“Don’t just ‘lift and shift’”—an interview with Citrin Cooperman’s most distinguished ERP expert

Written by
Yoni Argaman
VP Marketing
November 28, 2022
min read

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Smija Simon opens many closets and gets to see lots of skeletons. She runs the ERP implementation program at Citrin Cooperman, a consultancy with a service line that specializes in transforming financial systems to mirror financial processes. She gets brought in to help companies ensure their ERP achieves what it’s designed to do.

She ensures that when a company implements an ERP, transformation does indeed occur, which isn’t always the case, especially when that company lacks outside help. And given her perspective, I thought she’d make an excellent profile for our Systems Thinkers series.

If you gather one piece of wisdom from her, let it be this: Do not just lift and shift an old process to a new system. Use the opportunity to improve on underperforming processes. If one changes, so must the other. 

The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity.


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Yoni Argaman: Let’s dive in. What’s a common reason implementations go wrong? 

Smija Simon: It really all comes down to this question: Do you have the right people in the room? Internally, does the company undergoing the transformation have the right team, and on the other side, does the software vendor’s implementation team have people who understand the implementation goals? I’ve seen all versions of this not being the case. There’s over-collaboration on the client side, with too many cooks and no consensus. And then there’s teams who built an in-house product from the ground up and who take so much pride in it they can’t stand to see it change. 

From the vendor side, some teams are so accustomed to applying a templated approach to ERP implementations that they actually don’t consider the underlying process they’re supposed to support or transform. If that happens, you’re unlikely to find the change you seek.

What can you learn by looking into a company’s ERP?

Everything, honestly. I like ERP projects because they tend to be really informative. In discovery, we get to peer behind the curtains and see, “Oh, actually, you’re still a very paper-based company.” Or, “You’re bottle-necked in this process because approvals can only go through two people.” If two people being out of office puts the business at a standstill, that’s something to address.

It sounds like the ability to scale is really important. What else is important?

That you use an ERP implementation as an opportunity to transform, not simply “lift and shift” an existing process into a new platform. If you do that, which is what many implementation organizations offer—“Tell us your current process and we’ll replicate it”—you’re just going to get the same results plus a big software implementation fee. Instead of asking, “How do we recreate what we have?” take this opportunity to wonder, “What would we do if we could start anew?”

If you start thinking about making organizational changes to match your future operating state, it’ll open your horizons. Use it as an opportunity to build the right organization around you. It could be simple things like shifting approvals from email to a workflow in the ERP. Or rethinking, and possibly flattening, approval hierarchies. Does the VP still need to be approving $500 expenses for supplies and parts? Or can you raise that threshold and put time back in everyone’s day? 

What should people know about reevaluating those processes? 

It’s back to that transformation idea. Don’t preserve a process that worked for how you looked when you purchased that system. If you’re now bigger, broader, and have gone international, something’s got to change, especially if it didn’t scale.  

Also, know that real change takes time, and changing your ERP is changing your culture. There are promises out there from companies that will get you stood up on a new platform in 30 days, 120 days, something rapid like that. But you have to ask, “Where is our time to redesign? To clean up? To take a fresh look?” And most important of all, “Where’s time to roll out the change that has to accompany the implementation?”

Changing your ERP is changing your culture.

Let’s talk about the role of a vendor's salespeople. What role do they play in driving things forward?

Actually, I think salespeople serve a very useful purpose, but it’s maybe not what you think. I do think companies purchase software too quickly without measuring it against their own business needs, and that causes them to trip up during implementation. Salespeople can contribute to that.

But what salespeople do really well is bring you concepts and ideas you weren’t aware of. They get the thinking juices flowing. But they’ll never understand your organization well enough to know if it’s right. You have to get into the details and your requirements, and not just be swept off your feet by a nice demo. Because, what nuances will cause it to break? How will it work with your actual data? Can it handle your very specific use case? 

Salespeople are the hammer that thinks everything’s a nail. They may be right, but you must verify.

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What’s your top advice on the “people” aspect of implementing ERP?

I’ll give you three: 

1. Gather a representative team around you. Don’t leave the selection to just very senior management who may not know the process details. Get your process experts involved up front to describe the pains and challenges and how you’re really processing information. You need strategic people, but also detail people. The, “What will our business look like in five years?” perspective, but also the, “Here’s what would have to change systems-wise for us to become a wholesaler.”

2. Get your super users involved early. The earlier the better, even if they’re just listening in. And have their manager release a realistic amount of their capacity so they can dedicate the 20 percent or 60 percent of their time needed through the project. 

3. Try to build some of the necessary skills in-house. Figure out who’s going to be the internal systems admin person and have them learn to do all the basic tweaks to the system that the implementer would otherwise do for you. Like granting access and building reports. You never truly understand the power of your ERP system until six months into using it and this helps you grow into those features.

At the end of the day, its success comes back to you, and you’ll want some capability to enhance your use of the new software on your team, in-house. 

Other advice for those thinking about migrating systems? 

I may be biased, but there’s also a reason I work here: Use a vendor agnostic systems selection partner who can help you see through the sales hype. One who has an objective systems strategy and selection approach. One of our go-to-market advantages is we are systems agnostic and do not have relationships with any of the specific vendors, and can help you evaluate objectively across software packages you’ll need, not just the one being enthusiastically pitched to you. 

Reach out to a partner like that—especially if you’re feeling swayed by a really good demo and would like a sense check.

Smija Simon is Director of Strategy and Business Transformation Consulting at Citrin Cooperman Partners. They’re hiring.

Written by
Yoni Argaman

Yoni is the VP Marketing at Salto. A veteran of Fyber, Yahoo and Amazon, where he held marketing and product roles, Yoni is passionate about basketball, writing and traveling and is a devoted Tolkien fan.

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