In order to narrow down the choices for an ERP software solution for your manufacturing company, it’s beneficial to utilize planning and forethought to reduce vendor confusion among your various ERP options. Due to the amount of time and effort companies spend on ERP discovery and product demonstration, effective preparation is recommended to provide maximum value and reduce the blurring of vendors during your search. Carefully planning your ERP demo assures that your company’s needs are met, your questions are answered and all requested information is available to facilitate a well-educated ERP selection.
While it may seem overwhelming to sort through prospective software providers, approaching the process with proper care helps ensure that you select an ERP solution and/or vendor that is the right fit for your business. An improper fit can prove to be costly and time-consuming, requiring workarounds and customization to compensate for the ERP’s shortfalls. By systematically addressing the discovery and demo stages, you’ll get the information needed to compare and contrast ERP solutions effectively to make the best decision.
This is done by keeping in mind that while ERP software vendors can claim they excel in all areas, independently researching their claims is advised. When properly handled, the discovery and ERP demo help determine the solution that works best for your business, as well as identify any gaps.
Helpful Tips to Get Started
As you begin your ERP project, it’s important to bear in mind that the ERP discovery and demo process is time-consuming. While time investment varies based on each company’s needs, it’s advised to communicate with prospective vendors regarding the timeframe that works best to allow for effective analysis of relevant features of the ERP system.
When scheduling, take into account your team’s availability and the amount of time required by the vendor to effectively demonstrate the software. Consistent attendance by company stakeholders is a must, requiring scheduling flexibility by department heads throughout the demonstration. In addition, allowing ample time for follow-up questions, drill-down demos on specific features and review of pertinent information is also important.
Due to the involvement of multiple vendors over an extended period, it is necessary to keep accurate notes to ensure that key points don’t get lost over time. Utilizing a measurable scoring methodology helps manage expectations and allows stakeholders to provide feedback regarding their thoughts. Specific selection criteria should be shared with all company evaluators and the ERP vendor as well – including specific feature requirements, budget, platform and other criteria determined by the selection team. Remember, your organizational stakeholders and department heads will be the most proficient at evaluating which vendors are the best fit for your company’s unique culture, requirements and processes.
Keep in mind the importance of comparing “apples to apples” as you analyze multiple vendors – making sure that vendors’ software solutions are designed to fit with the size and type of your company. In addition, work to ensure that the vendors narrowed down for an ERP demo understand your needs and the value of building vendor-client relationships. Lastly, open dialogue should occur from the beginning to the end of the selection project to ensure all areas are addressed.
ERP Demo Best Practices
The following best practices will help eliminate the confusion that can occur when reviewing multiple vendors, allowing for more clarity in making your final ERP selection.
1. Discovery Processes
As you begin discovery, the process should address the reasons why your organization needs ERP and the benefits it can provide your company. Are there key processes of your business that are time-consuming or inefficient? Do you employ manual methods such as whiteboards for scheduling or pen-and-paper inventory counts?
Members of the leadership team should conduct a careful and critical examination of each department’s needs, the challenges the company is experiencing and necessary features to improve operations. These should be the foundation that underlies your search for an ERP solution that meets your company’s requirements as a whole.
In order to objectively determine the differences between ERP vendors and make an informed decision, you’ll need a way to rank vendor capabilities and their potential impact on operations. A common method for accomplishing this is utilizing a Request for Proposal (RFP) whereby your critical needs are prioritized and scored in order to compare capabilities to other ERP solutions. While it is not necessary to use an RFP, its methodology can provide distinct advantages.
Whether you utilize an RFP or opt to forgo one, identifying your company’s top five to 10 key business needs and any requirements unique to your operation is imperative. These requirements should be clearly communicated to potential ERP vendors to ensure that each feature is properly covered in the demonstration phase. It is beneficial to be transparent regarding other ERP software vendors being considered, as this provides the opportunity to highlight the features that differentiate themselves from their competitors. Company stakeholders should maintain an evaluation scorecard throughout the process to keep ERP expectations in mind, document impressions and assess software functionality.
Before an ERP demo occurs, an important part of the selection process is the onsite discovery visit which consists of a detailed tour of your facility, meetings with key department stakeholders and the selection committee, and a review of the five to 10 critical needs for an ERP solution. Caution should be taken if a prospective vendor is not interested in the discovery process or visiting your facility, as it is critical for communicating your unique manufacturing and operating requirements as well as fostering early relationships. The discovery visit provides the best method to communicate what your organization is looking for and what you expect of the vendor that you partner with, providing a way to find the right fit for your company.
2. Demo Prep
Ideally, narrowing the demo prospects to three ERP vendors helps eliminate vendor blur and keeps you from overwhelming the ERP selection team. This short list should include vendors that have options within your price range, offer the features you are looking for, are designed for the size and scope of your company, and have scored highly by your evaluation method.
Per request, provide prospective vendors with a data sampling (e.g. bill of materials (BOM), recipes, production notes, etc.) to enable them to perform personalized transactions during an interactive software demo. Communicate with the vendor beforehand to discuss specific points you want to address, as well as perceived functionality gaps, so clarification can be incorporated in your personalized demonstration. Provide a list of questions in advance of the scheduled demo as well, while at the same time reserving the right to ask questions during the presentation or at designated times to ensure all areas are covered. It is necessary to take detailed notes during the software demonstration to effectively evaluate the differences among vendors without confusing each software’s functionality and uniqueness.
As a critical part of the selection process, a full ERP demo should take you through a day in the life of your company, detailing order entry, purchasing, bill of material/formula management, manufacturing, quality control, accounting and other organizationally relevant features. This level of detail requires a time commitment, and your company should set aside approximately eight hours to get a complete picture of an ERP’s capabilities. This time frame can be one eight-hour day or broken up into two four-hour days depending on what works best for your organization. Keep in mind that the format should be the same for each vendor to make the comparison easier.
This detailed software demonstration provides your company with the information needed to compare and contrast solution options – focusing on your organization’s needs and expectations of a new ERP system. Handled properly, each vendor will effectively demonstrate how their software will work for your operation, highlighting the strengths of their solution and their certified solution offerings.
4. Post-Demo Assessment
Following the ERP demo, the selection committee should meet to summarize the demonstration, determine takeaway points and compile additional questions that may have come up following the presentation. It may be determined that a part of the demonstration should be repeated for further explanation – requiring additional time to complete evaluation. After any necessary secondary demonstrations are completed, the team should review software performance and functionality indicated by scorecard rankings, as well as your overall perception of vendor capability. After all of the material is compiled, the selection team should have the information needed to make an informed purchasing decision to make the right selection for your company’s unique culture, requirements and processes.
In the search for an ERP solution, confusion among vendors oftentimes occurs due to the overwhelming amount of information presented throughout the process. By applying best practices of effective planning, open communication and standardized scoring methodology in the discovery and product demonstration portions of the search, vendor blur can be minimized in making the best ERP selection decision for your company.
About the Author
Daniel has been with ProcessPro since 1999. As ProcessPro Product Strategy Manager, Daniel focuses on driving overall market success by ensuring products meet both current and future market demands. Leveraging his extensive understanding of process manufacturing, the unique business trends of this industry and information gathered from market analysis, customer feedback and regulatory compliance, he drives product decisions. Daniel has a passion for connecting the benefits of ProcessPro’s ERP solution and analytics software packages to batch process manufacturers and helping to effectively solve their key business challenges.