Mark Miracle | April 19th, 2021
Over the past 30 years, LogicData has focused on assisting manufacturing clients in choosing and implementing the right ERP solution for their specific needs. During that time, we have engaged with well over 500 diverse clients possessing a widely varying level of understanding of how to evaluate their ERP needs. The purpose of this document is to leverage what LogicData has learned from past engagements in assisting our potential clients in their ERP evaluation process.
Access to actionable information, increased inter-departmental collaboration, improved productivity and automation of processes are some of the main reasons that a company may consider investing the time, money and resources in moving to a new ERP system. However, a company generally has some very specific reasons that are forcing them into making a change. The major question that needs to be answered is if a change in systems will address the company’s critical issues and justify the cost of the solution.
As an example, a company may be experiencing a loss in profit margin that is linked directly back to inefficiencies in their current procurement processes. Those inefficiencies could then be linked to things such as not taking advantage of economic order quantities, inaccurate inventory levels, incomplete bills of materials, and/or lacking vendor oversight. Additionally, that same company may be seeing an erosion in their existing customer base that has been traced back to the inability of meeting required customer delivery dates. Alternatively, a company may be experiencing significant growth, but is unable to meet increased demand due to current system limitations. The correctly implemented ERP solution can positively impact all of these needs and should show a measurable return on the investment made.
It is important to note that the identified needs that can be positively impacted by a switch in systems should be significant to the overall health and growth of the company. Too many times a specific need in one functional area is given too much weight in the overall assessment of what is best for the company as a whole. Even worse, satisfying the need of one functional area to the exclusion of all else can have a negative impact on other functional areas within the business.
In some cases, there are just too many identified issues that can be solved with a switch in systems. In this case the company will try to accomplish too much within a short time frame and ultimately disrupt current processes to the point where the health of the company is negatively impacted.
In summary, determining the need for moving forward with an ERP solution should consider:
Definition of these requirements is a highly strategic undertaking and it is recommended that it be directed at the executive level of the company with the necessary input of all functional area management. Area managers, with input from their staff, can categorize issues in order of importance and then present them to executive team for final review. It is up to the executive team to determine the scope of issues to be addressed and whether they will be positively impacted with a system change.
Once the specific needs have been defined and categorized, the team that will refine the wide range of available solutions should be selected. This team should consist of the functional managers of the areas that will be most affected by solving the needs that have been identified. The team should also include at least one executive sponsor that can ensure the team members are given adequate time and resources to perform the evaluation. Appointing a project manager with the authority to drive the evaluation forward is also recommended.
All too often this important step is overlooked when a company decides to move forward with an ERP solution, and the task of engaging with possible solution providers is relegated to a front-line employee who does not fully understand the needs or desired outcomes of the organization. As a result, the organization’s identified requirements may be miscommunicated, and the best possible solution provider may be eliminated from consideration. Assuming the completion of Step 1 has identified critical requirements that will heavily determine the company’s future success, it stands to reason that initial evaluations should be performed by an evaluation team member that has a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished.
Regardless of who is assigned to narrow the field of providers, this is also the time to compile the information in Step 1 and document it so that all team members are working to a common purpose and the assigned team member can accurately communicate the requirements to the initial list of potential vendors. In compiling this documentation, now is also a good time to determine initial evaluation criteria and the decision process that will be employed. This is beneficial to the company to ensure miscommunication does not cause a good potential provider to be eliminated.
Depending on the defined requirements and the potential results established in Step 1, the company should have a preliminary sense of how much could be invested to realize potential benefits. This of course also needs to factor in any other financial considerations that the company may have. What can be accomplished in addressing the requirements is directly correlated to how much money is available to spend.
Some clients may feel that providing budgetary numbers to potential providers at the beginning of an evaluation is only beneficial to the vendor, but this is not the case. Pursuing a potential solution that appears to be a perfect fit to address defined needs, only to find out that the solution is not obtainable, can be very frustrating and a waste of company resources. Because of the wide range of solutions, functionality and pricing available in the marketplace it is important to establish a budgetary range to ensure only those solutions that are cost feasible are pursued. This also allows the company to re-assess requirements if a solution addressing the defined issues does not exist in the budgeted price range.
Generally, the ERP marketplace is divided into 3 tiers, with tier 1 providers offering highly functional solutions at price points that can easily exceed millions of dollars, while tier 3 providers generally offer point solutions with very basic and limited functionality at much lower prices. There are many providers that fall within various levels of this tier structure. By establishing and sharing a budgetary range and key requirements with the potential vendors, the client can quickly adjust budgets and/or eliminate options that are not within the price range.
An ERP solution is not a “plug and play” application as it involves all functional areas within a business and needs to meet a variety of complex requirements. Allowing adequate time for implementation and training is a necessity and should not be rushed. While a very basic solution requiring only core functions and simple requirements may take 6 months or less, complex requirements requiring high levels of functionality can take a year or more to complete. Therefore, the company needs to consider their specific requirements and business issues and involve potential vendors in a discussion on timing. At the same time, planning for an evaluation and implementation too far in advance can create issues with changing business needs due to the time elapsed between evaluation and implementation. Occasionally, a company will start its evaluation a year or more before planning to begin implementation. During that time, needs and budgets may change, resulting in a waste of effort and resources for the company.
It is also wise to consider at this stage it is also wise to consider how the system will be deployed. Most solution providers have deployment options to fit specific customer requirements. Factors such as resources, budget, infrastructure and functionality requirements all need to be considered. LogicData can provide a white paper on deployment options to help the company determine its best deployment method.
As mentioned earlier, there are many available ERP options in the marketplace. Based on the completion of steps 1 through 3, the company will have a good understanding of their requirements, budget and timing to start narrowing down the field of available solutions. Generally, a company will do a web search for potential vendors, but it is important to note that available information may be limited, so it is beneficial to engage vendors on an initial qualification call to ensure that a good potential solution is not overlooked.
In establishing a list of possible providers, it is also beneficial for the company to consider the evaluation from an implementation perspective. Choosing the right implementation partner is as, if not more, important than choosing the right software solution.
Once a list of possible providers has been identified, the company should schedule introductory calls with these vendors to determine if the provider can:
At the conclusion of introductory calls, hopefully the list of viable partners has been reduced to a manageable number of 3 to 5 potential solutions. Should the list be longer than that, it is suggested that overview demonstrations be scheduled to show overall capabilities which can help in narrowing the list further. The purpose of an overview presentation is to understand the general capabilities and usability of the system and is not meant to address the specific issues the company is experiencing. Demonstrating how specific issues will be addressed by the software solution is generally covered with a detailed demonstration later in the evaluation process. Additionally, it may be beneficial for the company to address implementation methodology and technology at this point to further narrow down the list of possible providers. Most solution providers should be able to provide these overviews to the selection committee.
Once a short list of potential solutions has been chosen, the company then has the option of initiating a formal request for information or proposal, typically referred to as an RFI or RFP. Frequently, companies will take a very generic approach to this process which is not recommended. Laboring through the review of extensive functionality requirements spreadsheets, much of which may be irrelevant, is a time consuming and possibly confusing exercise. It is much more beneficial to create an RFI or RFP that is specific to the unique requirements defined by the company in step 1. A focused, and often shorter, approach will allow for better assessment and more efficient review.
A good ERP evaluation should always include this step. This is the opportunity for the company to educate the chosen potential providers on the details of the identified needs. Too often a company moves forward with an evaluation solely based on the documentation provided in the RFI or RFP. The company is the expert on their business and issues while the solution provider is the expert on their software and its implementation. Without detailed discovery the potential for miscommunication and misperception on both sides is greatly increased. The discovery process allows for alignment between the client and chosen solution provider to minimize potential issues during implementation.
Generally, the discovery is conducted at the client site, but could be conducted virtually if the requirements and business processes are not too complex. Complexity will also determine the length of the discovery session which can range from a few hours to a day or more.
It is important to determine company representation for the discovery process prior to the meeting. As mentioned in step 2, participants should understand the goals of the evaluation process as a whole rather than focusing only on their specific job functions. A recommended format for a discovery meeting would include an executive briefing at the beginning and end of the process with individual functional area manager interviews in their work areas in between. The scheduling of these interviews should mirror the process that orders flow through the facility. Beginning with a tour of the facility is also recommended. The exact format of a discovery agenda will vary, but a simple discovery agenda may look like this:
Prior to the meeting, each participant in the discovery process should meet with their respective team members to uncover pain points within their functional area and determine which are relevant to achieving overall company goals and addressing the identified requirements. LogicData can provide a template for this exercise. In this way the discovery process stays on task and time while minimizing disruptions to normal company operations. The completed templates should be returned to the solution provider a few days prior to the scheduled meeting to reduce redundant questions and minimize the company’s disruption to operations.
While this step may appear somewhat time consuming, it is invaluable in ensuring that the solution provider has a detailed understanding of the company’s needs and is able to provide the right solution. By following the recommendations outlined above, the discovery process is also completed in the most efficient manner possible.
After compiling the information from the discovery call the potential vendors can now prepare for the final presentation. It is important for the company to allow adequate time between discovery and final demonstration so that the solution providers can tailor the demonstration to address identified needs and address any other relevant issues uncovered during the discovery.
Also, during this time, it may be beneficial for the company to request a preliminary budgetary estimate from the remaining solution providers to ensure that findings are still within the budget requirements.
In preparing for the detailed demonstration the following should be considered:
While the detail presentation may vary based on company needs and schedule, a typical agenda would follow the below guidelines:
8:30-9:00 Introductions & brief corporate overview. Review of key issues
9:00-9:45 ERP software navigation, user interface and technology
10:00-10:45 Flow of data through the system
10:45-12:00 Functional area breakdown addressing how the system handles key needs. This is typically broken into ½ to 1-hour sections and would cover Financials, AR, AP, Engineering, Planning, Production, Sales and Service.
Noon – 01:00 Break for Lunch
01:00-3:00 Continuation of functional area breakdown
03:00-4:00 Implementation overview, Q&A, next step discussion
It is recommended that all the members of the selection committee be present for the entire agenda. However, work schedules may not allow all the members of the selection committee to commit a full day to the presentation so placing important general information like navigation, user interface and data flow into a block of time where all attendees will be present is important. This should be done in the morning so that attendees of the functional sessions will have the appropriate orientation. In LogicData’s experience, individuals who have missed this part of the session will not have the appropriate orientation to the software’s navigation and logic. This can cause confusion and delay the agenda for the other attendees.
Again, as mentioned earlier, it is recommended that you do not invite clerical and departmental employees who are not members of the selection committee. The selection of a new system for your company will be the catalyst for many changes, and often clerical level employees can feel threatened or unsettled, wondering what will happen to their jobs with the new system. The detail presentation is not a good venue to try and create buy-in from front line personnel.
Depending on the number of detail demonstrations scheduled, and hopefully there are not more than three, the details of which solution offers what benefit can get confusing, so it is beneficial for the selection committee to keep detailed notes and/or a score card as to how each solution addresses the identified needs of the company.
After the detail demonstrations are completed, there are frequently additional questions or concerns that need to be addressed. The company and the solution providers should be ready to address these concerns with future discussions and/or demonstrations, generally virtually for the sake of expediency. This is also a good time to address any missing information from one solution provider that another has addressed. Because it is difficult to show all functionality of most ERP systems in a detailed presentation due to time restrictions, if one solution provider hasn’t addressed a specific topic does not mean they do not offer that functionality. It is beneficial for the company to allow the solution providers the ability to answer any open issues to ensure that an oversight in one area may eliminate the best overall solution by mistake.
As mentioned earlier, the implementation of the solution, and its underlying technology, should also be major considerations in the final decision. In case implementation methodology and technology have not been discussed to this point, it is recommended that the company interview the solution providers based on these areas as well.
At this point the remaining solution providers should have enough information to provide a comprehensive software and implementation estimate. It is very important that the company spend the necessary time to review these proposals in detail because functionality, suggested configurations, and implementation time frames may vary widely between vendors. It is highly recommended that the solution provider is invited to discuss their respective proposal with the selection committee to ensure the proposed solution addresses all identified needs and none of the information provided is mis-perceived.
It is also recommended that at this stage sample agreements are presented for business and legal review, as the proposed terms and conditions may need to be negotiated and could be a factor in the decision-making process.
Following the above outlined steps will ensure that a company’s ERP evaluation process yields the best possible solution to their needs and budgetary constraints. LogicData hopes that the reader finds this documentation useful when considering an ERP evaluation and will consider us as a potential solution provider for any future ERP needs.
Mark Miracle is the VP of Sales for LogicData and has been personally involved in over 50 ERP selection processes over the past 3 years. LogicData is a Channel partner for Infor, a leading enterprise software provider. Over the past 30 years, LogicData has been focused on helping SMB manufacturing clients implement SyteLine ERP offered by Infor.