Choosing the right ERP partner for your organisation

When it comes to choosing an ERP partner, it’s vital that the capabilities that it delivers complements the way that the company operates. With such platforms covering a range of areas, from finance to production, a wrong fit can cause operations to unravel, and be costly to revenue, so this decision needs to be thoroughly thought out.

“Selecting a modern cloud-based ERP partner is a total change from purchasing traditional on-premise solutions,” said Andy Campbell, global solution evangelist at FinancialForce. “You are no longer making a one-off acquisition, you are entering a term contract, effectively renting a service from a delivery partner for a period of years.

“For this reason, the selection method and decision-making criteria that you use will need to reflect this new approach.”

With this in mind, here are some aspects to consider when choosing the right ERP partner for your business.

Consider evaluation of functionality

Campbell went on to explain how examining the operations that the ERP solution covers in the cloud can put you in good stead for making the right choice.

He said: “An important consideration is the way in which functionality is evaluated, and this is for two key reasons.

“First, the expectation in deploying a cloud solution is that you do not customise the solution. Instead, you adopt pre-configured business processes, perhaps tweak them slightly, and then modify your working practises accordingly. The extent to which your chosen solution is flexible enough to accommodate ongoing business change is vital.

“Second, the cloud model implies that regular software updates take place throughout the year. In reality, the likelihood is that the solution that is originally demonstrated and upon which a decision has been taken is likely to have been superseded by a later version with even better functionality by the time it’s due to go live. It is important that the vendor demonstrates a future roadmap with commitment to your industry and their products, a willingness for you to actively engage with the product development team and strong executive engagement.”

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Check staff and training credentials

While software technologies continue to evolve, the skill sets of human employees are set to remain important to product development as well as customer service. Indeed, this would be an ideal talking point when choosing an ERP partner.

“It almost goes without saying but it’s important to ensure that you are happy with the calibre of the delivery team,” said Nicky Cox, global services director at Sapphire Systems.

“We would recommend reviewing the CVs of the proposed consultants and meeting them pre-contract. The danger is that you might get on with the pre-sales team very well and they might be first class, but if there is a gulf between pre and post-sale capability you are not going to have the experience you were hoping for.

“A dedicated product support team is paramount. It is certainly worth spending time to understand what happens post project when you are in business as usual (BAU). Don’t forget that if you are working with the system for 10 years or more, you will spend more time dealing with the support team than the delivery and implementation team.

“Ask: does the partner have a strong training programme? An ongoing commitment to online and in-person training is important as people will come and go in your team and refresher training helps you to get the maximum value from the investment in your solution.”

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Think about culture as well as data management

With ERP solutions generating a vast amount of data, organisations need to be clear about how potential partners address this. Alongside this are the important matters of culture and strategy, as explained by Simon Carpenter, head of centres of excellence at SAP UK.

“The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and secular trends is upending how organisations compete and win in tomorrow’s digital experience economy,” said Carpenter. “Given that ERP is foundational to business success, they need to select an ERP partner that can support the vital requirements of industry and line-of-business functionality, scale, insight, agility and usability.

“With sensor and social networks feeding new streams of data into the organisations, they need the ability to digest and interpret massive amounts of data, to connect processes inside and outside the business and to improve automation. As such, when choosing an ERP partner, businesses should be considering whether they are getting simply an ERP system “silo” or whether they are choosing a partner that provides a modern ERP system, that caters to known and emerging needs.

“But choosing an ERP solution goes well beyond this. It’s also about a cultural and strategic fit – does the vendor’s purpose and how they conduct their business resonate with yours? Do they understand your industry? Do they have an ecosystem of partners that can help add value and address your organisation’s unique requirements? Do they have robust mechanisms and processes for listening to and co-innovating with their customers? Are they investing enough in R&D to be relevant to your future?

“These factors are arguably more important than the ERP system, per se. Today there are no ‘bad’ ERP systems and their functional scope is well known. It’s those other factors that contribute enormously to ensuring the ERP system you choose lands successfully in your business and delivers value for years to come.”

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Search for similar viewpoints

Lastly, organisations must ensure that the ERP partner that they choose can stay on the same page in terms of business goals.

“Look for a partner that is interested in your business, and the way you work, before you ever sign on the dotted line,” said Amanda Grant, chief product officer at Advanced. “Look for a partner which is realistic and authentic and interested in what you want to achieve as a business, and one that shares a similar outlook on the market and business operations as you.

“It is a clichéd term, but they have to be as enthusiastic as you are in driving to the value you need from the project. An early sight of a Customer Success Manager is a good thing, so ask to meet them before you sign up and understand their role. They are your eyes and ears inside the partner, and you being delighted is what their job is about. Ask them for evidence of good customer service – do they track their NPS score and, if so, can they evidence it growing?

“Also look for a partner that is going to evolve and develop with you. They should be thinking about the future and developing the technologies you will need in the years to come. Ask them who they are partnering with, as no one has all of the answers today, and back to our first point, how quickly they can help you begin to deliver value to your people and customers.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.