Why Selecting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software Is Like Planning Your Wedding

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I never thought I’d ever make an analogy such as this, but as we head into spring (the season of change—and love in bloom), I figured, "what the heck"…

When you really think about it, selecting ERP software does have many similarities to planning a wedding—right down to the uncertainty of whether or not you’ve chosen the right solution or, in the case of your wedding, partner to spend a lifetime with. While I’m hoping that your marriage lasts longer than your software solution does, I’m also hoping that the solution you’ll choose will last your business well into the future.

Now let’s get to planning that ERP software selection shall we?

The Research Phase: What and Who Needs to be Included?

To begin your research, you’ll need to define your objectives. Doing so will help you figure out just why you needed to look for a solution (oops, there’s that word again) in the first place.

Identifying your stakeholders and subject matter experts

There will always be people within your enterprise that will need to be included in the project. These are your stakeholders and subject matter experts. And just like the good “mother- or father-in-law-to-be”, your stakeholders have a deep interest in the project and will want to make sure that all of the organization’s best interests are being considered. After all, if you don’t get their buy-in now, they’ll certainly make your life difficult long after the implementation (uh,...wedding) is over.

Making your list of requirements

Just like a wedding, software selection takes a lot of research and preparation. The first thing I did when I started planning my wedding was make a checklist. Having a list of all your requirements will help you to be sure you haven't forgotten anything. To help you get started on your software selection, I suggest using one of Technology Evaluation Center's (TECs) RFP templates. Our RFP templates provide an extensive list of all the features and functions of a variety of software. This is criterion that should be considered before you start your research.

Here are some of the basic requirements you should think about:

Your Wedding/Your Enterprise Software Selection

  • the dress/the tux out-of-the-box vs. integrated

  • the flowers/the features

  • the bridesmaids or groomsmen /the type of support you’ll require

  • the church /the functions

The Evaluation Phase: Trying it on for Size

Finding the right ERP solution takes time—and you’ll want to make the right choice the first time. And like your husband- or wife-to-be, you can’t just pick the first one that comes along.

The solution has to be the right fit. Don’t turn your enterprise software selection into a shotgun wedding (so to speak) by taking the first solution that looks good and because you’ve got a tight deadline and the executives is breathing down your neck.

The decision matrix

In a wedding, this is the part where the families get involved; all putting their two cents in because they feel they know more than you do. In software selection terms, this means taking the list of all your requirements, as well as your vendor responses to those requirements, and turning them into a decision model (or matrix). Once that has been done, you’ll be able to see how they stack up to the other vendor's products.

Analyzing, rating, assessing, ranking

Your wedding day is one of the biggest days of your life—and at the office, so might be your software implementation. So to make sure your wedding/software implementation goes as planned, you’ll want to analyze and rank your choices to be sure you choose the ERP solution that best fits your needs. Whether it’s trying on dresses or tuxes (the functions), sampling the food (features), or auditioning the wedding bands (the type of support you’ll require), there will always be one that suits you best.

Validating, verifying your choice

Just because the vendor passed the test doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find out how other companies felt about its product and services. This is where you’ll want to request references. Talk to other organizations that purchased the same product. For your wedding, this is the part where you talk to every one of your married friends to ask “Who did your dress, decorations, and flowers, and would you recommend them”?

Notifying rejected solution providers and handling disputes

It’s important throughout the software selection process to maintain good business practices, even if you are rejecting a vendor’s proposed solution. If a vendor doesn’t make the cut, you need to tell them why. You can call them directly and speak with one of their representatives, or you can provide the vendor, in writing, with a detailed list of your reasons.

There are times when vendors may not handle your rejections very well. They’ll give you every reason in the book as to why you should reconsider their product. While you should take into account the information that your research has given you, rejected vendors still deserve to know the reasons why their solution was not considered. Whatever the reasons are, you should let them know—and stand behind your decision.

While this works for your software selection, rejecting—for example—your wedding band, does not need to be as formal. You certainly wouldn’t want anything to mess up your big day, so tell it like it is…”your band sucks, so we won’t be needing you thanks”.

The Selection Phase: There’s no Turning Back

The demo script/the dress rehearsal

For software selection, developing a demo script and inviting vendors to conduct a product demo is an extremely important part of the process. This is just like the dress rehearsal for your wedding, which allows you to see how smoothly things will go on the big day.

Revisiting the analysis

So how was the dress rehearsal? Did everything go as planned? You’ve probably made some notes and are still asking yourself some important questions, like...

• Have you thought about everything?
• Are there any further questions you need to ask?
• Are there any details you need to clarify?

I’m hoping that if you’ve done your homework—and used an online selection tool to help you out—that you’ll have chosen the right ERP solution for your businesses needs. After all, I wouldn’t want you to have gone through all that time and trouble, only to be “left standing at the alter”.

The Implementation Phase: The Big Day is Approaching

Negotiating the contract...prenup anyone?

So, before you sign on the dotted line, are there any other details you need to discuss? You’ll want to make sure that the long-term relationship that you are about to embark on is all legal and binding. But just like a prenuptial agreement, there may be certain stipulations that will need to be worked out with your solution provider first.

  • initial costs (the wedding)

  • support costs (taking care of your monetary needs—like with a few hundred bucks to spend at the mall)

  • maintenance charges (taking care of your needs in general—like with a nice foot massage or some flowers)

  • installation charges (buying the house)

  • training costs (making sure he/she knows how things should be done around the house)

  • hidden costs (hmm,…that list could go on forever)

  • possible discounts (not likely to happen with a partner; what you see is what you get)

Obtaining executive approval

At a wedding ceremony, the minister/priest always asks “who gives this bride?” This is the church’s way of obtaining “executive approval” of the union. In a software selection project, that approval comes from your executives (e.g., the CEO or CTO). Once you’ve gotten their approval on the software you’ve chosen and why (costs and all that extra stuff considered), you’re good to go!

Planning for implementation

Now that the negotiations are over and you've gotten executive approval, it’s time to get ready for the implementation. Think of this as “moving in together”. After all the time, effort—and money—spent on your software selection project, it’s time for the real test. How will it go? Will your new ERP solution work out? Do you feel you’ve chosen wisely?

Installation and configuration (or migration)

Setting up house as a newlywed can be lots of fun, but it definitely has its challenges. Where do you want this lamp? Which side of the closet do you want? Can I get rid of this old lounge chair? And likewise, in software installation and configuration, this is where all the knitty-gritty details get sorted out.

“Go Live” (all set up and away you go)

Day one of the big move! So far so good? Was it everything you hoped it would be?

The Maintenance and Management Phase: The Years to Come

User support (to support one another…to love, honor, yadda, yadda, yadda)

During the courtship (the research, evaluation, and selection phases), the software vendor has been at your beck and call, but now that you’ve signed on the dotted line, its promises of support and a long lasting relationship may have dwindled. Is the honeymoon is over?

How can you be sure to not get caught in this type of situation? Because TEC focuses on acquiring complete documentation from vendors, we ensure total auditability and a trail of vendor proposals. TEC’s ERP evaluation center, includes all of a vendor's product information—ensuring that your software selection is as comprehensive as it can be.

Sorry, we can’t guarantee the same results for your new husband or wife.

Adding licenses (is like having kids)

So you’ve been working with your new ERP solution for awhile, and it’s going really well. Your business is growing and you’ve hired some more employees. Is your new system up for the task of adding more users? Is it robust enough for a major expansion? Think of it as having kids. They need to be taken care of, right? The bigger your brood, the more toys—and space—you’ll require.

Happily ever after?

Let’s hope…

If you do your research and get some help by using TEC’s online products and services, you and your software solution stand a much better chance of still being smitten with each other for many years to come (until that corporate retirement package kicks in).

While the preceding text covers many of the steps that should be taken to conduct an ideal software selection, it should not be considered an exhaustive list. The points that I have touched on above are merely steps of the software selection process (with a focus on ERP) that I found similar to planning a wedding, which (for all intents and purposes) helped to make this blog post slightly more entertaining.
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