ERP Testing and Upgrades: Have a Strategy

ERP systems are complex.  These software packages touch nearly every part of your company.  Downtime and errors are too costly to be tolerated on an ongoing basis.  You need to be assured that the software at the core of the company’s infrastructure is in proper working order at all times.  Additionally, if you do experience problems, you need a clear path to getting that issue resolved in a timely fashion.  This makes effective ERP testing a critical part of any company’s information management strategy.

Do I Need to Upgrade?

Most ERP packages are on a 6-12 month development cycle, meaning that at least once per year there is an opportunity to upgrade to the latest version.  The decision to upgrade can be driven by many factors.  Some of the questions that administrators and managers should ask before upgrading are:

  • Does the new version provide any enhanced functionality that the company can take advantage of?
  • How far behind is the company from the current version?
  • Are there custom features in the deployment that will make upgrading difficult?
  • Are there any features in the company’s current version that are being removed or are on the path to removal?
  • How much of an upgrade is this?  Is there a major shift in the software with the proposed upgrade?

How Current Do I Need to Be?

I don’t think it is necessary to always be on the most up to date version of an ERP system per se.  Certainly, it is easier to get support from the vendor when you are on a current version.  That said, upgrading an ERP system consumes resources and whenever resources are consumed, it is important to make sure there is some benefit or return on the investment.  Additionally, any company working with ERP software needs to develop an internal risk tolerance for bugs and other unexpected behavior.

Based on this risk tolerance, you can then establish how far out on the leading edge of technology you want to be.  This tolerance might be driven by the technical skill sets of internal staff, relationship with the vendor, or level of support from the vendor.  I think a company’s upgrade strategy is a balance between risk tolerance, resource availability, and not falling too far behind.

How Do I Minimize the Chance of an Upgrade Disaster?

Once you are committed to upgrading, it’s very important to have a plan for success.  Most companies I have worked with tend to have a strategy of “install and hope for the best.”  These companies also tend to be the ones that struggle the most, and end up with disappointed and frustrated users.  A clear and rigid testing and implementation strategy will go a long way to help alleviate most of the pain associated with managing upgrades.

The testing strategy for ERP upgrade should have at least a few key attributes to help assure success:

  1. A test environment that is as close as possible to the production environment.  If you are using virtual servers, this should be pretty easy through cloning your production servers.
  2. An ERP testing checklist.  This should include running every screen and report available.
  3. A bug report procedure.  There needs to be accountability for making sure support requests are filed and followed through.
  4. Retesting.  Once the support requests are completed, the bugs need to be retested to make certain they are fixed.
  5. An install procedure.  Finally, it is important to have good documentation on the exact steps to perform the upgrade to production.

Do I Really Have to Test Everything?

No.  You do not have to do anything.  However, it is worth noting that anything you choose not to test becomes a variable in the equation.  It may seem time consuming to open every window, perform a transaction, and then run every report.  This is true, it is time consuming.  That said, it is time consumed while not under the pressure of working in the production environment.  If a given upgrade has 10 problems waiting to happen, and your ERP testing strategy catches 9 of them, that’s a win.  It means you get the chance to focus your attention on trying to put out one fire and one fire only.

Even the best testing strategy rarely catches every problem.  There are some issues that only reveal themselves under a full user load.  Other times, the users execute their daily work with some nuance that wasn’t part of the testing strategy.  These things happen, and there is not really a way to prevent all of them.  This is why testing is so important.  It helps curb the number of issues that crop up during the upgrade to the live environment.

Concluding Thougts about ERP Testing

ERP upgrades are an ongoing part of having this type of software.  Companies have to develop an internal strategy for handling upgrades.  Once a decision to upgrade is made, it is then important to have a solid plan for testing upgrades.  The ERP testing process is critical, and it can help make the difference between a fairly smooth upgrade, and a very difficult, stressful few days of firefighting.

 

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