In theory, selecting an ERP system shouldn’t be difficult. There are, after all, an awful lot of ERP systems out there. But that amount of choice can be more hindrance than help—obscuring suitable ERP systems from view, and forcing companies to waste time evaluating offerings from suppliers which are not suitable.And for proof, look no further than the long—and growing—list of ERP failures, where companies have invested time and money on an ERP system that promptly fell flat on its face.
How to avoid such a fate? Simple: focus with laser-like precision on these five critical questions.
1. Is the ERP system a fit for our industry?
You’d be surprised how often this isn’t the case, with businesses wasting time evaluating in depth—or worse, buying—an ERP system that has been designed for industries other than their own.
So if you’re—for example—a process manufacturer, then make sure that the ERP system you’re looking at actually supports process manufacturing, and isn’t one that has been solely designed for batch assembly manufacturers.
And don’t take a salesperson’s word for it: ask for named references, and ideally of companies you can talk to.
2. Does the ERP system meet our business requirements?
Again, you’d be surprised how often companies wind up buying ERP systems that don’t meet their business requirements. (We know, because next time around, they talk to us.)
So if your business model includes, for example, field service, make sure that there’s field service functionality.
Ditto business-to-consumer e-commerce, in the case of aftersales spare parts. Or EDI, in the case of the automotive or aerospace industries, or businesses supplying the big retail groups.
Buy an ERP system that doesn’t support needs such as these, and you’ll find yourself having to integrate third-party add-on solutions, or building clutzy workarounds.
3. Are we buying from the ERP system’s actual creators?
Many ERP system suppliers don’t sell direct to the businesses that buy their systems. Instead, they sell them through implementation partners and system integrators.
There are several issues with this. Most obviously, when it comes to implementation, you’re not dealing with the people that have the greatest knowledge about how the ERP system will work in your business and in your industry.
But also, you can’t talk to the people with the greatest knowledge about how the ERP system will work in your business and your industry. Which matters, when things don’t go exactly to plan, or when it becomes apparent that change is required.
4. Will the ERP system grow with our business?
Another common mistake is in failing to think ahead. It’s one thing to buy an ERP system that will meet your current needs—and quite another to plan ahead for how your business might have grown and evolved in five or ten years’ time.
Perhaps you don’t presently offer field service—but might in future. Perhaps you don’t presently export, but might in future. And perhaps you don’t presently have overseas operations, but might in future. In each case, it’s sensible to make sure that any proposed ERP system caters for such developments.
5. How well is the ERP system supported?
Finally, look carefully at the support options provided by your proposed supplier. And when evaluating these, look beyond the basics of a support desk phone number.
What level of implementation training is provided, for instance? Or follow-up, system training? Will there be a dedicated account manager? Is there a user group—and is it a thriving, active, and vendor-independent user group? And are there conferences to help you get the most out of your ERP system?
Such things matter—and it’s important not to overlook them.