Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have come a long way since the creation of the concept in the 1960s by IBM and J. I. Case, a manufacturer of tractors and construction machinery. Today, there's a broad range of solutions for large, midsize, and even small businesses and organizations. With so many choices, you need to conduct thorough research before making your decision. The payoff is significant: The right business management solution can help you gain faster return on investment, and help you slash other costs. But a solution that's not a good fit can be expensive, difficult for your people to learn, run, and maintain, and may not give you the results you want.
Break it up: Let research be a team effort
By this stage, you've more than likely identified your goals and the people across your organization who have a stake in your technology investment and can assist with selection. All the stakeholders and participants in the business management solution selection process should share an understanding of the business issues you want to address. Consider forming a task force, asking stakeholders and decisions makers to share in the research, and then divide the workload according to areas of focus to help you get it done in a reasonable timeframe.
Resources for research: Helpful Web sites, events, books, articles
Here are a few sources offering interesting and helpful information to assist in your research. Keep in mind that authors typically draft content in books a year or longer before publication, so some of the content may be dated while the ideas can still be excellent. Web sites may be updated frequently, but often reflect the view of one person or organization at that moment, and you may get a better perspective by visiting a few of them and forming your own opinion. If you can find a tradeshow or similar event in your area, that can offer the best way to encounter a variety of viewpoints and talk personally to experts and business executives who are using business management solutions.
Helpful third-party Web sites
Offers ERP and technology consulting services and makes many relevant research documents available.
Offers both e-mail alerts and newsletters and research and insights.
Accounting Software Advisor
Provides support for identifying financial management solutions.
Accounting Software Library
Provides a selection tool for financial management systems.
APICS, The Association for Operations Management
Offers many educational and informational resources about ERP, distribution, and supply chain management, and other related topics.
CompInfo−The Computer Information Center
Provides a large section about ERP systems with listings for white papers, newsgroups, organizations, and related topics.
CPA Technology Advisor
Features pertinent articles from time to time.
Enterprise ERP at CIO.com
ERP Knowledge Base at ITtoolbox.com
Offers a section on ERP and supply chain management with some no-cost content.
Industrial Data and Information, Inc
Makes white papers, books, newsletters, and other ERP resources available.
Material Handling Industry of America
Offers educational resources and more.
Specializes in helping companies select the best software systems for their needs.
Offers a wide range of information and tools to assist in a software and vendor selection process.
Helpful events, newsletters, and tradeshows
Scott Hamilton; Maximizing Your ERP System: A Practical Guide for Managers. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2003.
Thomas F. Wallace, Michael H. Kremzar; ERP: Making It Happen: The Implementers' Guide to Success with Enterprise Resource Planning. John Wiley and Sons, 2001.
Joseph Brady, Ellen Monk, Bret Wagner; Concepts in Enterprise Resource Planning. Course Technology/Thomson Learning, Second edition March 2005.
Daniel E. O'Leary; Enterprise Resource Planning Systems: Systems, Life Cycle, Electronic Commerce, and Risk. Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Northwind Traders COO Chow and CIO Hartwig drive most of the research. Together with some of their direct reports, they attend a few tradeshows and talk to a large number of software vendors, consultants, and customers. They meet quite a few business people who experience similar issues to Northwind Traders. However, they find very few solution providers that seem stable, engage in more than a small market niche, or show an understanding of the distribution and business concerns that are critical to Northwind Traders. The list of technology providers of possible relevance to the company is less than a dozen by the time Hartwig, Chow, and Patel decide it’s time to move on.
Begin soliciting proposals
Now you're ready to present your goals to vendors and ask them to propose a solution. If your company already has a working process to create and distribute request-for-proposal (RFP) documents, you probably have a working template as well. Tools you can use: Download the RFP worksheet (see upper right column of this page) to help you create requests for proposals. In addition, several third-party companies offer RFP templates for ERP systems as well as other business management software:
Northwind Traders has not used a stringent RFP process so far, but decides to create an RFP document now. The software business decision is highly consequential for the health and viability of the company and can call for a significant investment. The members of the steering committee feel it behooves the company to be as diligent as it can in its selection process. The financial group of Jill Shrader, the CFO, produces the document. Shrader signs the cover letter. One of the purchasers sets up a spreadsheet to record and compare vendor responses. In response to 11 RFPs sent out, 3 vendors don’t respond at all, 1 response arrives after deadline, and 3 responses immediately disqualify themselves because of excessive cost, poor understanding of the RFP requirements, or technology offerings that do not appear to address Northwind Traders concerns. That means four vendors make it to the short list for closer consideration.