The Role of Consultants in the Implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Organizations implement enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to solve their accounting, scheduling, and production problems and because existing business practices and procedures are inadequate to meet their current or future strategic needs (Nah, et al. 2001; Karakanian 1999; Davenport 1998). Details on the inner workings of ERP systems can be found in resources such as O'Leary (2000) and Jacobs and Whybark (2000).

Because ERP implementations are very complex, costly, and risky, organizations typically use consultants to assist them in their implementation. Many organizations lack the information technology (IT) personnel with the required expertise and time to undertake implementing an ERP system, and consultants often assist their clients throughout the entire implementation process (Glover et al. 1999; Nah et al. 2001; Thong et al. 1994; Yap et al. 1992).

Considerable research has been performed in the areas of ERP systems and the presence of consultants during these implementations. The use of consultants is often cited as a critical factor for the success of an implementation (Nah et al. 2001; Thong et al. 1994; Yap et al. 1992). However, little research, if any, has examined the phases of an ERP implementation and how the consultants fit into an implementation on a phase-by-phase basis. If consultants are not necessary and/or effective in a particular phase, they can then be left out of the work on that phase, potentially saving considerable money for the implementing organization. The results give researchers a starting point for examining how consultants fit into the specific parts of an ERP implementation. Further, practitioners will have an idea about were to best use their scare resources when implementing ERP systems.

In light of this lack of research, this study has a twofold purpose. The first purpose is to examine whether consultants are perceived to be more effective and necessary in certain phases of an ERP implementation than in other phases. The results of this research should provide researchers who study ERP systems with information about the phases of an implementation in which organizations use consultants. If consultants are not perceived to be effective in a particular phase, then consultants may be left out of that phase and internal IT personnel may be used. The results show that IT managers do perceive that consultants are more effective and necessary in the configuration and integration phase of an implementation and least effective and necessary in the operation of the ERP system. Thus, organizations may be better able to focus the use of their ERP consultants on those particular phases, which should save resources.

The second purpose of this study is to examine whether certain characteristics possessed by ERP consultants contribute more to their effectiveness than other characteristics. Researchers who study ERP implementations should benefit from this research because the results will give them some idea of which characteristics and skills that real users consider most important. The results show that IT managers do perceive that four characteristics (technical skills, business context skills, commitment to quality, and the ability to manage ERP implementations) are related to ERP consultant effectiveness. ERP consultants may be able to focus on these particular skills to enable them to provide more value to their clients who are implementing ERP systems. Organizations may be able to look for consultants with a particular skill set because that skill set tends to improve the consultants' effectiveness.

The remainder of this paper examines the existing literature regarding the effectiveness and need for ERP system consultants and describes the development of a multiple-phase ERP implementation model used to structure the research instrument for this study. Next, the research method is described and results are examined. …