Friday, April 20, 2012

Determining the Need for a Trusted Advisor

Budgets are tight and the challenges continue.  You cannot avoid being involved in a technology project, particularly one the will involve reviewing, testing, and evaluating an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution.  It just cannot not be done without your participation. 

Really, would you really want to rip out your existing system over a weekend and come in the next week with an entirely new system?

However, do you have the time or would you really want to attempt an organizational change that an ERP solution promises without any help?

Start with a relationship with a Trusted Advisor. 

First challenge, find the advisor.  Perhaps you already have one.  Perhaps you have one in another area of your business.  If you have an existing relationship, start the conversation with that person to see if they have the time, resources, and capability to help you with your search.  If not they may be able to refer you to someone else or at least help you to find someone else.  If they cannot do this, then what type of advisor are they?  Maybe that is why you are reading this article now.

People do business with people they like and are like themselves.

So what should a trusted advisor do? 

Start with questions to find out the exact business requirements of a new system.  What is working now?  What is not working?  Why are you looking?  Perhaps you just need to be able to utilize your existing system more effectively.  Would a new training program fill the gaps?  What is your competition doing?  Where do you foresee challenges in the next five years?  Will these be growth years?

In any case the initial facts gathered should be from the source.  Too much can be lost in translation.  Most of us remember the exercise in grade school where the teacher starts with a simple sentence on one side of the classroom and each student must relay the message to the next.  By the time you get to the other end of the class, you have a whole different story.

An advisor should qualify your budget. 

Do you have monies allocated in your current budget for a project like this?  What about money for the advisor?  A ballpark figure should be calculated so that you can determine if it is even going to be possible to address your challenges this year.  You at least want to get a number range to your Finance Department for next year’s budget review.  You may be able to break down the project into smaller pieces.  For example, advisor analysis, needs assessment, project implementation.  Will you need monies for a new purchase or lease agreement.  What are some industry averages for your type of project? 

Will the solution be hosted in the Cloud or on-premise?  This changes the amount of initial outlay and ongoing expenditures.  Capital expense or Operational expense?  Regardless, which solution addresses your operational and disaster recovery needs best?

Most ERP solutions can be broken down into pieces.  Software, Hardware, and Implementation (conversion and training).  There are typically initial license fees and purchases/leases, then annual maintenance.  Licenses can be flat fees, user based (concurrent or named users), or processor based to name a few common methods.  The annual maintenance may or may not be required, but should not be avoided.  You will need support, especially in the first year as you implement the system.

Who is the single person that can say no to this project even after everyone else has said yes?

Once you have a good idea of what you are trying to fix and have an idea of budget range, you need to indentify the key decision makers and secondary influencers.    What departments are affected?  What supplier relationships are affected?  How will your customers and their needs be addressed?  You remember your customers?  They are the ultimate source you should be concerned with.  No customer service improvement, then there might not be a reason to continue.

As your advisor progresses with the requirements you and he/she can start the selection process. 

There are too many choices today, they have to be narrowed down to at most five.  These five may not even end up being the finalists.  Sometimes you may need to start again, however a good advisor should be able to minimize this from happening.  Often you do not know what you do not know until you get knee deep in the selection process and realize there are other challenges.  This is where the advisor saves you time and money by finding out the real needs up front.  This is why this process is worth the investment and is budget wise.                           

Remember there are tiered solutions.  Tier-1 solutions are for “big” businesses, Tier-2 solutions are for the mid market.  Some extend to the small-mid size market (SMB).  Smaller businesses have similar challenges, but often lack the financial and manpower resources to find effective ERP solutions, but there are still a great number of comprehensive small business applications available.  The point is that the solution no matter how nice has to match your organization.  You do not want  to end up hiring a large staff just to support the system and its processes. 

You can tell a lot about a company by the type of presentation they give initially.

Too many companies come to the front door ready to give you a feature rich demo with all the bells and whistles.  You might waste a lot of time here if you get caught up in the process.  It is an early warning system that they have not done their own investigative research or invested the time with your advisor to determine your needs and if there is a good match between your challenges and their solution. 

Besides communication or equipment issues, why would you ever see a bad demo?  They already know what their system can and cannot do.

A slide show is pretty with the nice transitions and well rehearsed dissertation.  A workshop demonstration is a better way to start.  Have an initial meet and greet.  Get to know one another and the companies represented.  Gather the requirements and budget and then come back to have a functional demonstration that addresses your challenges. 

Do not get me wrong here.  A high level overview that precedes the detail look may help you get a sense of application navigation and the Look & Feel of the solution is a good idea.  It is a benchmark you can use to see if the software matches your organizations culture.  In the end though, you need to see, feel and hear how this solution addresses your challenges.  There will be time later to have additional detailed departmental reviews.  The detail review is where potential modifications are indentified.

Does your prospective solution provider have a case study or success client that you can meet with to get an objective appraisal of the solution, the challenges they faced and their general happiness.  If you are the first of you industry type to be serviced by this solution provider, then you need to make sure they have the resources to address your needs.  Who will be responsible for the customization of their system they hope to tailor for your unique needs?  Is there any other company out there that does what you are doing?  How are they addressing the same challenges you have?

Realize that you have a responsibility too.  In selecting an advisor you should not be trying to get free consulting.  Their time is as valuable as yours.  Most people with give you an initial meeting to see if there are synergies.  You just do not want to abuse that relationship.   You want and need them as an advocate, not someone resenting the relationship looking for the quickest way out.

There needs to be give and take.  Define the parameters, but be flexible.

Remember a trusted advisor is your advocate.  Dolvin Consulting is an advocate for Manufacturers, Distributors and Specialty Retailers.  We help you navigate the constant flux in technology with our industry knowledge and partnerships. 

We do not know who you are, so contact us today to see if we can help you.  There is no obligation.  It is just one phone call.

No comments:

Post a Comment