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Roadmap To Successfully Evaluate & Select ERP Software

Published on by Cody Worden

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There are thousands of so called ERP experts out there. But the truth is no one understands your business like you do. You may be one of the few that has reviewed and evaluated ERP programs extensively before. But, odds are that it’s probably been a few years, and the ERP landscape is rapidly changing. For over 15 years we’ve been helping thousands of companies properly find fitting ERP software solutions. We work with over 4,000 accounting and ERP products. It’s impossible to stay on top of the constantly changing landscape of the ERP software industry, and that’s something we’ve experienced first-hand. The good news is we’ve created a roadmap to help you choose the ERP program that makes the best financial sense for your organization.

ERP Danger

We’ve heard numerous horror stories from failed ERP selections and implementations. We suggest doing some online research on some of the implementation failures. Get a feel for the wasted time and money that some companies have experienced by trying to take shortcuts and not properly identifying the right ERP program. You can quickly gain a sense of the importance of properly assessing your business, evaluating, and selecting the right ERP software. There are thousands of knowledgeable ERP consultants and providers out there. But trying to find one without a hidden agenda can be very difficult. Most ERP consultants have an invested interest in certain solutions. Many ERP consultants are limited to vertical industry exposure with a limited range in experience with company size.

It’s important that you take an unbiased approach into your software search. Don’t waste valuable time and money researching and evaluating ERP software that misses the target. If you’re considering an ERP system for your business or looking to replace an existing accounting/ERP system, keep in mind that the evaluation and selection is an important process that can lead to long term efficiencies for your organization. To help guide you through the ERP evaluation and selection process, we’ve summarized over 15 years of insight on the methods we’ve seen work the best.

Step 1: Assess Your Business Processes

What’s being done well and what can be improved? This is a long term strategic decision for your company. Whether you’ll be implementing your first ERP solution or upgrading to a state-of-the-art industry-specific ERP solution, these questions can help you determine if purchasing an ERP solution will be beneficial. These questions will also help you to better identify current obstacles and gaps in your business processes. You may want to form an evaluation committee to involve each department to gain enterprise wide visibility and acceptance.

The business process questions you should ask include:

  1. Do you have industry-specific requirements beyond the ability of your current system?
  2. Is slow report writing or a lack of available reports preventing your company from making timely decisions?
  3. Is the productivity of your employees subdued by your current system(s)? Can you identify a direct cost benefit in making those employees more productive?
  4. Are your employees, partners, and vendors able to access company data over the web and via mobile devices? Is this something you could benefit from?
  5. Does lack of flexibility hurt your company’s ability to keep up with new and more complex business processes?
  6. Can you use your system to automate job costing, sales orders, supply chain management, and/or other industry-specific requirements?
  7. Is key information and business intelligence unavailable throughout your company?
  8. Does your current Accounting/ERP system timeout or under-perform?
  9. Does your company rely on manual processes, double entry, and/or spreadsheets?
  10. Is the production of financial statements time-consuming and error-prone? Can you easily perform inter-company transactions?
  11. Do you struggle to meet industry specific compliance requirements (such as IFRS, DCAA, sales tax compliance, Sarbanes-Oxley)? Are you paying too much for manual reporting and auditors?
  12. Is your current system widely accepted in your industry? What solutions are your peers and competitors using?

We recommend answering these questions with a SWOT analysis approach (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). Doing that can help your organization surface the importance and benefits of a return on investment through a proper fitting ERP solution. Do the benefits of increased employee efficiency, ROI, and industry compliance outweigh the potential costs for a new ERP solution? If the answer is yes, then it’s important that you begin to take a closer look at what ERP solutions are available in the market.

Step 2: Develop Selection Criteria

Let’s face it, price is usually a top factor for most when evaluating and considering an ERP software purchase. But remember that an ERP software purchase is an investment. Price is hard to ignore, but ignoring pricing out of the gates can be a good thing to do when beginning to explore the ERP market. The fact is, most providers will allow you to finance, pay monthly, and can get creative with the ways you can pay for the software. The end goal is to make your business more efficient and profitable. Finding the solution that provides the strongest overall return, is a much more significant win than limiting upfront costs, but missing a chance for major ongoing savings.

Some other selection criteria to consider include:

  • Total Cost of Ownership. The costs involved with a software purchase can be hidden and confusing. The costs can include the software, implementation, maintenance, customization, training, support, hardware, updates, etc. You need to consider all of that to determine a Total Cost of Ownership pre and post implementation. Determine the 5 year projection of those costs.
  • Server and Operating System. Are you married to your server and/or current desktop operating system? Is it a requirement that the new solution work on that platform? Or are you open to alternatives? Does the solution need to be in-house and installed on an internal server? Or are you open to a web-based solution that you access via the web?
  • Features & Usability. Software isn’t a good investment if it’s not used to its fullest extent. It’s vital that your employees understand the capabilities of your new system. It’s important that you can use the ERP program effectively. We’ve seen case after case where a company purchases a new ERP solution, but can’t effectively use the program. Your employees’ ability to interact with the system will largely determine your path to ERP satisfaction. How do you like the look and feel of the program? Is it easy to navigate? Are there too many bells and whistles that you don’t envision using? Does the solution seem to be geared towards your industry and business processes?
  • Proximity. Should you choose a company based on its location? There is no universal right answer to this question. Some are adamant that purchasing from a local company is best, while others are equally convinced that location should be irrelevant. Ultimately, it’s up to your company to determine how your needs will be best fulfilled. Travel time, technical support, relationship building, legal recourse, local tax laws, reference checking, and price should all be taken into consideration.
  • Implementation. What level of implementation, support and training will you need with a new solution? An ERP implementation takes time and experience. Will the vendor be dedicated to your company and implementation? And does the vendor have the proper resources to implement the proposed solution on your agenda? Who will be assigned to your ERP project, and is your company a priority?
  • Support. Support can come directly from the vendor, it may come from the vendor’s developer, or potentially a 3rd party. Support can be provided onsite, or it may be online. It’s important to identify how your ERP support will be delivered, and if it makes sense for you and your staff. Does support come with the solution, or is that an added cost?
  • Training. Training can be onsite, online, or could be provided as a class/course that your employees will have to attend. Once again your employees ability to interact with the system will determine your path to ERP success. How many users will need training? Consider turnover and new employees, and the easiest way for your team to “get up to speed”. And don’t forget to consider the added cost for the desired method of training. Perhaps the cost benefit of doing that online trumps hands on help. And we’ve found that decision usually comes down to preference, cost, and convenience.
  • Industry Experience. It’s important that you determine the importance and relevance of industry experience. Perhaps you just need software functionality that revolves around accounting, and you don’t need an industry expert. On the other hand perhaps the majority of your software requirements are unique to your industry, and requires an industry expert.
  • Vendor Capabilities. Two vendors providing the same solution can have a very different range of experience and ability. How experienced are they? How many employees do they have? How long have they represented the proposed ERP software? That history can provide you a great deal of insight on a particular firm.

Arranging a priority selection criteria will help you identify and prioritize ERP solutions as you begin to engage and evaluate the various vendors. And once you’ve internally ranked the importance of your selection criteria begin to consider the differences of each vendor as you start to engage with providers.

Step 3: Get Matches!

That’s where we fit in. We’ve been helping companies find Accounting and ERP software for over 15 years. One 10-45 minute call with us can allow you to gain quick insight on the vendors that are a fit for your business needs and size. Too many people get caught between two bad choices, spend hours of valuable time trying to find relevant options, or hope a hit-or-miss approach works out. There’s a better way. By briefly sharing your specific needs, we can return the most relevant options on the market for your consideration. It’s free, fast, unbiased, and it works. For over a 15 years we’ve helped thousands of companies stop searching and start finding the right software. Get your ERP software matches today.

After we get a better understanding of your business and software needs, we provide you with a customized Software Buyer’s Guide highlighting each solution and company we’ve matched you with. The Buyer’s Guide provides extensive information on your matches, and helpful tips for software evaluation and selection.

Step 4: Speak with Each of Your Matches

Have an open minded conversation with each matched provider. First impressions can give you a lot of insight. Was the software provider prepared for the conversation? Did they research your company? Do they understand your pains?

Step 5: Create a Shortlist of Your Top Solutions

Refer back to your Selection Criteria to begin narrowing down your options. Depending on the presented options and the homework you’ve done this can be very easy to sort out, but it can also be difficult depending on the variety of solutions you’re evaluating. After all the market of available solutions can significantly vary depending on your company size and industry. If you’re having trouble simply make a chart of your selection criteria incorporating pro’s and con’s. And that should visually help you narrow down your options.

Step 6: Schedule A Demo For Your Top Solutions

Get a feel for the solution by taking a look at it and navigating with a demonstration. This can provide a great deal of insight on any bugs, navigating issues, usability, and if most of what you see applies to you and your business. Some vendors will tailor the demonstration to your business and functionality requirements. Some vendors prefer to give you a personal tour, and others prefer to give you the controls so you can navigate the solution. A demo can give you a much clearer picture of what the solution can deliver. Try to go through an example where you may have lacked the functionality, or where you’ve experienced problems, bugs, and/or time consumption.

Step 7: Contact Each Shortlisted Provider With Prepared Questions

The responses you yield from these questions will help point you in the right direction. Your discussions with ERP providers shouldn’t focus on software. The discussion should be an assessment about improving the efficiency of your business processes. This usually revolves around reducing costs, increasing sales, gaining strategic visibility, improving competitiveness, and driving home a better understanding of your needs and expectations.

Selecting the right ERP vendor is as important as selecting the right ERP system. Why? Ask yourself the following questions: Do we have staff with experience implementing our chosen ERP software? How about expert trainers on the system? Access to support documentation? Round the clock support services? Resources dedicated to keeping abreast of product updates/upgrades and capable of ensuring seamless execution of them? When something goes wrong, have we encountered the issue before? Do we have the knowledge and resources to quickly address it? An ERP purchase is one of the most substantial and important IT investments your company will make. Choosing the right partner is critical to making sure you are getting your targeted return on investment. In fact, if you’re looking more information about how to assess the quality of an ERP vendor, read more about several underrated but critical questions to ask ERP vendors.

Step 8: Compare Proposals and Check References

Make sure you receive and compare a formal proposal from each of your top providers.

Yes, of course, ask for referrals that are relevant to your industry. You need to know that your potential ERP partner is well-versed in the business challenges that are relevant to you. But, don’t stop there. Ask for both a referral from a long-term customer and a new one. They’ll share very different insights into partnering with the vendor. You need to know both where a company has been and where it is now. A newer customer will be able to most clearly share with you information on your immediate considerations. They will be a great source of information on the implementation process you are contemplating undertaking. The longer term customer though will share equally important information on partnering with this company for the long-haul. What’s the overall value they’ve seen? What do they think of the support services? How has the provider adapted to their evolving needs?

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for real access to existing customers. It’s not uncommon for ERP providers to arrange product tours for prospective clients with real customers. The willingness of existing clients to share their time in this way speaks very loudly in terms of their feelings about the value they are receiving from their ERP vendor.

Step 9: Make A Decision

After all the work you’ve done from analyzing your business processes to researching ERP software, it’s important that you make a decision, and that you stick to a decision timeframe. Consider the costs of not implementing a new ERP solution. While most ERP programs typically involve an upfront cost. It’s important to keep in mind the solution will make your business more efficient, intelligent, and profitable. The right ERP software will automate and streamline your business processes creating long term savings. It can be easy to underestimate the financial impact of the right solution, but we’ve already put together a useful ROI calculator that will help you quantify potential savings.

Cody Worden

is a National Account Manager at Software Connect. He's been helping software buyers make informed investments in business software since 2001.

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