Observations From An ERP Buyer's Experience

  • September 17, 2014
  • Feature

By David J. Bush, C.P.I.M

During the years of 2010-2012, my employer began to struggle with the realization that our 15-year old ERP system was antiquated and not about to be upgraded anytime soon, if ever.  The original owners of the package had done an amazing job, creating a package that had, at one time, been way ahead of its time and the competition. 

We had used that original system and customized it to the point that it handled all of our business issues very well. However, the ERP software company had been sold and re-sold several times and the new ownership made it very clear that they were not interested in updating it, even its continued support was in doubt. 

So, in early 2012, we began an earnest search for a replacement, sure of the fact that, in all those years, great strides must have been made that would enable us to quickly decide on a new ERP package that could handle the needs of our electronics industry(PCB Board Assemblies) demands. We were in for a big and disappointing surprise.

The Search Begins              

Finding ERP candidates to check out was not an issue. The company that now owned our old ERP system, for example, had several candidates and, once our search became public knowledge, other enterprise resource planning companies contacted us in droves, all promising they had "the" solution to our problems and asking for "face to face" demo time. Several companies asked for this before they even knew the business we were in… displaying great confidence in their products, but little regard for our knowledge of our own industry’s special requirements. It became clear very quickly that our search would be far more difficult than we first believed.  With so many choices, all requiring a lot of our time to investigate, how would we narrow down the field to the few candidates that really did have a shot? 

Our first "weeding out" decision was that we would not consider any company that did not insist on a business mapping session prior to demonstrating their product. Right or wrong, we felt that it would be very difficult to work with any ERP vendors that believed they had all the answers before they knew our questions!  As a result, we dismissed many packages simply based on our concern that they didn't care to learn our needs. That quickly narrowed down the field to five or six contenders.

Once we had narrowed the field, we then began scheduling time with the remaining ERP vendors. We found that the quality of their business mapping sessions varied greatly. Two of the five had very strict agendas that allowed for little if any, input from us, other than answering their pre-determined questions. Their rigidity made us very nervous and was asked to go to the next phase. 

The three ERP providers left proved very good at making us feel like our input mattered a lot to them. They all took notes and were honest about what their packages could handle out of the box and what would probably require additional programming. However, one of the three tried very hard to convince us that their method of handling some of our important work was better than our current methods and that didn’t sit well with the team. Not that we were against change but we needed to be convinced change was necessary and we’d be better off in the end. Ultimately, we felt they were showing an arrogance that  upset us. So, after several months of meetings, surveys, videos and demos, we narrowed the field down to the final two. 

Coming to a Solution

Both companies scheduled full demo’s of their enterprise resource planning system, using our data as a base. We provided two months for this part of the process and were open with both companies about who they were competing against. We believed that being open provided the best way for our choices to point out the weaknesses of their competition, which they both did. 

They both presented their ERP solutions for areas where their package did not fully satisfy our needs and asked many questions about how our current package handled these items. We liked that very much; it showed us they really were interested in satisfying our needs and that they recognized we were not fools who could be steamrolled into making a decision.          

One of the two companies made the mistake of constantly talking price because they were a cheaper solution than their competitor, but did the job better and quicker.  We were not impressed. 

The final straw was when we asked for references. Both of these companies had hundreds (if not thousands) of customers. The one we finally chose was able to give us over 50 references for customers in our general field of manufacturing while the other vendor only provided five.  We called EVERY ONE and made our decision by choosing the company that provided the most references and after the majority of those references gave glowing reports on their caring attitude, attentiveness to their needs, training and consulting issues, enhancements and support. Our time-line for the implementation was six to nine months from the day we signed the contract.

A Quick Checklist  

            The main things that either drew us to an ERP vendor or pushed us from one included:

1.    Demonstrating that they really wanted to know who we were and what we did BEFORE presenting solutions.

2.    Being totally honest about what their solution could and could not do out of the box. We knew going in that nobody did everything we needed or wanted so when some told us they did, we felt they were dishonest and would not look at them any further. 

3.    Price is not the most important consideration. If the vendor made too big an issue of it, we were pushed away from them. Price is, of course, important but it was never the most important thing. 

4.    Let us see what you have and let us "play" with it for an extended time with your help.  Some refused to do that without a paid contract, and that was the end for them. 

5.    Treat us like the experts we are in our field, showing that you can learn from us just as we can learn from you.


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