For companies which have outgrown their accounting package and now need to find more sophisticated software to control the business, the big questions are ‘what’ and ‘who’. What software, that is, and who should implement it.
Unlike accounting packages, Enterprise Resource Planning software is almost always implemented by a specialist. That’s because it is itself considerably complex – and it is enormously configurable. It is this configurability which gives ERP software its strength, but in the wrong hands, that can also be a weakness. It is for this reason that the selection of partner is often the most crucial factor in success, arguably even more so than the selection of the software itself.
Select your software
Which is not to say you shouldn’t do your best to choose a package which most accurately meets your company’s needs.
The good news here is also the bad news: there are a lot – like a lot – of options on the market. Narrowing it down can be a real challenge. But, if you are moving from an accounting package for the first time, the choice is made somewhat easier by tiering in the ERP market.
There are essentially four tiers of solutions available. Tier One and Two are the highly complex, top-end-of-town ERP packages. This is where SAP and Oracle and several other vendors operate; it is highly unlikely that these solutions will be necessary or affordable for a company moving off an accounting system.
Tier 3 is where you are likely aiming (because Tier 4 is more or less the accounting package you’ve outgrown).
And yes, at this stage of the game, Google really is your friend to start narrowing down the options. Look for examples of companies similar to yours to see what they are using. Get a feel for what’s available, what sort of vendor representation there is and partner network. Establish if you are likely to want an on-premise, hosted or cloud ERP. Identify three or four options and, quite simply, talk to the vendor. This process itself can speak volumes as to which choice is likely to be best on the basis of good old ‘customer service’. Vendors, too, are likely to recommend a partner based on your business type and needs, further reinforcing the value of reaching out.
Choose a partner
No two ERP implementations are ever the same, even when there are two (competing) businesses doing the exact same thing in the same industry. The configurability of ERP software means it is implemented in the way which works best for your business, and no other one. The ‘raw’ software from the vendor is adapted to suit your need, but it has to be done well. If not, unnecessary complexity can be introduced and if that happens, the software could become an impediment rather than accelerator of productivity.
This begs a question: why don’t ERP software vendors implement software directly with customers? There are two answers to that. One is that the vendor doesn’t have the market reach (in much the same way that a washing machine manufacturer relies on distributors and retailers).
The other is that partners develop vertical market competencies to provide specific solutions based on the vendor software. At Verde, for example, we’re recognised as specialists in industries including transport and logistics, aged care, wholesale and distribution, construction, food and beverage, finance and insurance, services, airports and commercial cleaning.
There’s actually a third answer, too. Some vendors do engage directly, through their own professional services divisions – but these divisions typically operate at arm's length.
So, how do you go about selecting a partner? Track record is probably the first factor to consider, along with the next, which is proven capability in your field. Look for recommendations and case studies. Ask to speak to their existing customers (reference sites). And ask about implementation methodologies; all the while, seek to gauge if the prospective partner understands your business (or makes real effort to understand it, including the nuances).
It seems ‘passé’ but what this process should do, almost in the background, is to help you identify if you are compatible with the partner. ERP implementations are harsh. They are rigorous and stressful. The best relationship to have with an ERP partner is one in which they are a trusted business advisor; it helps a great deal if you actually like these people!
In due course, testing the market and checking out a number of vendors and partners should get things narrowed down to three candidates. Now it’s time to ask for a demonstration.
Just how long a demo will take, and what it will cover, will come down to your specified requirements as well as the complexity of your business. It’s a bit of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ situation, but this is a great opportunity to see which of the three or so partners you’ve asked to show their stuff understands your needs best.
This, of course, marks the point at which you need to make a choice. Bear in mind that choosing ERP is a lot like choosing a life partner: it is for the long term, it isn’t always going to be smooth sailing, and mutual effort will be required to get not only initial, but long-term value.
But be assured: the right choice is absolutely worth it. The complexity of today’s modern business, especially at scale, demands software which provides automation, efficiency and control.