Over the years I’ve helped hundreds of clients, but somehow I’ve managed to make it through the decades without ever comparing the ERP selection process to the yearly duty of choosing a perfect Christmas tree. This year, however, with the joyous season once again upon us, I find myself wondering if the rules for one might loosely apply to the other. It could be the eggnog talking (in fact, it probably is), but in the depths of my imagination I see certain similarities.
Step One: Process Review
Choosing the right Christmas tree is a serious business. In order to make the proper tree-choice you need to project forwards in time, across the entire holiday season. What are your Christmas requirements and processes? Will you be going out of town? Will you be having a party? How many gifts will shelter beneath its boughs? I like to have an honest chat with family stakeholders. Together, we have a frank discussion about our Christmas-tree budget, and whether or not the Return on Investment (think both presents and good cheer) justifies the expenditure.
Foresight and planning are also extremely important when choosing an ERP. Acquiring just the right fit requires a thorough understanding of your business processes and requirements, now, and for the foreseeable future. What type of business are you running, and what are your goals and objectives? Get everything out on the table before you begin to plan. Documenting your functionality requirements may necessitate the creation of a business process blueprint, detailing all the processes you’d like to support with your ERP solution. That may seem like a lot of work, but it’s essential if you want to select the most appropriate ERP for your business.
Step Two: Evaluate the Fit
Living rooms are different shapes and sizes. How will your new Christmas tree fit in? If your ceiling is too low, you might not have room for great-grandmother’s Star of Bethlehem. If it’s too short, the neighbours will turn up their noses. If the boughs extend outward too far, there might not be enough room for Santa to maneuver his gift sack, and the lights and popcorn garlands may not make it all the way around the tree.
Similar calculations must be performed when purchasing an ERP, but instead of the size of your living room, you’ll want to consider the size of your company, as well as the state of your current IT infrastructure. Two-hundred employees and an unlimited budget? The ERP world is your oyster. Thirty employees and twenty-million in revenue? Don’t waste time looking at the
monolithic, extremely expensive ERPs. A mid-tier, modular, scalable ERP (such as SYSPRO) will almost certainly suit your company better. Your operating system is also important. If your IT department has you happily running on Microsoft, you’ll most likely get the best bang for your buck with a .NET platform, such as SYSPRO.
Consider the Costs of Ownership
Go to any tree lot and you’ll realise that not all trees are equal – and neither are their prices. The Monterey Pine is a lovely and functional tree, but you may be tempted by something more exotic, like a beautiful, but more expensive, Blue Spruce. The lot owner has a vested interested in selling you the big-ticket tree, but is it in your best interest?
Similarly, it’s very important to understand the costs (and risks) of the ERPs you’re considering. Supporting your strategic initiatives is vital, but many an ERP implementation has foundered and failed because the company was unaware of its real costs. Make sure you ask about software licensing fees, implementation costs, hardware upgrades, software maintenance, and other considerations that impact your ROI.
When in Doubt Ask for Help!
Buying a Christmas tree is usually pretty simple, and you probably won’t need a whole lot of advice from friends and neighbours. On the other hand, if you’re trying to find a tree that will perfectly highlight your mid-century modern living room, you might want to talk to other people who fill their homes with 60-year-old kitsch. You could, if money is burning a hole in your pocket, even hire an interior designer.
While I’m too down-to-earth to actually recommend the above, I do tell my ERP clients to get all the objective, independent advice that they can. Many of SYSPRO’s referrals come about when CEOs and CFOs talk to their counterparts in other companies. For some businesses, hiring an ERP consultant can be a real life-saver.