Implementing a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system as part of a large-scale digital transformation programme brings huge benefits as well as numerous challenges for healthcare organisations.
The benefits of ERP for healthcare hardly need explaining – improved efficiency, stronger financial management, digital access to medical records, comprehensive procurement control, and above all else a better experience for patients, employees, and consumers of the services.
But these benefits are not guaranteed and there are many challenges to think about when implementing a new ERP system.
Addressing these challenges will mean different things for different organisations – the one thing that is certain is that expecting perfection straight out of the box is not realistic and getting it right does not happen by chance.
Building quality at the outset gives you the best chance of meeting the numerous challenges and ultimately giving your users the experience, they deserve.
Within this article, we aim to highlight some of the main challenges that you will face and provide some insight into how to ensure your success.
Understanding the challenges
To ensure a high-quality implementation, we believe that the following challenges – and we have only highlighted the key ones – need to be fully understood and should be addressed as follows:
Implementing an ERP system demands high-quality project management. In a complex healthcare organisation, coordinating interactions between multiple departments and across physical sites requires a keen eye for detail and the ability to identify interdependencies and assess risks. Delays to any critical task create a ripple effect across projects both in terms of time and cost. Having early and often functional and non-functional testing embedded in project plans can make a big difference in this area, saving time and money by identifying problems as they arise and reducing the need to return to earlier project milestones to correct issues. Alongside the detailed business of project management, leadership buy-in and engagement is key to making things happen and keeping plans on track. In most cases, an implementation will be taking place alongside normal operational activity and making sure the benefits of the project are understood will help to overcome resistance to change. Success often hinges on the leadership and diplomacy required to navigate an organisation’s internal politics and resolve issues that may be barriers to success.
Can your ERP interact with other systems in use inside and outside your organisation? In a healthcare environment this is a crucial consideration, with potential impacts any time another system or organisation is involved in a patient’s care. The globalised world of healthcare also means your ERP may need to be capable of interacting with systems around the world, another important factor for some organisations. Testing throughout the implementation will play a key role in ensuring a successful system integration, but this should also be a consideration in the initial stages of selecting the appropriate system.
Your new ERP should bring all your data together in one place. But has thought been given to the switchover between systems? Can patient data be migrated accurately and securely? Any errors in the transfer of patient records could have serious consequences, thorough testing will help your organisation have confidence that data is transferred to the system accurately and in its entirety. It is hard to think of a situation where confidentiality and security is more important than this, and you will also want to be sure that patient records are only visible to authorised staff.
Knowing what your organisation needs right now is only part of the equation, and it is also important to have an eye to the future to predict accurately what could happen in the lifetime of the system. Business Process Mapping is a vital step in any implementation, creating a detailed picture of an organisation’s operations that makes sense of the here and now and informs plans for future growth. Bespoke software development to change an ERP system to meet current ways of working may seem an attractive option but may not be a sustainable option in the long term and serious consideration must be given to the testing of those changes and issues created from future upgrades. The ongoing upgrades provided by established developers may offer a better solution and a plan needs to be in place for onboarding future new recruits and refreshing training based on system changes. The question of scalability brings another challenge during your implementation. If possible, organisations should try to adapt ways of working to be covered within the envelop of a standard custom configuration available within the ERP system. Your chosen system may work now, but would it cope with an increased staff cohort or additional patient numbers? Is there confidence that the chosen system can grow with your organisation? A risk-based approach to systems performance must be done to give consideration for unique configuration, the customisation of interfaces and future scalability.
What will the user experience of your ERP system look like for staff and patients? User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is a crucial element of a digital transformation project, and it is important that systems experts are not the only ones who guide the project. It is crucial that workflows are aligned to Business Process Maps to ensure the new system is responsive to the needs of end users and brings about maximum efficiency. Resistance to change can be the most difficult challenge of a transformation process, and being able to understand issues at the frontline, and give system users a say in the way a new system works is crucial to engaging users and embedding new working processes. It is also important to guider users with a structured and methodical approach to testing to ensure that all key risks of the implementation are mitigated, and the business are confident to sign-off the system for live implementation.
Keeping people informed throughout the planning and implementation process is an important aspect of any change management process. A good communication plan will help to overcome resistance by showing (and not just telling) the benefits of the change that is being made. Training is a key component of the communication process – accessible and engaging resources and training sessions will foster confidence in the system and the team behind it.
Users at the centre
So, if you get all these things right, what does all of this mean for your patients, employees, and consumers of the services?
Your new ERP system should mean efficient staff who are comfortable using the technology that has been implemented to help them.
It should mean effective communication with all users and confidence that data is stored accurately and securely.
And it should mean more efficient workflows leading to better outcomes.
It is essential that the technology makes user experience as good as it can be, because your interactions with people will often come at the most intensely personal and vulnerable moments of their lives.
It may seem melodramatic, but every time a user interacts with your ERP system, the potential is there for positive or negative impacts which can include health and wellbeing, along with your reputation.
But do not just take our word for it. Listen to some industry experts who can share their deep insight and experience in the importance of getting it right.
Join the discussion.
Join us at 11am on July 21 for our upcoming webinar, where expert panellists Avril Chester, Maureen Baker CBE and Andrew Palmer will explore the challenges behind implementing ERP systems for healthcare in more detail and consider the question ‘Can digital transformation save lives?’.
Avril is CTO at the Royal Institute of British Architects and founder of Cancer Central. Created with assistance from ROQ, Cancer Central provides an award-winning AI chat platform signposting to cancer services, products, and support.
Maureen has previously held appointments with NHS Connecting for Health (now NHS Digital), the National Patient Safety Agency, NHS Direct and the University of Nottingham and is currently the Chief Medical Officer for medical self-care app Healthily.
Andrew is Head of Delivery at ROQ with more than 15 years’ experience in testing services, working in both private and public sectors to deliver high quality change solutions.
These experts bring a huge wealth of experience in health tech, so book your place for what is sure to be an insightful discussion.