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The bumpy road to implementing an ERP package -- Part 1 expert Dwight Beech describes the process his team followed for selecting an ERP package.

There was a little ERP in the system. Sounds like a line in a movie or "Houston, we have a problem." Doesn't it? Indeed, the process of selecting an ERP could be described as problematic.

Over the past year I have been heavily involved in the search for a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) package. While that may seem very exciting, thanks to all the hoopla that goes with it from ERP vendors, I'm here to tell you that it isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

The process actually started three years ago. Our company realized that the applications being used were becoming archaic, were not user-friendly, and required a lot of work to maintain (upgrades, maintenance costs with no increased functionality, etc.).

Dwight Beech

After a year of reviewing applications and business processes critical to the company, we decided to look at only the big vendors. We all know who they are, even though as I write this the number is dwindling from four, maybe to three, and now maybe just two.

The process involved sending the vendors a list of our ERP requirements from all facets of our business. They replied with their best sales pitches, glossies, documentation, etc. Eventually we invited them back to come give one-week demos. Yes, we sat through three weeks of software demos, and the sales teams from each company said they could do it all. The other famous line was, "We'll get back to you on this." All of us can attest to the fact that do they rarely get back to you. To give credit, though, some did and were very good with their answers. The others, however, didn't bother.

The joke that always comes back to me is this one:

Q: What's the difference between a car salesman and a software salesman?
A: A car salesman knows when he's lying.

Once the number of vendors was narrowed down to two, the vendors began jockeying for position. That meant endless meetings, phone calls, more phone calls, reference phone calls, contract talks, contract reviews, more contract reviews, technical reviews, more technical reviews, and the list goes on. After that came the reference site visits where the vendor lined our ERP team up with actual users of the applications. This is where the rubber really hits the road: You finally get face to face with someone who actually uses the application. The truth is finally out, and when you think back to the demos you really wonder what sales team was trying to tell you.

Once the reference site visits were completed, we could finally make a decision. We had selected the largest ERP vendor for our company, and we all felt like we had been through the ringer.

At the time it felt like selecting the software was the hardest part, but little did we know the road was about to get rougher. Now the real work has begun. We are into a design phase, reviewing all business unit processes and trying to map them to the ERP's processes to determine fit/gap.

Life seemed so much easier when I was working on the AS/400 and programming in RPG. I'll miss the AS/400's GUI (green user interface) as we move into the object-oriented world of endless TLAs (three-letter acronyms) and FLAs (four-letter acronyms).

We haven't gotten rid of the AS/400 yet. It will still be around while we make this transition, and I'll be sure to enjoy it to its fullest while it's still here. At the same time, however, I look forward to learning new programming concepts, hardware, software and methodologies. One thing that's clear is that if you want to stay in today's IT workforce, you have to be flexible and willing to expand your skills.

In coming months I'll tell you all about the next phases of this project, including problems we encountered and how we resolved them.

About the author: Dwight is superintendent, application support, at Cameco Corp. in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, where he manages the operation of the application support group supporting 35 business applications.


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