should go without saying that you should back up your ERP data routinely, no less than once a day. You should also perform tests to ensure those backups are functional and will serve you well if the need arises.

You should also maintain a schedule of older backups in case you need to restore to a point several weeks in the past or earlier. Ransomware can live undetected in your database for quite some time, rendering more recent backups useless.

Disaster recovery (DR) is another important consideration for many businesses. If flooding, fires, vandalism or some other incident destroys your systems, how will you get back up and running quickly? Develop a DR plan and test it periodically to ensure it will serve you well when you need it.

5. Know your capabilities, and know when to call in help

No one can know your business as well as you and your in-house team. The same isn't necessarily true of your ERP software, though. Given the complexity of most ERP systems, it's unlikely you'll know more about its capabilities than the outside specialists who focus on it full time.

Many companies have sufficient internal capabilities to keep abreast of changes to the ERP software, match them to the organization's business requirements and tweak the system to create new value.

Even in those cases, there will be times when it makes sense to call in third-party consultants with specialized expertise. Develop a strong relationship with your ERP service partner. Look for an organization with a strong record of delivering on its service-level agreements.

Build an ERP maintenance plan that suits your needs

If you're organization is running a pure SaaS ERP system, some of these maintenance tasks might not be applicable. For traditional on-premises or hosted systems, for example, a periodic review of hardware sizing is appropriate.

Backups might also be provided as part of your cloud ERP subscription. Don't assume that's the case, though. Make sure those backups happen on schedule and that you're confident they'll be usable if and when needed.

Maintenance activities like data backup, database optimization and periodic functional reviews will help maximize the benefits of your ERP system, optimize performance and prevent downtime. Maintaining an ERP system is not just about keeping the software running. It's about ensuring the ERP continues to support the business in a constantly changing environment.

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