When helping clients evaluate and select the right ERP systems for their organizations, choosing the software is just one piece of the puzzle. The next steps are to develop a comprehensive and realistic implementation plan and to identify the best ERP implementation partner to help make the selected software work for your business.
Unfortunately, most companies focus on the wrong things when choosing an implementation partner. For example, the number one priority that many companies focus on is the implementation partner’s technical and functional experience with the ERP software. Evaluation factors such as software certifications, technical competencies, and number of implementations with the chosen software often rate high on the lists of executives. However, this is one of the least relevant aspects of choosing an implementation partner.
How can that be, you might ask? First, good technical resources are not hard to find (my apologies to the technical consultants reading this post). Technical and functional resources are plentiful, especially If you’re implementing a leading ERP system like SAP, Oracle eBusiness Suite, or Microsoft Dynamics. Go to any staffing firm or consulting shop and you can find plenty of consultants with the technical and functional credentials to implement a leading ERP solution. So in many ways, choosing an implementation partner based on this criteria is the equivalent of saying you want to choose a car with four wheels and an engine; it doesn’t really narrow the field in a meaningful way.
Second, and more importantly, successful ERP implementations are about business, not technology. Throughout my career, the most successful ERP implementation teams were the ones that best understood business, not the ones that had the strongest technical competencies related to the new software. The technical stuff is straightforward and relatively easy to learn, but business takes quite a bit longer to learn and understand. So finding an implementation partner that knows business process re-engineering, lean manufacturing, industry best practices, project management, and organizational change management is much more important than their knowledge of your chosen ERP system.
So what exactly should you look for when evaluating ERP implementation partners? Here are five things to consider.
Five Things to Consider When Evaluating ERP Implementation Partners
1. Business and industry acumen. Assuming your implementation partner has core technical and functional knowledge of the software, which is typically a non-differentiating factor when looking at various options, then you want to focus on their business and industry acumen. For example, do they have a good track record of implementing in industries similar to yours? Do they understand your business? And, most importantly, do they treat ERP systems more like business initiatives than technology initiatives?
2. Focus on business blueprinting. Business blueprinting is very different from and more important than system design, but most implementation partners focus on the latter. A successful blueprint does not entail a checklist of items to configure and switches to turn on in your system. Instead, it should be a business process-driven view of every nook and cranny of your business, which serves as a foundation for the system design and eventual implementation. Implementing without a proper business blueprint is like building a house simply with specs from your electrician rather than a blueprint for the whole house from your general contractor.
3. Competencies in organizational change management. Most implementation partners are well-versed in basic system training. However, most do not have competencies in other aspects of organizational change management, which will result in failure if not adequately addressed on your project. This is often the toughest criteria for most implementation partners since they are much more focused on software and technology than they are with people and organizational change – two completely different skill sets. (Learn more about the six workstreams of organizational change management to better understand what competencies you should look for in this area).
4. ERP implementation project management expertise. Project management and functional knowledge of any given software are two important but very different skill sets. When given a choice, I always opt for the strong project manager who doesn’t know the software over a software expert who doesn’t know how to manage a project. As intense as implementation projects can be, strong project and program management is a must have, even if it comes at the expense of strong knowledge of the software. Strong project management doesn’t necessarily require PMP certification, but it does require a strong understanding of how to manage project plans, mitigate risks, deal with business challenges, balance conflicting stakeholder needs, and handle the dozens of other variables that make a project manager’s job so challenging.
5. Independence and technology neutrality. Most implementation partners specialize in one specific software. For example, most Infor implementation partners are not going to know Epicor well and vice versa. However, it is not uncommon to find that multiple solutions from multiple vendors are required to address your business needs, which you may not otherwise find out if you’re not working with an independent implementation partner that understands all of the options in the marketplace. Since ERP solutions typically entail third party systems and integration, it is important to leverage an independent partner like Panorama Consulting that will find the right solutions for you rather than direct you to the ones that they represent or receive financial compensation for.
These are just few things to consider when evaluating potential ERP implementation partners. And these evaluation criteria hold true whether you’re about to implement a large ERP system like SAP or Lawson or a Tier Two solution like Infor or Microsoft Dynamics. At the end of the day, you want an implementation partner who not only knows ERP software, but more importantly, knows business.
Learn more about how Panorama’s ERP services can help provide the right implementation partnership for your ERP initiative.