Viewed from a high level, core functionality may seem very similar from one Enterprise Resource Planning system to the next. That surface appearance probably has some truth to it. However, further investigation will almost always prove that minor differences make one system ideal for a given organization and completely ineffective for another. Furthermore, ERP products are frequently offered in variations tailored to specific industries, and the quality of execution in bundling those features is crucial to their usability. Suppliers may know their products, but you know your business. Here are five aspects to consider in the quest for your ideal ERP system.
Most companies spend far too much time and energy looking for functional perfection. In doing so, they often lose sight of the "business" part of business technology. Functionality is important, but focus on software offerings that fit your organization. Where else is the software you're interested in successfully installed and in use at companies in your industry; preferably companies about your size? Your implementation partner should be able to provide that information, including some examples. Moreover, recognize that no packaged solution will be a perfect fit for all of your needs right out of the box. The best solutions acknowledge - primarily through their design - that flexibility is critical, and they allow you to tailor their functions and procedures without complex programming.
Above all, user-friendliness of access to a system's functionality may influence its ultimate success or failure. The look and feel must accommodate the way your organization's employees operate, and it must make their work lives easier; not more difficult. If the new procedures are inconvenient beyond what's reasonable, users will revert to old spreadsheets and manual processes. Doing so will sabotage the potential benefits of your new ERP system.
Having the latest-and-greatest technology is often desirable when selecting mobile and personal computing devices, but being on "the bleeding edge" of business technology comes with substantial risk. Instead, you should look for a system that has been been field tested and thoroughly proven in actual use...in your industry, no less. Flashy new features and functions that seem so attractive in an ERP system will make their way into it's tried and true versions only after they have been proven to have actual value in the market. A reputable ERP system supplier will continuously update its products to include the latest functionality, but it will also refine and mature that functionality rather than just adding more and more extravagant gizmos and widgets. Talk to current users of the systems you are considering (your implementation partner or trusted advisor can help you make those contacts). Let those references tell you how reliably the supplier delivers upgrades and improvements that truly matter.
The Software Provider
You should expect your ERP system provider to be a long-term partner; not just a temporary supplier of a product. Be as sure as you can that the providers your interested in will be around for the long haul. Do they seem financially stable, with the resources necessary to support the product in coming years? Review their track record in the market for clues about how well they maintain relationships with their customers and improve the product over time. Nobody can guarantee future company viability or predict mergers and acquisitions with any level of certainly. The tea leaves will always shift with the times. Still, focus on more stable companies during your search; especially those that possess ample resources and a dedication to staying the course.
The software supplier and it's system should be surrounded by a community consisting of implementation and consulting partners, satisfied users, user groups with active discussion threads, and well-attended conferences. These resources provide considerable value to the software beyond what you receive from the supplier. Join these communities during your investigation. Talk curiously to as many of their members as possible in order to get their takes on the quality of the product, support and responsiveness of the supplier, and future prospects for the software. Once you've made your decision, stay involved. These community resources will be indispensable as you implement and begin using your new system.
Truth in Advertising
Does the deal your being offered sound too good to be true? It very well might be. In a highly competitive market-space, less reputable suppliers have a tendency to low-ball their offerings in order to get your business. So you get the software for less. Unfortunately, you also get less than adequate support, higher implementation costs, insufficient user training, or surprise costs for software, services, and assistance. A low bid can be fine. Just make sure that vendor proposals are equivalent when comparing costs. Additionally, ask vendors to show you the ongoing costs so that you can obtain a clear view of the total cost of ownership over a reasonable time period of five to seven years into the future.
What other things do you look for in an ERP system? Share a comment and let us know!