jump to navigation

ERP – Who to Choose 12/30/2012

Posted by TBoehm30 in ERP.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

I’ve often been asked “Did we choose the right system?”  Usually it is right after we experience a serious bug, or something goes wrong causing a project delay.  Would another system have prevented this particular issue?

The answer is always ‘Yes’.  We did pick the right software, despite the current problems.  And ‘Yes’ another system would probably have allowed us to avoid this problem, but would have caused others.  As long as we followed our plan, identified our priorities and compared correctly, we know we chose as best we could.

So what was the plan?  What do you need to plan in order to choose a new software system?

Requirements

The single most import aspect of choosing your new software is the list of requirements.  You need to understand what you need to succeed, and a list of benchmarks so that you know when you get there.  Everyone in the company should have the opportunity to help prioritize the requirements.  This is the chance to visualize the company running at peak operational efficiency and growing as fast as possible.  The new software needs to be able to accomplish all of the current requirements plus future needs.

You need to think about your requirements from a perspective of the future.  Will it be scalable enough?  Does it have the modules to cover functionality that you don’t need now, but could find a use for when there is time to experiment?  What other tools will you need to go along side your new software?  How much data does it need to accept and how?  What other systems will you connect it to?

I make a long list of requirements, and then prioritize them from most important to least important.  Then I like to make a single sheet listing the top requirements with room for evaluation and notes.  These note pages can be used as a scoring sheet for objective comparisons between systems.

Support

You will need a lot of support during the years of using this software.  Make absolutely certain that the company you choose will have smart people who can guide you when you have problems.  You might have to call other companies already using the system to get a good idea of how their support program works.

Some companies charge extra for support, and some have fixed contracts that automatically include support.  You will need to know the structure of support before going into negotiations to buy your new software.

Implementation

Working with another company to implement new software is not an easy project.  You must be ready to accept them as partners.  They should have lots of experience working with companies in your industry and of your size.  They should be ready to explain the process, their expectations, how long it should take and how many people need to be involved.   You need to get a feel for the difficulty of an implementation, and how much work your team will do compared to how much work will be done by outsiders.  Training will take up a large amount of implementation and could be done in different ways; how much time will this one take? 

When getting trained, you will have to make choices on the basic setup of the system and how much to change the out-of-the-box configurations.  Most large software allows you to process similar functions differently depending on requirements; you must have an idea of how many different choices there are to be able to compare the different choices of software.

Loading Legacy Data

Your system will begin either fresh with no data, or have old data loaded into it.  You will need to get some idea of the difficulty of loading data into the system.  Some data may be easily added using standard formats like Excel; and some may require more effort.  You may have to load data compiled from different systems; it will have to be mapped to the new system.  How much help will you get?  How much experience do they have mapping data from your old system?  How successful have other companies been with loading data?

Setup

Obviously your new software will need to run on a computer.  Whether that computer is located in your own office, at a server farm, hosted by a third party, or transparent to you in a SaaS environment is totally up to you.  Make sure that your needs are covered by the company producing your new software.  It would be a regrettable decision to buy software that couldn’t be run as a service and then ask them to setup SaaS.

Interfacing with Other Systems

Any software your run should not be run in a vacuum.  It will need to create send data to people and systems, as well as receive data from people and systems.  You may want automatic interfaces setup to continuously communicate with existing systems.   This should all be possible on any new software that you choose to buy.

One of the main reasons I left my first job was that the software I used couldn’t communicate with anything.  Even creating a report was difficult.  I knew that software like that was doomed to obscurity and I needed to get out before I was left in the dust.

Make the Choice

Using your prioritized criteria, you should be able to make a good decision of which software to purchase.  Don’t look back for regrets; you made your decision the best way you could.  There will be problems that you will be able to solve, don’t let that destroy all of the hard work you put into making the right decision.

Have you been through the decision process?  Did it work for you?  Do you like the new software?  What would you have done differently?  Let me know in the comments.

Be happy with your new software.  You now understand that it’s a global world and Technology makes it happen.

Choosing Your New ERP System 11/29/2012

Posted by TBoehm30 in ERP.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

After you’ve gotten the approval to start the process for a new ERP software system, it is time to start the search and make the decision of what to buy.  It is a project on its own just to make that decision.  It should take one to three months to go through all of the options to determine the best solution.

The way to begin this project is to lay out your plan.  You need to have an idea of what steps you will take and how long you have to finish.  The plan needs to include who will be involved, how much, and who gets to make the final decision.

The first part of the plan is who will be included.  This is an important project and the right people need to be included on the team.  A senior manager that knows how important the project is, and has authority to set priorities needs to be on the team.  Others as representatives of major departments need to be included.  The best person to represent the department doesn’t have to be the highest manager; you need to include the one who understands what is needed, but also has the time to attend the meetings.

As you get a commitment from enough people to fairly represent the company, you will create a meeting schedule.  Once a week may be enough to start, but eventually you will have vendor responses to review and demonstrations to watch.  This will increase the time commitment from the team.  These people need to understand that this project is just as important as their ‘day jobs’.  They will need to dedicate some time to this project, even if it means doing overtime on their normal responsibilities.  This part is crucial because ignoring the project for too long will ensure failure.

Probably the most important part of the selection process is the requirements.  The team needs to define their requirements for the new system and prioritize their needs.  Not all software will do exactly what they need in the way that they want it, so they need to be ready to determine what is critical and what is nice to have.  The requirements should start with replacing what they already do, and then consider what is needed for the future of the company.  You will need to include the details of current operations such as Purchasing, Selling, Accounting, etc.  Also think about reporting, dashboards, paper output and screen design. 

Along with the processes, you will have to consider the technical aspects of the software.  Will you want it in the cloud or on premises?  If you are thinking about the cloud, do you want software as a service (SAAS) or platform as a service (PAAS)?  You need to know the difference, and understand the language so that when a vendor describes their solution you can correctly interpret what they are saying.

Can your IT department support the new demands of the software?  Will you need new people to create reports, customize the software, and support the growing demand for security?  These are import discussions to have before choosing the final software.

Once you have a good set of requirements, you can send out some sort of questionnaire, request for proposal (RFP), or other document to a list of vendors.  Their responses should be evaluated by the full team to determine a short list for demos.

You can have 4 or 5 short demos if your list of vendors is still too long to decide.  That should help you narrow the choice down to 2.  These demos need to be held to under two hours, and the vendor needs to be aware that you will cut them off if necessary.  Doing a lot of demos can be overwhelming to the team and they will forget what the first demo looked like at the end of the process.  You need to make sure that discussions are timely and that notes are taken for later review.

Your final choice should be made from the top 2 vendors.  These final vendors should be given the opportunity to show you their best presentation.  Give them the amount of time that they need to impress you.  This might take several hours for each of them and require a couple of days worth of time from your committee.

I like to prepare a document for the team that lists out the requirements and gives them the ability to write notes about each requirement and give each a grade.  The grades can then be tallied to objectively decide which software is better.  If notes are made using the same format, they are easier to compare.  The notes also make it more difficult to forget the important parts.

One of the hardest parts of this process will be to notify the losing company that they were not chosen.  They may come back with lots of questions that will require more work and put you in an uncomfortable position.  One time, I had a salesman email my boss describing how unfair my process was, and how they thought they were being strung along when the decision had been made in advance.  While embarrassing, I had the full documentation to show that no decision was made until the end, and the notes showed the grades where the number 2 company was very close, but clearly the second choice.

Once you make the decision and notify the winning company of your intentions, it is time to sign a contract.  Make sure that you have professional negotiators at the table to get the best deal possible.

Now that you have decided on your new ERP or other large software project, the fun is just beginning.  You already have a good team who understands the issues, and are ready to work.  They know that it is a global world, and Technology makes it happen.

How close is your software vendor? 10/12/2011

Posted by TBoehm30 in Software.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

 

The other day I had a software problem.  My client had come to me with an issue and I had to come up with a solution.  I have been working with them for a while so I know their software pretty well.  I can usually figure out their problems and either solve them or come up with a workaround.  At the very least I can use their testing environment to document all the steps to recreate the problem as well as the steps taken to try to solve it.

My client has a valid contract with the software vendor and has full access to their help desk.  I am sure you have dealt with many ‘help’ desks and are completely familiar with what that means.  Some of them are very good and some of them are worse than a hot day in the desert.  I have to admit that this one is actually pretty good.

The trick is in the communication.  The people who I work with can’t always communicate their problems in such a way that the help desk can solve them.  They also have trouble understanding the responses.  Sometimes the tech-speak is just too complicated.  That’s where I come in.  I can help translate for both sides to get the problem solved.

Today, I found what I thought was a bug in the software.  The company that created this software is very sensitive about criticism of their programs.  I didn’t want to go to the help desk with this one until I had verified functionality with one of their senior consultants.  Since I am on good terms with several of them, my options were open.

The project manager for our implementation likes for me to go through him before talking to the consultants.  I shot him an email with my problem.  Within a few hours he had confirmed my problem, sent it off to tech support, and came back with a solution.  It wasn’t really a bug, but a setup problem.

I have dealt with many software companies throughout my career.  I have talked to people who were really good at their job, but the company was terrible; and I have talked to people who couldn’t help a cat out of a bag, even when their company was great.  A response within a few hours with a solution, going around the help desk, is above average support.  I would recommend that any day of the week.

When you are looking for software it is important to determine what kind of relationships they develop with their clients.  Sure, you will get references and talk to them about the pros and cons about the software; but you also need to find out about their responsiveness.  You need to find out about their personnel.  Do they stay in touch with their clients?  Do they come back to find out if there are any lingering issues?

Before you make a decision on your software, find out who your main contact will be.  Try to meet with him or her at a time and place where you have plenty of time for questions.  This person needs to be someone with whom you can trust and build a relationship.  They need to listen; you need to feel like they are listening to you and not thinking about what they will say next.  They need to be flexible.  Throw them a hypothetical curve ball; how do they react?

If this person doesn’t meet your criteria, don’t abandon the software vendor entirely, just ask for someone else.  Most companies would be happy to switch personnel if it means a chance for a sale.  Make sure you still have time to repeat the process with someone new.

My criteria is for someone who understands that it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

Do you need multiple databases? 02/19/2010

Posted by TBoehm30 in Database.
Tags: , , , ,
3 comments

Should you setup multiple databases for the company? No matter what your desire, you will always wind up with multiple databases. Whether they are backup databases, training databases or development databases, they will be needed.

The answer, however, is NO. You do not need multiple production databases for your company.

Using multiple database has its allure because it allows you to separate your data. You might have internal security issues which require separation of data and access. You might have reporting requirements which demand information to be segregated. You might have data issues which cannot exist on the same database. The easy, quick, answer is multiple databases.

There are too many problems with creating multiple databases. Let’s walk through an example that demonstrates the problems with the easy solution. You work at a company that wants a new ERP system for its 3 subsidiaries (it could be any database software – CRM, accounting, manufacturing, etc.). You want to make sure that each subsidiary doesn’t see any data from any of the others. You don’t want them poaching customers, or gathering data about the entire company.

You need a system that will work the same for everyone, but protect your security as well. You want to roll up accounting into corporate from the subsidiaries and have visibility from the top down. Multiple databases sounds ideal for that purpose.

Your company plans on creating or buying more subsidiaries in the future. Your plan for each new subsidiary is simple: Bring up a new database. As an added incentive, your subsidiaries use similar IDs for their data and would have to make significant culture changes if all their IDs had to change. [Think about a customer Id. If they don’t share data, then each of the 3 subsidiaries need a different Id for the same customer.]

Talk to the software vendor. Do you need to purchase extra licenses because of the extra instances of the software? Will they charge more for upgrades when it is not a single project? Will you have to replicate all customizations 3 or 4 times? Will you need extra hardware to handle the different databases? Can they exist on the same server or even the same instance of the database server?

Next look at your needs at corporate. You want visibility from the top which means logging into multiple databases. Are your executives savvy enough to handle that? Will they get confused logging into multiple databases? Is your IT staff savvy enough to handle the extra load? They will have to support all of them – that might mean simple password requests on 4 systems, or data inconsistencies from corporate reports.

Finally, look to the future. Could you combine your purchasing department to get better volume discounts for shared suppliers? How would you do that on multiple databases? How about centralizing the sales department? Could that be done with the setup you’ve chosen? The same goes for most of the functions that could be centralized, but are not today.

How do you solve these problems? Yes, there is extra work in that. You’ve got to setup security around each subsidiary so they don’t see other’s data. You’ve got to figure out a scheme for setting up IDs such as customer IDs and Supplier IDs that won’t conflict and won’t cause too much disruption. You’ve got to create a plan to bring up new subsidiaries within the existing system.

Again, talk to the vendor. You are going to save money on the software by only going with a single integrated system. You should need fewer licenses, and less expensive hardware. Your single database will be able to consolidate corporate data quickly and effectively.

Your IT department will be relieved from all the extra work. They will only need to support one system. They will only need to create 1 set of reports; even if they have extra security around them. They will have one system to have problems with and solve. There will never be integration problems between the systems. They’ll never have incompatible parameters, or global indicators that don’t match.

Talk to your executives and find out what information they need at their fingertips. Can you create real-time dashboards across multiple databases? Can you provide real-time reports on cash, inventory value, A/R, A/P, etc.? Do they need to export data from the system, and would that work if it was exporting from multiple systems?

The bottom line is that a single database makes sense for a single company. Don’t let the easy answer to tough questions change your outlook. It might take more work to set it up, but in the long run, it’s worth it. As we all know by now, it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

Software Selection Methodology 02/16/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in Software.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

Your company has grown; it is finally time to update the old software. You know they need something that is state of the art, but which one is best? Which one will meet their requirements? What are their requirements? Which one has the most likely chance for success? How will they even define success?

At this point management needs to take stock of the personnel available to them, along with their skills and availability. Since most companies are pretty lean in this tight economy, there is probably little availability among employees. Everyone is working full out just to keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities. No one has time for a huge new project; or that’s what they think.

This is one of the best reasons to bring in an outside consultant. You have a specific project, with a start and an end point. The success of this type of project is easily defined – the best software is chosen, negotiated, bought, and possibly implemented.

The company needs a process to follow. A consultant who has done this before will have a defined methodology. That is where their value comes from. The consultant will be able to help organize the company, create a group of people who can make the right decisions. The consultant will have the time to make sure that all issues are discussed, analyzed, and documented so that intelligent decisions are made. He/She will be able to work with the company to ensure that the software decision is made based on the right criteria and not just made by some high-level manager whose cousin sells software.

A good outside consultant would be one who doesn’t partner with any of the software vendors. A good choice in a consultant for this type of project is one who could possibly help with implementation, but doesn’t specialize in specific software implementation. Some consulting companies will try to drive a company to pick a certain software so that they can share in the profits of the sale, or to guarantee that they can help with implementation. The consultant needed for the software selection process should not be biased toward any software solution, software, or company. They need to be open to any possibility so that the best solution for the company is found.

The methodology that the consultant brings is what is important. They should have a process that has been used before, and can be easily followed. There are plenty of web sites that describe methodologies for a software selection project. Just enter “Software Selection Methodology” into your favorite search engine web site to find different suggestions on how to proceed. You’ll also find plenty of consulting companies who specialize in the kind of search your company needs. I would go with a consultant or company with whom I already had a relationship. Choosing an unknown company has its own risks and opens you up to more selling from the consultants.

The first thing I do as the outside consultant is to organize a committee who will make the decisions. All the leaders from any department affected should be represented on the committee. This group should meet as often as necessary to get the project done. Then, following our process, we create an RFP, send it out to vendors and choose our top 4 or 5 companies for a short demo. Each company gets a 2 hour meeting to put their best step forward.

Reference checking is very important at this point. You need to talk to existing customers to verify that what the vendor is saying is accurate. Salesmen, by nature, will only show you what works, and what looks best. It is my job to get underneath that and show my client what the true picture of the software and vendor. We are not just selecting software or a vendor, but a partner who needs to be interested in the success of their new customer.

From there we can choose 2 companies for a full presentation of 2 days each. I create a very specific script for these demos so that the company can do very little selling, and a lot more presenting. We send the vendor some sample data so that the demonstration will have meaning. We can look at actual functionality of the software and how it will handle our specific issues.

The final step – before making a selection – is to do a customer visit. Some people may want to skip this step, but it is more important than it sounds. Again, all you have really seen is what you have been given by salesmen. You have an obligation to validate your opinions. You can also find out how the vendor responds to requests for support, recommendations for changes, etc. With a little creative questioning, you can find out hints for implementation and creating ways to use the new software.

You can now make a very informed decision on what software your company needs. The job isn’t over, though. A good consulting company can help with the contracts and price negotiation. With a big enough deal, that could pay for the help right there.

So, go out and do your research, create a process, get that consultant, and upgrade or replace your software. Remember it’s a global world out there and technology makes it happen.