ERP software integrates all departments and functions into a single system that can satisfy the needs of the entire company. Implementing an "enterprise" system that can handle order processing, warehouse management, customer relation management, e-commerce, financial reporting and more is a complex task. If it works well the software will streamline operations, improve margins and customer service levels, support future growth and facilitate better management decisions with analytics.
Choosing enterprise software can be hard. Matching your business processes and approach to doing business to the functionality of various software packages is time-consuming but is critical to a successful project. Industry specific requirements must be included in this process and your research must reveal which vendors have that expertise. A poorly executed selection process can result in the failure to implement the software successfully, user resistance, unexpected customizations and cost and time overruns.
In addition to the functionality of the software, vendor fit and viability, technology factors and the cost of not just the software but the services needed to implement the software must be taken into consideration.
Since most companies conduct a selection project every 8 to 12 years it's almost impossible to keep up with developments in all of the possible software packages and vendors that you'll want to assess.
Keys to Success - There are a few keys in setting up the project that will provide the greatest assurance of success. Most of these are common sense, but are so often missed that we have listed them here for planning purposes.
- Set up teams that include all areas of the company.
Make sure everyone can feel they are involved in the selection process. There is a saying often used; "He who makes the decision is stuck with it." Basically, if your executives are the only ones involved, they better be prepared to do all of the implementation work themselves. On the other hand, by creating a larger team effort, your employees will own the decision and help ensure its success.
- Let the team set the target dates.
If dates are unfairly imposed, it will start the project off on the wrong foot. The impression will be that you are not interested in the success of the project, but only in imposing or achieving deadlines that were set without their input. Communicate the goals and objectives while providing leadership, but avoid dictating to the group. Most of the time, the team will do everything possible to meet your targets if they are realistic and they had input in the process.
- Provide top management support to clear roadblocks.
There will always be conflicts due to limited resources and different priorities in an organization. Hard decisions will have to be made in a timely manner. Where possible, eliminate obstacles as quickly as possible.
- Top management must stay involved and committed.
Attend meetings and express an interest in what is happening. You cannot be everywhere all of the time, but regular attempts to stay in the loop will pay great dividends. When it comes to the software demonstrations. plan to sit through the management overview section and the wrap up, but let the team do most
of the other work.
- Manage expectations for everyone. Keep your staff informed and up-to-date.
Tell your vendors and customers what you are doing and warn them when any stage of the evaluation may affect them.
- Take advantage of the opportunity to build and improve on the relationships with all of your business partners. This is the perfect opportunity to be in contact with those you interact with and make them partners in your project. For example, both your sales force and purchasing departments can utilize the project to forge closer ties and gain better understanding of each other's needs. Making your key customers and suppliers aware of the project may strengthen their ties with your firm. Building on your relationships will pay dividends in the future.
- When negotiating with the finalist, do not set up an adversarial relationship.
This company will be very important to your projects success and will become a long-term partner with you. It is often better to use a third party to be the "bad guy" while negotiating the terms and conditions necessary to protect yourself. The software companies want to sell you their software and you want to find one that best suits your company. You should both be able to reach a fair conclusion to the process.
- While cost is an important part of the decision, it should not be a deciding factor.
Find the right solution (functions, features, capabilities) first. The objective is to find the best software for you, not the least expensive. If you don't believe this, ask the company that bought new software three times in five years.
- Finally, a few key points to remember when you move to the implementation
First, no matter what the excuse might be, do not short change education or training. Without sufficient knowledge of the software, it may be impossible to have a successful implementation. Second, there is no such thing as an easy conversion. This process will challenge your project team and your software partner. Make sure your people are given time to learn and practice, it will have the most positive effect on the outcome. Work together and the project will come together.