READYING FOR ERP SUCCESS
Several conditions need to be in place before you can confidently move forward and realistically expect that your ERP project will go well and produce the results the business is looking for. Seasoned IT and business leaders and smart teams of people disregard these common-sense recommendations frequently, starting with the need to identify an ERP partner you can truly work with.
HIRE THE BEST PARTNER THAT FITS WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION
Selecting and implementing an ERP solution demands expertise that most manufacturers do not own. When you know that your organization needs to implement its first ERP system or replace an older solution, you should start looking for a technology partner to help you identify the right solution and deploy it. No matter whether you follow a structured process, for example, with a formal request for proposal (RFP) or set up a committee of people to research and review vendors and solutions more informally, you are going to come across a bewildering variety of possible ERP providers and consultants. They include systems integrators and implementers that work with one or several leading ERP solutions and software companies that implement and integrate an ERP system with their own industry or process solutions.
Can you measure expertise?
At a minimum, an ERP partner you consider should have an understanding of your industry and business model. There are several ways to verify this: you can review the potential partner’s list of customers, see what the buzz about the company is on industry review sites and in social media, read what employees publish and in what speaking engagements they participate, and engage the partner’s representatives in conversation with your stakeholders. What sometimes works best is to share your main concerns, pains, or goals, and then let the consultants talk. You can likely get a good sense of their capabilities and how they like to work.
This part of the search process is not unlike a job interview, which also means lots of people will have opinions about it. It’s good if you establish a sort of inventory or score card to avoid that individual impressions or the first or last interview carry the day. You want to list professional accomplishments, industry qualifications, and whatever else matters to your team, plus everything we discuss in this section.
How do you verify a team match?
In the early conversations with your potential ERP partner, you soon become aware of the company’s style and culture in the way people respond to your questions, how they interact with your team members, or in which terms they discuss their work. Team members’ observations and questions like the following become important:
- Do the partner company’s representatives use a lot of industry jargon, or do they speak in terms you find meaningful?
- How do they react when your CIO or VP of finance has a concern, compared to an ERP user in customer service?
- Do they get back to you promptly, or make you wait? And, when they promise something by a certain time, do they come through?
- Does the company’s view of the industry, the markets, or the role of technology in business match or complement your own?
- Is the company culture collaborative, collegial, and customer-focused, and are employees happy?
- Do the professed and practiced values of the potential partner appear to align with yours?
- What is the overall chemistry like? How do you and you colleagues feel after a meeting with this company?
Your team’s observations and impressions may be somewhat intangible and difficult to describe, but they are nonetheless extremely important. You need to find a match your ERP team can be comfortable with while performing a complex project with ambitious goals. If you underestimate the importance of culture, communication styles, and chemistry, you will likely have a difficult time collaborating and reaching project milestones even with the most technically qualified partner you can find.
What kind of access do you receive?
It’s important who you meet. Many ERP implementers and consultancies will make an executive available to meet with your own execs and take a leadership role on your account. However, it still often happens that the company’s sales representatives are your main contacts until you sign a contract. At that point, they pass you off to the service organization and a completely new group of people. You may then find gaps in understanding commitments and deliverables even if everything was written down, and there may also be a sort of relational cooling you did not expect.
You can greatly reduce your risk and increase your comfort level with a consulting organization if you have a chance to meet the service and project execution team early on. At Sikich, the people who will be working with and for you are part of the process starting with the first meeting.
Do customer references matter?
If an ERP consultancy makes customer references available, you need to use your best judgment. Is the company merely closing a gap in its marketing communications or does it truly offer valid proof of its capabilities? Written pieces can be very tightly controlled for their messaging and may come from a different phase in the life of a company. But if you can talk to a customer without a company representative being present, doing so may be helpful depending on the degree of truthful openness you encounter.