ERP Selection Criteria For Consulting Firms
The Paradigm Shift with Project-ERP
Technology alone is not going to change the culture of your consulting firm or drive growth, but over time it will provide the infrastructure to do both of those things. Moving from fractured systems and basic accounting software to a comprehensive ERP solution requires a paradigm shift. The good news is that this shift is not just possible, it’s easier than you think. If you aren’t having the ERP conversation yet, it’s time to talk project based ERP.
In part 1 “How to Select an ERP System for Your Consulting Firm”, we talked about ERP Features and Functionality and Choosing a Partnership as key areas for consideration. Here we explore three more important ERP Selection Criteria for consulting firms to consider in the evaluation: ERP Innovation, Implementation, and Customer Service.
#3 ERP Innovation
Provocative articles and white papers that speak to your specific challenges are a great barometer to judge whether a solution provider truly has your industry’s best interests at heart. Think of it this way, thought leadership is a building block for future innovation. Trust me, you WANT innovation in your partner.
The product that you buy and implement today is only the beginning. You are really buying future innovation.
Take note during the demo process. How do they react when you ask about a feature that doesn’t exist yet? Are they receptive? Is the feature already on their radar? Ask questions about the ERP software release process to get a sense of how quickly bugs are addressed and what the upgrade cycle is and how it works.
Innovation in the product is certainly important, but innovation in infrastructure is just as valuable in ERP selection. You want a cloud computing leader when you move your information into their infrastructure. You want them to be experts, so you don’t have to be.
#4 ERP Implementation
In my experience, implementing the ERP solution feels like an afterthought when you are deep in the evaluation process surrounded by sales people. In reality, implementation takes the solution out of the box and makes it a practical tool that you can’t live without. Instead of thinking about implementation last, make it part of the ERP selection process.
Implementation can be the differentiating factor between two, otherwise equal, solutions. That being said, don’t ever expect plug and play from a solid project based ERP solution. Do expect implementation experts that are willing to understand your business processes and assist you every step of the way. Listen for honest assessments of how long the ERP implementation will take and whether your consulting firm will need customization to build the solution out. Think long and hard about integrations (with an external CRM, HRIS, etc.) and discuss these with the sales team and implementation consultants up front.
Implementation will take the solution out of the box and make it a practical tool that your firm cannot live without.
Everyone has heard ERP horror stories (I’ve lived through some), but in my experience the real horror happens when implementation is not grounded in strong processes. Whether you opt to use the services provided by your solution provider or the services of an implementation partner, take the time to vet those services well. The work you did to understand your business needs will start to pay off immediately when you can speak in great detail about what you need to get out of the new ERP solution you’ve chosen.
Be clear about your goals when you start to talk about implementation and understand the difference between configuration and customization. Think of it this way, configuration could be a simple setting that exists out of the box that you can turn on or off. Customization does not exist in the system and may require coding to execute. The more you have to customize, the more expensive and time consuming your implementation will be. Beware of product demos that show you features and functionality that are not available out of the box! This can make a seemingly less expensive product a money pit during implementation (and after).
#5 Customer Service
Once the sale is completed and the solution is implemented, you will be in the hands of the customer service team. This is the team that will provide day-to-day support when something goes wrong or when you want to explore new modules. Do not underestimate the importance of this relationship. You may have a fantastic sales representative, but if the company is not able to provide truly awesome customer service you will regret your decision quickly.
Once the sale is completed and the solution is implemented, you will be in the hands of the customer service team.
Whatever the solution provider calls this team (Support, Helpdesk, Account Management, or Customer Care, make sure you spend time asking questions about how you will receive support once the solution is live. If you haven’t been through an ERP implementation before, let me share the ugly truth; things will go wrong. Plan for that eventuality from the start and know how your partner will take care of you, for better or worse.
Ask how long it takes support to answer emails, respond, and resolve issues. Do they have a good bedside manner? Will they take good care of you and ensure that your solution runs smoothly? The references you speak to should be able to give you first-hand experience. If you find they can’t, request additional references that will be able to provide detailed insights.
Selecting a new ERP (or migrating from an outdated solution) is a huge undertaking. Focusing your efforts on Features and Functionality, Choosing a Partnership, Innovation, Implementation, and Customer Service will provide the building blocks to make the best possible decision.
For more information, take a look at some of our other resources:
- Deltek for Professional Services is Changing the Way Consulting Firms Work. Watch one – or the full webinar series.
- New to Professional Services Automation – or want to learn more about it? Download your free copy of the Professional Services Automation for Dummies eBook.
- Read part 1 of this blog series “How to Select an ERP System for Your Consulting Firm”
About the Author
Amy Champigny spent more than 15 years working in finance and accounting and most recently she served as Director of Finance for a management consulting group. In 2015 Amy implemented a Deltek ERP and transformed the finance function in her firm.
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