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How to Search for Software

Two things happen when an organization changes ERP software.

  1. Change itself impacts the organization with upheaval, shakeout and uncertainty.
  2. The new software improves the efficiency of daily operations and provides more information to many processes, for example, customer service, inventory management and purchasing. People become excited when they can provide better customer service or otherwise do a better job than the old system provided for.

A goal of any software change is to realize the new system benefits with minimal uncertainty along the way. The way to get there is to get people involved in the software selection. In the Internet era it only takes a speaker phone and an Internet-connected PC to get a live software demonstration.

Decision Buy In

To determine if a package meets your more detailed requirements, get follow-up demonstrations just for the persons operating those areas. No one knows the business like the people running it. Participating in software demonstrations allows them to become knowledgeable about the available options and to become articulate about expressing the business requirements.

There is no better team to select the new system than the team that will put it to use. As a rule, once implementation begins and routines disrupted people will ask, "Whose crazy idea this was anyway?" The answer that best speeds implementation: "It was ours.".

ROI Components

Like any investment, the measure of success for software replacement is ROI (return on investment). Two indicators for best ROI in enterprise software are lowest TCO (total cost of ownership) combined with the ability to grow the organization without the additional disruption of changing software again.

Lowest TCO

Applications designed around the concepts of SOA (service-oriented architecture) are known to create the lowest TCO and provide for the most flexible adaptation to evolving business processes. The entire system should be integrated by the software author even if some of the modules are from third-party software vendors, for example, an integrated shipping module.

Unacceptably high TCO will be found both where all the modules are from the software author and where a system relies on third-party software not integrated by the software author, for example, a stand-alone shipping package.

Another sign of high TCO is a proprietary environment. A fair question to ask, even if there are other preferences for the server operating system, is, "Will the system run on Linux?" If not, then the system might lock buyers into a single proprietary environment where the vendor can charge the prices they please.

Choice and competition result in lower prices. To minimize TCO select a SOA package not restricted to a proprietary environment.

Room to Grow

A package should meet not just the current functional requirements but also include features on the wish list for potential future implementation. The salary costs associated with manual processes is a component of TCO. To eliminate the growth of manual processes in response to evolving requirements, a software package should fit not just the current requirements but also for the foreseeable future.

Screens provide a quick view into a package's depth of features. Are the screens simple with not much there? Then there is not much there in the software either. Screens loaded with fields the organization will never use might indicate the organization will never grow into the application.

A Track Record of Staying Current

User interfaces come and go. Computers originally offered only print outs. Text screens came next. Windows was fashionable for a time. Today's direction is to web-based, zero-footprint user interfaces that will run on any networked device. The established software packages have been through many of these stages. What is the application's current screen technology and future direction? If not current with technology or heading there, then the application is a poor long-term bet.

Regardless of screen appearance people become experts in their areas of the software within a month of using a new system. But years down the road, will the application be current with the technology of that time? To avoid the disruption of changing software again, select a system a track record of staying current with technology.

Who to Buy From

Another consideration is who will be supporting the software. A company with industry-specific expertise brings the experience of others in the same industry. Ask potential vendors: What percent of your customers are wholesale distributors? The best support will come from the vendors who answer, "One hundred percent."

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