Ten questions to choose the right partner for your system change

As businesses grow and change, their IT systems need to grow and change with them. One of the critical moments of growth is the point at which an expanding business needs to move beyond standalone accounting, customer relationship management (CRM) and other packages to implement a more coherent and integrated enterprise resource management (ERP) system. This has the potential to streamline operations and unlock a great deal of value – but any moment of change is also a moment of potential risk and disruption so become educated in the how, what and why of moving from accounting to ERP.

The single most important factor in managing the risk of change is the relationship between the business and its chosen software vendor. The right fit can make the difference between a relatively seamless transition that’s embraced by most of the organisation, or a lengthy nightmare of dissatisfaction, confusion and compromised productivity.

So how does one choose the right vendor? I suggest asking these ten critical questions:

1.   What is the vendor’s track record? Check how many years they’ve been in business, how many times they’ve tackled similar projects and how successful they’ve been.

2.   What is their track record in your specific industry sector? The vendor may be very experienced, but experience implementing systems for urban clothing retailers doesn’t necessarily translate to doing the same for building contractors, plastics manufacturers or agricultural co-ops. Ideally your vendor should have some experience working with companies of a similar size to yours, in similar sectors.

3.   Ask for customer success stories from clients similar to you – and follow up by contacting those customers to see how things have worked out for them in the long run.

4.   What is their global footprint? Your vendor needn’t be a major multinational in its own right, but a presence in more than one country means a wider range of experience, access to international skills and some insulation from local economic shocks. At the same time, make sure they’re committed to maintaining a local presence – you don’t want to be left high and dry by a multinational that decides to pull out.

5.   How financially resilient are they? An ERP system is a long-term investment that needs a long-term partner, so you want to be sure your chosen vendor will still be around in five years’ time. There are of course no guarantees, but do some due diligence to be sure the company you choose is financially healthy.

6.   What service level agreements (SLAs) and ongoing support do they offer? The quality of post-implementation service and support will determine how well the new system works to support your business; make sure your vendor can match what your business needs.

7.   When looking at the specific ERP product the vendor offers, how well is it suited to your business? Is it flexible, with a range of modules that can fit into your operations with minimal custom development, or will you need to change your existing processes?

8.   Is the system easy to implement and easy to use? It may be worth visiting some existing clients to see how things work in the real world, rather than relying on demos.

9.   Does the pricing suit you? Consider not just the upfront cost of implementation but the total cost of ownership including maintenance and upgrades. Is the pricing transparent and predictable?

10. Finally, how future proof is the product you’re being offered? Is it a creaking old system still going because its customers are too scared to change, or is it being regularly updated as technology changes?