How to Choose the Right Partner

What symptoms can, or should trigger an ERP evaluation? Maybe the labor shortages and postpandemic expectations around remote work have finally broken your previously “good enough” homegrown spreadsheets, shared drives and databases. Or you’re sacrificing data accuracy. Or there’s no single version of the truth, so different siloed departments have different views of reality. Maybe you’re struggling to operationalize new industry or regulatory requirements around supply chain due diligence and ESG. Or most critically, you don’t have the information at hand to be nimble and to adapt to changes in strategy or in your highly competitive market. Before you launch the process, you need to know that you’re working with an ERP firm that has seen all of the potential pitfalls and knows how to navigate around them. You want to partner with a company that’s been through many thousands of successful ERP implementations. You want to work with a company that has learned which factors can predict a successful outcome by experience.

KEEP OUTCOMES TOP OF MIND

Because an ERP decision has such importance, both in terms of the efficiency of the business and as a major investment, most companies use a structured, formal decision-making approach. They identify the problem and lay out the options. They approach the project with the mindset that success means delivering the promised outcomes within a targeted time frame and budget.

The sad reality is that, despite best efforts, most ERP projects fail to deliver on the defined outcomes. As the project progresses and gets managed, time and budget goals can push aside the central objectives.

When you’re racing to a finish line, it’s easy to forget the business results you’re trying to achieve and the critical success factors essential to getting there. You stop asking where the risks are, how to mitigate them and how to make the right decisions to deliver the right outcomes.

The RFI/RFP selection process itself often doesn’t zero in on the critical success factors, but instead focuses on capabilities, delivery and cost. While capabilities, delivery and costs are important, they’re not the factors that will make the biggest difference in how successful your new ERP will be.

STAY FOCUSED: CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS

If you’re going to make the right decision about an ERP partner, you’ll need to consider the business outcomes and the critical success factors needed to achieve those outcomes. If you don’t, you’re potentially risking your major ERP investment.

You only know what you know

Since ERP transitions are typically once per career stage events, most team members won’t have specific ERP implementation experience related to their current scope of responsibility. Your organization, your selection team and your ongoing project team only have a certain level of maturity, knowledge and skill sets. To get to the right outcomes, to get to great, you have to come to terms with knowledge gaps and then bridge them.

The right resourcing

The ERP selection process is a time-consuming and painful process. To get the most out of it, you need to bring your best and brightest, but even that’s not enough. You need people with vision and focus, who can leave behind the current ways of working and forecast what the company needs, not just now, but one, three and five years ahead.

Time to outcome

Consider the track record of a potential ERP vendor. Ask the question: do they have a history of efficient implementations that deliver outcomes within the promised time frame? Protracted execution of an ERP plan can delay or even kill the economic benefits you expect to derive from your new system. Long implementations tie up key personnel and shorten the shelf life of your business-critical investment

Governance and scope

It’s very common to start the ERP selection process with every department listing the requirements they need. If so, you run the risk of “wish listing” rather than staying true to the core business requirements. It may be that those extra-departmental demands won’t deliver the results you need or be worth the investment you make. The last 20 percent of your wish list could easily take 80 percent of the time and cost. The overall objective should be to reach a consensus around the greater good. You need to make sure that your team coalesces around the overall objective for the business and what’s really going to drive business change, rather than demanding that every last departmental niceto-have is covered. Always keep the objectives you’re trying to achieve top of mind, and put the necessary controls in place.

Adaptability and scalability

It’s not just about what you have now; it’s about where you’re going to be in five years. How is the system going to support changes? How is it going to keep up with the level of disruption in your industry? How is it going to support the growth of different initiatives within your organization? Many ERP platforms have a reputation for locking people in with big upgrade projects or with heavy customization, which limits flexibility.

Staying up to date with emerging technology

Will your ERP partner allow you to leverage what you don’t even know about yet? You need to keep the door open for the application of new technology – AI, machine learning, robotics — that will bring you value not just now, but well into the future.

Partnership

Are you aligning with a true partner? Consider that you’ll have a relationship with the ERP vendor for many, many years over the lifespan of an ERP program. You need to make sure that the provider has the right attributes, the right cultural fit that can sustain a long, productive ERP partnership. Are you doing all you can to ensure the integrity of your ERP selection process? Information technology and selection consultants typically focus on capabilities, delivery and cost. But the ultimate responsibility for success doesn’t lie with the information technology department or a selection consultant – it lies with you and the executive team. It’s a business decision, it’s your spend and the impact is huge. Are you making sure you have the critical success factors factored in? If you get it wrong, effectiveness can suffer and worse, there’s a human cost — people can lose their jobs. And if you do survive some bad decisions, you can ultimately end up where you started – another selection process with the same inherent risks.