10 Rules for Choosing a Line-Of-Business or ERP System

The following recommendations are intended as independent advice on buying a software solution for your business and are (hopefully) equally true regardless of whether you are looking at a solution from axisfirst!

1. Identify Your Requirements

Any system you buy will almost certainly contain features that you do not need, and as long as you are not paying for an excessive number of them, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Conversely, though, not every system will contain the features that you might assume are standard.

Make a list of the features that you are looking for and categorise them as a) essential b) very desirable and c) of some interest.

2. Involve Your Users

Your choice of system can have major repercussions for all of your staff. It is important, therefore, to involve as many people as is practical in the decision-making process. Staff also tend to be much more positively inclined towards a new system if they have been involved in its selection.

Remember that no system will make life easier for your staff immediately and that patience will be required - it is human nature to prefer what you are used to - until you are used to the new system!

3. Choose a Reputable Supplier

In our experience, many replacement systems are sold to businesses where the previous supplier has either ceased trading or stopped supporting the previous product. Look for a supplier who is both financially secure and has a history of supporting products for as long as possible.

If possible, credit check any potential suppliers.

4. Select Software before Hardware

This is not always possible but if you are in a position of starting with a "green field", don't be diverted by the hardware issue - the days of close correlation between hardware and software have gone.

5. Don't buy a Static System

Make sure you are buying a system with a future because technology will move on, and your requirements will change too. Look for a system that offers support contracts.

If the system you choose requires bespoke modifications, check what will happen with those modifications when it comes time to upgrade to a new level or version.

6. Deal Direct

It is obviously preferable to deal direct with the software authors - but there can also be advantages to dealing with a reseller; such as geography.

If your software of choice is produced by a company many hundreds of miles away, you might be better to deal with a local agent. Ensure, however, that if you are dealing with a reseller, that they can provide the level of service you require. Do they major on this one system or is it one of dozens of similar systems that they sell? Will you deal with them or the authors for support and training?

Regardless of the distance from your supplier, look for someone who will offer on-line support services - if the system is vital to your business, the time that this type of service can save can be vital.

7. Reference Sites

Always ask to contact a reference site - if it comes to a visit, you should decide whether it is better to visit a local user or one who has a similar line of business to yourself. If resources allow, the latter will give you more confidence.

8. Demonstrations

Once you have shortlisted the systems that you are interested in, arrange demonstrations for each. Demonstrations from more than two or three potential suppliers is probably unwarranted if you have been through the shortlisting process correctly.

Involve as many people as possible in the demonstrations and don't expect to learn how the system works during the demonstration - that comes with training later. The purpose of a demonstration is to convince yourself that the system is capable of doing what has been claimed and to get a general "feel" for it.

9. Be Flexible

Unless you are prepared to invest hundreds of thousands (and similar ongoing maintenance costs) in having a system developed for you, you will always need to compromise. This can be a good thing, however, because it makes you look again at your existing business processes.

In business, the worst answer to any question is "because that's the way we've always done it!"

Use a new system as an opportunity to question why you do things the way you do... but, if there is a good reason why you do, the system is going to have to handle it.

10. Cost

It is obviously essential to have a budget, but it is also essential to buy the right product, and not the one that best fits that budget. The costs involved in choosing a system, getting to know that system, and selecting a new system if you get it wrong, far outweigh the cost of any system.

Remember that commercial systems are purchased to provide a benefit - whether that is cost-saving or timesaving (and time equals money anyway) so you should not look at the system as an expense but it terms of the tangible benefits it will offer your business.

You will also need to look at the cost of ownership; not just the cost of software maintenance or support contracts, but also "hidden" costs such as how much will it cost to train up new members of staff (even if this is done within your organization, there is still a cost associated), stationery costs, additional user licences and software enhancements.

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