News & Views | Software Selection

News & Views is published monthly by 180 Systems. Our objective is to provide recent articles to our readers on business technology topics. In some cases, our blog contains a title with a hyperlink to a source article, a quote from the article and our comments. In other cases, we have provided a blog without a hyperlink for original content by 180 Systems. We encourage you to post your own comments. You can also access our blog by topic.

What come first – an ERP system (the chicken) or lean management (the egg)?

Business Process Analysis, ERP, Software Selection

Lean management is all about eliminating any waste by identifying each step in a business process and then revising or cutting out non-value added steps. The question is whether this should be done prior to selecting an ERP system. Proponents of doing it first assume that the implementation of an ERP system would be merely improving the automation of the existing process and better to eliminate the waste first. However, this approach (sometimes called repaving the cow paths and extending the chicken and egg analogy) is not best practice. The implementation of an ERP system is the best opportunity to implement lean processes. As well, eliminating waste can often be done efficiently with technology so why design and implement a business process that could potentially be part of an existing ERP system? ERP systems have also evolved and do incorporate lean techniques. But ERP implementers don’t always know enough about Lean to optimize business process. You need to either make sure the implementer can implement Lean methods or find yourself a Lean consultant to help with the implementation. One of our clients recently turned to Focused Improvement Consulting to make sure that lean management is applied to the implementation process.

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2017 ERP Survey

ERP, Software Selection

September 2017 from CPA Magazine – “Welcome once again to our annual vendor survey on enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Every year we have a different theme for the article that accompanies our ERP survey results. This year we decided to look at the fine print in ERP contracts and the good, the bad and the ugly about requests for proposals (RFP) used in software selection….”

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How do you compare a SaaS annual fee to a one-time license fee?

ERP, Software Selection

We have found that on average the one-time (on premise) license fee is 3 times the annual fee based on our experience in evaluating RFP responses from vendors. One might think that the ratio between license and annual fee should be greater but that does not take into account the additional hosted services provided by the SaaS vendors including maintenance fees which are billed annually by on premise vendors at approximately 20% of the license fee. It’s still early days for SaaS and as competition heats up the license ratio:annual fee will increase as SaaS fees are reduced. We recommend that even if the SaaS costs are high that you don’t rule out SaaS vendors just on cost. They are willing to negotiate and there are other factors that should be considered in making a decision.

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Reduce Risk of ERP Implementation Failure: Pre-Contract Business Needs Analysis

Contract Negotiations, ERP, Software Selection

You naturally want to minimize risks and avoid cost overruns before signing a long-term contract for a new ERP system. Your prospective vendor also wants to minimize risk, but is usually not in a position to do anything other than give an implementation estimate based on lots of assumptions about scope, roles and responsibilities. These assumptions could be fairly accurate, but could also be way off, which could lead to surprises and costly change orders during the implementation.  Neither you nor the vendor want this to happen.  Wrong assumptions that lead to change orders will create frustration, friction and could lead to you being an unhappy, non-referenceable client, or even worse, one who wants to abandon the project.

Everyone would prefer to avoid this.  So we encourage you to consider a pre-contract Business Needs Analysis (“BNA”).   A BNA provides the vendor with more detailed information about your environment that it can use to firm up its understanding and provide a fixed fee for the implementation. In the absence of a BNA, this work would normally be done by the vendor during the implementation, after the contract is signed.

The more analysis done in the BNA, the lower the risk. 180 Systems’ approach to the BNA is to identify the requirements that are the most challenging and/or unique and make sure they are clearly understood by the vendors so they can figure out how to handle them in detail before the contract is finalized. Although the vendors charge for their time to complete the BNA process, it is time they would be charging during the implementation anyway, and by doing the work upfront, the risky parts of the implementation can be built into the implementation contract and therefore reduce the likelihood of surprises.

A BNA should include

  • Implementation scope linked to requirements in the RFP
  • Conceptual design with agreed upon design decisions
  • Functional specifications for any requirement requiring customization
  • Statement of Work

The vendors may resist as they would rather just close the deal or are reluctant to assign resources to a client that may not sign a long-term contract. But if the risks are high, both the vendor and the client are protected using the BNA approach.

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Statement of Work (SOW) Stoppers

Contract Negotiations, ERP, Software Selection

The SOW is a key document from your vendor that can make or break the implementation. The vendors will do their best to reduce their risk by limiting scope to a high level list, assuming that you will follow best practices, and making a lot of other assumptions about you doing work that you don’t know or understand the effort to complete. 

As the vendor risks go down, the customer risks go up.  We recommend the following:

  • Scope is tied to the requirements in the RFP which need to be specific
  • Best practices should only be applied to processes that are considered basic.  It should not be tied to ones that allow a company to differentiate themselves from the competition or address critical success factors (what an organization must do well in order to be successful strategically). You should limit the best practices to a few basic processes such as accounts receivable and accounts payable.
  • Ensure you understand what is involved in your roles and responsibilities. Many organizations don’t have the experience or qualifications to do some of the tasks that may be assigned to them without a lot of help from the vendors. An example of this is developing to-be business process documentation.  If you don’t have a resource on your team with the skill set to do this, you may be setting yourself up for a vendor change order.

A good way to limit scope for both the vendor and the customer is by arranging a “paid-for” business needs analysis (BNA) or discovery process prior to signing any long-term contracts. This should not delay the implementation process as it is work that would need to be done anyway. It should also not be a full-blown design phase by the vendors. It should be enough work for the vendors to define scope clearly and provide a fixed or not-to-exceed fee to do the implementation. It will also involve deciding what to do with all the requirements that are not met out-of-the-box by the vendors which include customization or custom reports, 3rd party modules, changing the process and workarounds.

The vendors would rather close the deal without doing the discovery if possible but we think this is short-sighted. In the end, the vendors don’t want unhappy customers and taking this extra step will help reduce the risks of unexpected and costly surprises during the implementation.

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Should you restrict ERP selection to just the major vendors?

ERP, Software Selection

We don’t think so. There are many excellent products built by small companies for specific industries that are worthy of consideration. But there are risks that the vendor will not be around for the long haul. There are a number of ways to evaluate long-term viability:

  • The system is built with old technology that is getting really difficult to support by the boomers ripe for retirement.
  • There is a lack of investment in the system. Ask to see the product roadmap and recent enhancements.
  • The company is not profitable. Private companies will be reluctant to release this but it can be obtained with an NDA late in the selection process. There can be extending circumstances such as the company now offers a subscription fee rather than up-front license fees.
  • There is a lack of good people available for implementation and support. Ask for resumes and meet members of the team.
  • Customers are not so happy with support. Ask for references that can be called or visited in person.
  • The owners are nearing retirement age. Ask them directly about their plans. Systems with a good client base and using recent technology will be purchased and will very likely be maintained and enhanced by the acquiring company who should know better than to alienate new customers. However if the technology is old or not built with industry-standard tools, then who can blame the new vendor from encouraging clients to convert to one of their other systems.

There are also advantages to being a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

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How to get an accurate estimate of ERP implementations costs

ERP, Software Selection

We ask the finalists in our software selection projects for a detailed breakdown of implementation costs by module (g/l, a/r, a/p, purchasing…) and by task (customization, integration, conversion, project management, design…). We provide them with a lot of information to make the estimate possible:

  • detailed requirements
  • business process review which includes process, problems, type of problem, and impact of problem
  • high level process maps
  • access to our client to get the tour and ask whatever questions are needed

The finalists are asked to demonstrate a prototype of the to-be business process allowing them to validate assumptions. But sometimes, even with all this information, the vendors still can’t nail down the costs because of the unknowns. We then ask the vendors to conduct a paid-for consulting assignment to do some of the work they would have done in the design phase to arrive at more accurate numbers prior to signing a long-term contract.

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ERP Cost Estimates

Business Case, Contract Negotiations, ERP, Software Selection

Buyer beware when estimating the costs of an ERP implementation. There are so many unknowns that make it really tough to avoid unpleasant surprises. The vendors are very reluctant to fix price anything when it comes to the services required because of the many unknowns – scope of work, who does what, capabilities and available time of buyer resources…. It’s especially difficult for the vendors in the early stages of the selection process. At the same time, the buyers want to have a decent ball park of costs before pursuing a potential solution.

But there are guidelines that will help. When it comes to license or annual fees, it’s fairly easy to come up with a number as it’s based on number of users and high level scope. You should be using a rule of thumb for the implementation services which can be estimated as a ratio of implementation to license fees as follows:

  • 1:1 for a straight forward implementation with relatively simple requirements
  • 1:5:1 for an implementation with some complexity of requirements and little or no customization
  • 2:1 for an implementation with a lot of complex requirements and some customization
  • 3:1 for an implementation with a lot of complex requirements as well as a lot of customization

Other costs to consider:

  • Maintenance – the vendors will provide a % but make sure that it includes adequate levels of support. The vendors have been pushing their maintenance %’s ever higher despite the competition. Assume at least 20%.
  • Travel – it can be as high as 15% of implementation fees
  • Upgrade fees – many systems that are installed on premise or on private clouds will have upgrade costs every few years which should be a small % of the implementation fees.
  • Internal costs – you need to know who will be involved and the extent of their time as well as their approximate cost to the company
  • Legal fees
  • Infrastructure changes – you need to get an idea of the recommended infrastructure for the new system and what it will cost to acquire and install it.
  • Consultant fees – you may want some coaching services from a company like 180 Systems.
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Would you select an ERP (or any) system from a small vendor?

ERP, Software Selection

We include small vendors in our system selection projects but only when we believe that they have a good client base, are really good for a specific industry and are using recent technology. A small company can also be a successful company and there are benefits to being a bigger fish in a smaller pond. You will see lots of small/unknown companies on our ERP portal at http://www.180systems.com/portals/erp/.

But what about the concern that a small vendor will be acquired or if the small vendor is facing financial difficulties?  Financial problems may be temporary – for example the vendor might have just rewritten their software to support multi-tenant architecture which is a big change supporting cloud computing. As a consequence, development costs may have gone up and their revenues have gone down as they are recognizing revenue over a longer period of time. However even if the small vendor is ripe for acquisition, it would be a big mistake for the acquiring company to abandon the system when there are many happy clients and the system has a strong/current underling technology.

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Murphy’s Law

ERP, Software Selection

Murphy’s Law is alive and well thanks to ERP implementations. The problems that often arise can be avoided and/or the impact reduced by good planning in advance and strong project management. Here are a few ways to fight Murphy:

  1. Ensure you have the right people (your A team) on the project and enough of their time is allocated to the project. Some key operational team members will need to be backfilled on their day jobs.  Talk to people who have gone through an implementation to get a sense of the time needed.
  2. Ensure the implementation plan proposed by the vendor is adequate. Get each vendor to break out their implementation project into the major tasks and compare them for variances. You may find that one vendor may have low balled one of the tasks such as training.
  3. During contract negotiations, clearly define the scope and the link the contract to the RFP requirements.  Ensure that all requirements are thoroughly discussed and understood.
  4. If  you are taking on the responsibility of creating custom reports, ensure you have someone on the team that has the experience to develop and deliver these reports.
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