Your business is not alone. Manufacturers and distributors operate in an interconnected web that is often as expansive and elusive as the internet, or even the galaxy. Add constant digital connectivity to this already complex network of relationships, and you are in need of a strategy for managing the people behind the technological world you’ve created by implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and its supporting third-party applications.
Your ERP world begins with your original ERP vendor, the publisher of your enterprise resource planning software. Due to updates to the ERP system itself and also to the expectations of implementation and ongoing support, your ERP vendor relationship is key to the success of your implementation.
With the weight and breadth of your ERP system in mind, are you on a vendor bender? Read on to see how an independent ERP consultancy (like EstesGroup) helps manufacturers, distributors, and other businesses running robust business applications manage vendor relationships.
Relationships that Bring Value to Your Business
You strengthen your business every time you add a valuable relationship to your network. EstesGroup begins every relationship with PAIR (Passion, Accountability, Integrity, Respect), our core-value approach to business consulting. We nurture this core system to build and support our partnerships with companies like yours, and some of these relationships span decades. We also apply our value system to ad hoc projects, so if you choose to work with our ERP or IT consultants, you’ll experience our core values, even if all you need is a free dark web scan.
P is for Passion, an energy-based value.
Passion gives your software or technology project life from selection all the way through to deployment and ongoing support. Here are a few traits that you can nurture in your business culture, in order to promote passion in your project:
Positivity: Culture is everything in ERP implementation. Happy users result in happy customers, happy budgets, and a promising future.
Reciprocity: Your vendor relationships particularly should never be one-sided. Two-sided relationships create the strong bridge that allows your ERP system to close gaps.
Competitiveness: Passionate teams win. While your ERP software project might not feel as exciting as the Super Bowl, it unfolds in similar drama, regalia, and celebration. Hopefully, you’ve chosen an ERP software vendor that will be along for the entire journey, including every win.
A is for Accountability, a value of action.
Think of how public you are as a business owner. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had someone on your right, and someone on your left, who would improve your reputation every step of the way? Here are three things to ask if you suspect that your ERP vendor doesn’t want to be accountable for any failures in your project’s future:
Does your software vendor fully support your ERP system at every level, from purchase to replacement?
Does your vendor provide resources and training materials beyond introductory materials that promote the software sale?
Does the vendor take time and care to help you establish goals that meet your expectations and budget requirements?
I is for Integrity, a value with vast repercussions.
Do you trust your ERP vendor? Does this same level of trust apply to the consultants you’ve chosen to assist you with the implementation? Here are some things that your software vendor and your ERP implementation team should share:
R is for Respect, a value of resourcefulness and resources.
Respect creates an extended network of resources, since it’s the moral ground of community-building activities and outcomes. There shouldn’t be false hope here. You should respect your vendors because they are known experts in the field and because they sincerely want to help you achieve your goals.
In ERP, Strategy Comes from Strength
Strategic partnership is key to survival in today’s competitive world of manufacturing and distribution, especially in regard to vendor relationships. Talent can feel sparse when you’re struggling through an ERP implementation and deployment.
A good vendor provides a roadmap for your software use. Recommendations should include deployment options. If an ERP vendor only offers a SaaS (Software as a Service) option, then you know advice is weighted with vendor profits in mind. Sadly, many ERP buyers are swayed to sign up for all services a vendor is trying to sell. A good vendor relationship begins with open communication, honesty, and customer-focused interaction.
The Vendor to Buyer Connection
There may come a day when you realize that your vendor was a bad decision or a necessary evil. If you do have conflict with your software vendor, then you might need relationship management techniques that promote a healthier relationship with the company that sold you your ERP system. An independent consultancy can provide the skilled mediation required to strengthen your vendor partnerships. Here are a few of the ways your relationship can go from sweet deal to buyer’s remorse:
Vendor negativity toward how you choose to implement and deploy your enterprise software
Buyer remorse as you venture into the fine print of your contract
Vendor favoritism toward other customers
User-level disappointment in the ERP project and management
An ideal vendor will give you the best price on the software, and might even throw in a flexible payment plan or a loyalty discount. An ERP system is a large investment that will influence how your company operates for years to come. A good vendor will help you manage your immediate cash flow and guarantee your future profits.
A vendor should provide wealth and resources that you wouldn’t otherwise have available to your business. Hopefully, your investment comes with access to materials and resources that include best practices, project roadmaps, and user-focused activities that help you find the support you need throughout your ERP implementation.
After the Software, the Software Vendor Relationships
Good relationships result in good business. Many business owners looking to buy an ERP software, like Epicor Kinetic, Epicor Prophet 21, Sage, or SYSPRO, need guidance. Advice is needed when it comes to the business application, and it’s also necessary when it comes to the people behind the software.
Do you need help getting on the same page as your vendor? Contact us, and you’ll find the most helpful consultants in ERP, managed IT, and cloud services for businesses. Are you in a business application deployment or cloud migration dilemma? Click here to watch a video on public vs. private cloud ERP deployment options. EstesGroup has been trusted for nearly two decades by businesses throughout North America. With the experience that has come from our own relationships, we’ll help you build and manage yours throughout your ERP or technology project.
Testing is the process that should use the most time in any software implementation. Why test? You selected this software and, of course, it should process transactions, shouldn’t it? Start testing, and some surprises will be exposed.
Testing basics, testing methods
To begin, you’ll need a testing team and a test suite. Form small teams of people from each discipline. The team leader will be from your implementation team and the remaining people will be on loan from the various functional groups. Select those people with care. They will become your “super user” core of trained people who will help others in their groups use the new software.
Pick any single-step transaction. Accounting might try a simple debit – credit journal entry. Customer service might enter a new sales order. Document the transaction: what general ledger account will you debit and which one gets the credit and how much money? What customer will place the order, what product will they buy, what is their purchase order number, and how much money is the order for?
Go to the transaction screen in the software and enter the transaction. Then enter the results in a log. If the transaction works as expected, record a green result. If the transaction completely fails, record a red result and note why it failed or why you think it failed. Sometimes the result will be yellow as it completed successfully but you found some kind of unexpected caution that probably should be corrected.
The failure of a test could be a problem in the data loading. Maybe the general ledger you wanted to debit was not in your system. Try to figure out why and ask the data conversion group to correct the situation. When they make the fix, process your test again and now you might get a green result.
An unsuccessful test result could come from a failure in your training. You thought you could enter that new sales order but you need to read the instructions again.
There are many configuration settings in any system and these will affect test results. That sales order test failed because the customer you chose was limited to only buying products in a certain line and you chose a product that customer was not authorized to buy. The data team might have made an incorrect assumption which can be corrected. Their assumption might have been correct based on some other condition you were unaware of. Often more than one setting can be adjusted to yield the results your business needs. Keep the conversation going until a satisfactory result is found.
Test again and again
You performed a test today and gave it a green result. Tomorrow the same test was not green. People from across your business are performing tests in their functional groups and you will find the change they requested to fix their test inadvertently affected your test. This is normal. Your business is complex and the relationships within are also complex. Work through these changes and find what works for your entire organization.
More complex testing
As the single transactions become successful, begin to expand the testing to a series of transactions. You can receive the purchase order, now can you also see the product adding to your inventory and then can you pay your supplier? Late-stage testing might go from receipt of a customer order through producing the order, shipping the order, and collecting the payment.
Manual testing might not be the more cost-effective use of your technology staff’s time. Fortunately, AI-driven types of testing are now available at low cost. Software that can robotically reproduce tests is available and affordable. After the fifteenth time a group runs the same test, boredom begins. The test robot never gets bored. You had nothing but green for those fifteen tests. But only after the 115th test was there a failure because someone made a change. The robot will keep testing all day and night until you turn it off.
Even setting up and monitoring automated testing tools can be time consuming. Begin to formulate the best testing strategy for your business by fully assessing any system software in use.
There are many types of software performance assessments available to your business. EstesGroup’s IT experts are available for everything from basic operating system testing to full audits of your system. Our software testers and project managers can provide continuous testing services and external support when you need it: functional testing, exploratory testing, integration testing, unit testing, system testing, and more. Schedule a software assessment today to begin a conversation about how testing, checking, and testing your software again can help your business.
Once you calculate ROI (return on investment) of ERP software and determine that a new system will result in new profitability, the most important step appears: your software selection decision. But who should make this final and most important decision about the future of your organization?
Every business has a minimum expected return on investment (ROI) of ERP projects. They have some threshold that allows a potential investment, whether in software or another asset, to even be considered. It takes a balanced software project leadership team to determine if a vendor is providing an enterprise solution that will ultimately result in solid ROI.
Who are key players and who are “extras” in your ROI journey?
Software implementation team:
An enterprise-level software implementation is complex and takes a strong pool of talent. ERP (Enterprise Resource Software) implementation poses high risk to your business if your team doesn’t execute projects with exactitude.
We live in an outsourcing world and third-party solutions build external networks of trustworthy stakeholders. Advisory boards and partnered firms will be affected by your software of choice, so be sure to entertain their insight in selection decisions.
Fellow CEOs, CIOs, CXOs, and the like, might have nuanced experience that will give you valuable insight into how a new system will change your company culture. Deployment decisions can also affect external stakeholders. If you move to the cloud, will your new infrastructure support your third-party integrations?
Internal support and project management teams:
Don’t simply play “follow the leader” when it comes to software management. Choose the talent that matches the task, and build a team that works well together. A complete software implementation can take years with all configurations and customizations in consideration and can significantly alter every aspect of your culture. Deploy a team that could handle any ERP deployment necessary, and your project will be a success.
IT experts – internal or external:
EstesGroup assists clients on a daily basis with seemingly “simple” technology decisions. In the ever-changing cyber landscape of ever-increasing cybersecurity threats, it’s critical that the people informing your software project leadership team are highly skilled at both soft IT skills and “hard” hardware skills like cloud migration and data center relationship management. Tech-savvy consultants tend to be gifted at ROI calculations. They can help ensure that your initial investment results in cash flow.
The inclusion of IT experts is especially pressing in an increasingly cloud-centric world in which consumption-based modeling can save you thousands upon thousands of both dollars and hours. Make sure to not only consider current infrastructure needs, but also entertain how technology could change. Will the vendor alter your software and force change? Consider Epicor’s Prophet 21 new client architecture updates of 2021 as an example of vendor interference.
Cloud experts and cloud migration experts:
Even if you choose an on-premise solution, it’s important to get a cloud migration analysis, assessment, and report. Make sure your software selection and implementation teams understand the differences between public cloud and private cloud deployments. Choose the best platform for your future needs, even if investments costs run higher than your ERP software budget had pencilled in. Project plans should adapt to new information. A few extra dollars now for a high rate of return later most likely won’t break your ROI formula.
It’s important to find someone who isn’t vested in the software vendor and can therefore give an impartial review of your business needs. Enterprise resource planning software firms are everywhere. Look for one with excellent customer relationships. Testimonials are your best bet for understanding the team members you’ll add by bringing in an IT or ERP consulting firm to help in your software selection process.
Who will complete your system analysis?
You and your software implementation team have analyzed the data and prepared your findings. Now you must make a presentation to your executives for a decision. Regardless of the findings in your analysis, the decision must be made at the executive level. They know this software acquisition is under consideration. Even if the return on investment is low, let the executives make the decision.
Their choice might be to ask for further analysis or more data and the analysis returns to your group. They could ask for some reduction in cost from the software providers or possibly a review of whether some costs could be deferred. At the end, they will let you know whether to request the final purchase documentation or to let your contacts at the software provider know you have chosen not to go forward.
Who will determine executive support?
This executive decision is probably required by the rules your business follows and only this group is authorized to make significant financial decisions. There are practical values, too. If you move on to acquire your software, there will be stresses on people and resources and resistance to change. Unless your executive team fully supports the changes required, you will not have the full support of others in departments and functions around your enterprise.
When you get the go-ahead from your executive team, more work is ahead of you and your team. Begin that work with some communication. Let your employees know the decision was made and tell what will begin to happen. You will start forming work teams. Your expected completion date is some approximate future time.
Between now and then there is a rough outline of work to accomplish, and you know everyone will do their part because there are benefits for all. It can be helpful to make a list of those benefits.
Who will predict and measure ERP implementation success?
If the software is complex, like Epicor Kinetic or Prophet 21, do you have an implementation plan that will guarantee good ROI?
Do you need legal advice to help you negotiate a solid contract with your software vendor?
Cold hard IT fact: In the current climate of Internet of Things (IoT), one of our contacts was hacked through his refrigerator. The ROI of ERP implementation can quickly diminish when ransomware infects your system.
Stay in the Flow: Estimate Your Software Value Returns
Businesses are supposed to earn a profit. New software can quickly lead to debt. Before you commit to a new software acquisition, know if your new possibilities will also be new expenses. If one of your customers wants to open up new product channels and your legacy systems will not work to meet development needs, the software selection process begins. You want to keep the good relationship you have with your customer, and you also want the new business. If you’re a small business, this means exploring the greater world of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
Can you forecast the revenue stream for this incremental product or channel?
Your customer will have their estimate. You might also be able to increase sales to other customers with the capabilities the new software brings. Is there new business you can develop that did not exist yesterday? Maybe you can win some business from your competitors using your new capabilities. Incremental revenue will also have an incremental cost of sales. The additional margin is what you need to estimate for this analysis. Some of the new sales might replace existing orders and, if this is your case, subtract the forgone revenue associated.
All You Need to Know About the Savings Game
During the meetings you and your team hold for developing software requirements and talking in general terms about this new software, you will hear excited thoughts about sales orders moving faster into production. People will talk about how you can manage inventory much better. Another one might suggest that you could produce the same level of product with half the personnel in a department.
Some “software value stream” thoughts will make it to your software selection requirement list.
Here’s a potential thought stream surrounding value potential, especially when considering adding or upgrading an ERP software.
What can I do to enable a 25% reduction in inventory levels?
How can I ensure that all new sales orders will be in production or shipping within four hours of receipt of the order? Can I achieve this using only one support person to handle exceptions? Can I do this if I reduce staff to one from the current level of five people?
With new software, value can now be seen everywhere in your company’s future. Other potential savings are not requirements but remain as expectations. You know that you and your team will benefit from this software. Develop your list of savings and describe those savings in monetary terms divided into time phases. Remember that reducing your sales order support staff as described in your requirement only counts when you actually reduce staff.
Downstream From Your Software Value Stream: Ensuring Future Business
Often some of our software requirements enable us to meet new demands such as a new compliance regulation that our legacy system cannot support. When our new software allows us to meet that compliance, we cannot say we increased revenue or reduced cost. But we can continue in business so that there is a clear value. We could say the cost avoided is the loss of any margin that comes from an entire product line, so the loss would have been significant.
Your Total Value Stream
Evaluate all of your cost savings and incremental revenue and any other measurable improvement related to your new software. Lay these objective benefits out in time buckets over the next several years. You will probably be able to name other benefits that are not easily measurable. An easier user interface will be valuable to your employees, but there might not be any cost savings related. Keep your benefits simple and only use those that you can measure. When in the selection process and considering your software value stream, get your costs of acquisition and usage defined, so that you can compare these benefits directly with your costs later.
STEP 1: Contact providers and arrange demonstrations
A new day is here and you can finally start contacting potential suppliers for your new software. If you already have a short list to begin with, you can start right away. Software suppliers come in several flavors, so it makes sense to set up multiple ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution demos. A variety of demos with help you find the perfect ERP software for your business. It might seem boring to sit through one software demo after another, but putting in the time to find the perfect fit will allow you to swiftly return to focusing on your business, rather than on its infrastructure. During your demo, be sure to also consider and question ERP deployment options. Your company might be heading toward SaaS (software as a service) when it’s truly a private cloud hosting platform that you need to sustain operations.
STEP 2: Compare different types of software suppliers
You might see a particular brand of software and one option is to get your software directly from the business that developed the system. Many work directly with end customers and have adequate tools to provide the support you need for implementation and maintenance of your system whether you choose to install it on premises or use the cloud version of the system.
There are providers that primarily are third-party consultants that can help you with some of the same software brands. Often these will provide better ongoing support compared to the developer company that has a continued interest in maintaining the software and perhaps less time to provide support.
Some of those third-party consultants represent more than one software brand. You might contact them regarding brand X but after getting to know your business they might suggest brand Y could be a better fit. You will need to make the choice and keep in mind that it is also possible that they earn more money from brand Y.
Another possibility is open-source software. These can be downloaded free or at little cost for your use. There are consultants that specialize in these systems much like those that represent branded software. If your business has substantial resources in software development and maintenance, this could be an excellent choice.
STEP 3: Make the right software selection contacts
Any of these sources can provide the support you need. Contact them and provide some background for your business, why you are looking, a description of your business, and a list of the requirements you have defined. Most of them will reply quickly and will be happy to introduce themselves and begin to get to know each other.
STEP 4: Control your software demonstrations
A vendor might suggest a demonstration of their software to enable you to make a choice. They already have a standard, prepackaged demonstration ready. Hold off because you should keep some control over the demonstrations. The company has your requirements you’ve provided, so they should be ready to demonstrate how the software answers to every one of your needs. Ask the vendor to customize the demonstration to show exactly what you have requested from the software.
Keep an open mind though. Their business is the software and they have experience with many customers. If they suggest that one of your requirements should be modified, they might be right. If they suggest that a requirement is not possible using their software, they might have a work-around that will satisfy your requirement. These are your choices. You can insist on your requirement list and simply keep looking at other software providers who can fill your needs.
Schedule a demonstration. Find a time that allows representatives from all your stakeholders to attend. Even if the software is intended for production, it will affect finance and engineering and others and they should attend for their own evaluation. If two demonstrations are needed to ensure your team can attend, ask the supplier to schedule two demonstrations.
STEP 5: Evaluate each software demo systematically
Before the first demonstration, prepare a common survey or questionnaire for your team. Ask each attendee to use a common format to evaluate the demonstrations. Collect the questionnaires quickly after the demonstrations. After several different demonstrations no one will be able to remember specific points and how each supplier covered specifics.
When the demonstrations are finished, combine the individual questionnaires into a common report. Work up a point value system for each question point. Summarize the demonstrations and total the points for each supplier. Ideally one will have more points and you will have your objective winner. You might ask one or two of the suppliers to provide additional demonstrations and reply to specific follow-up questions.
STEP 6: Check references and read customer testimonials
Contact the references your top supplier candidates gave you. Learn what they felt went well and what they wish might have gone differently. Ask if they know of any other business that used that supplier. Use the internet to find additional customers you might use as references that were not provided by the software supplier. When you feel you have found the right supplier, you can begin negotiations.
After the software demo, the software
Do you need help comparing software supplier data? Are you still watching software demo videos looking for differentiators? When creating a software demo, suppliers often skip the details, and our business experts can assist in determining potential pain points after your installation. Our IT experts can assist with everything from system software compatibility to software license protocol. Our ERP and managed IT specialists understand everything from source code to supply chains.
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Advice from industry peers and other groups will help you understand your software application options. Cloud-based ERP education is easy to come by, but it is important to have a trusted person explain the fine print. ERP solutions are often sold in a pure SaaS (Software as a Service) deployment, and this might not be the perfect fit for your business. You might be a small business looking for your first ERP software solution, or you might be a complex manufacturing company looking for the real-time flexibility of a cloud hosted ERP system.
We all have friends from previous jobs and alumni groups that we can lean on when making big business decisions. The internet is full of advice and much of it is useful. Chase answers, seek multiple views, and engage in a business process review if you’d like an assessment of where you’re at before adding anything new to the mix. An ERP vendor will give you one perspective, and those near and dear to your internal business processes might have different opinions.
Keep your search organized
Develop a questionnaire. This will help keep the members of your team unified when they begin gathering information. The questionnaire also keeps the questions useful. For example, the question “Did you like the software?” is not a very powerful question. Instead, use questions such as, “What was the primary requirement you wanted to satisfy?” Then you might follow up with a related question like, “In what specific ways did the software satisfy that requirement?” The final value of your questionnaire is that you will be able to compare and relate responses from a variety of sources to each other. You will also be able to develop a value scale that can allow you to have an objective scale to compare the responses and their value to your business.
Talk to people
When trying to choose ERP software, it is helpful to contact people from industry and trade groups. These will often be businesses that are similar to yours and their input can be useful in helping you make your decision. Use a little caution and avoid sharing where your next growth is expected and understand these businesses will be wary of sharing anything that might allow you to become a better competitor.
Your CPA and other resources that you have can benefit you as well when selecting software. Other clients that your CPA has might have been through a software search of their own. At this stage, you are not ready to take action yet and your CPA probably is ready and willing to act as a consultant helping in your search for a fee.
Use the internet for software & vendor selection research
The internet can provide examples of other businesses who have experience with software selection. Often you can find these businesses on the fifth page of your Google search and once you find them, even a quick phone call will frequently yield a person who directly participated in their selection and software implementation and has useful experiences to share. Many people are more than willing to help if you ask them.
Now take action
Once you have done your research, you might first decide to re-evaluate your requirement list. You might find some listed requirements to be of less value than originally considered or have found a point from one of your sources that should be added to your requirement list. Through this research, you probably learned of a software provider, previously unknown to you, that was highly recommended. You certainly learned new ways that others found that helped in their search or even helped their business operations after their implementation. You also learned of search actions others would have done differently if there were an opportunity to make their search again.
Now you can develop a list of only a few software providers or brands that likely will be beneficial to you. An internet search might list a thousand systems, which are too many to evaluate. Focus on your short list and begin contacting those few. The goods or services you offer will greatly benefit from new solution, whether you’re adding a third-party business intelligence platform or a new accounting software to your resource pool.
Remember that people are your best resources for ERP and more
Mid-sized manufacturing and distribution companies are especially vulnerable right now to supply chain management issues. Make sure you have the in-house human resources it takes to ensure that warehouses managed during a pandemic are restored to pre-crisis stability. If you need help with inventory management, enterprise risk management, cloud migration, or other critical business operations, EstesGroup offers you a one-stop-shop approach to operational optimization.
Are you ready to talk to a software & vendor selection expert? Let’s begin a conversation today.