If you're looking to bring in external consultants to manage your next ERP project, it's critical that you select the right team for the job. Making the wrong choice could lead to budget blowouts, missed deadlines or an implementation that fails to deliver on its promises. So how do you go about ensuring that you've chosen well? Here are some tips to guide you.
1. Prepare a proper brief
Before meeting with prospective ERP service providers, take the time to prepare a document (perhaps in the form of a Request for Proposal) that fully describes your business (and its existing IT infrastructure) and the project you have in mind including its objectives, timeline, budget and any technical issues that may need to be addressed. You may also want to outline the criteria against which IT consulting firms will be assessed.
2. Seek out relevant expertise and qualifications
It's not enough for an ERP consultant to say, Yes, we can certainly do that.' Nothing beats experience that is directly related to your project. Ask for references from clients for whom the consultant has done previous, similar work. Review any case studies the consulting team may have. Also check the formal credentials of those who will be handling your project – do they have the relevant industry-standard educational qualifications and technical certifications? Your ideal IT team will have the right combination of industry experience and qualifications.
3. Ask, 'Do these people care?'
The ERP firm you're leaning towards has the right qualifications and experience, but can they demonstrate an understanding of your business and what it is you're trying to achieve? Ideally your team of consultants will care as much about the success of your project as you do. Check in to find out whether they've taken the time and made the effort to truly understand your business and how the IT project fits in with your broader strategic goals.
4. Check for interpersonal chemistry
When you engage an ERP consulting team, you enter into a partnership. Your consultants will be working alongside you and your colleagues for a potentially lengthy period and, as such, it's important that you all get along. Assess the potential for this before you let them sign on.
This becomes particularly important when issues arise – as they inevitably will. You need to feel comfortable addressing your concerns with your contractors. The flow of communication needs to be honest, candid, effective and completely two-way. Your consultant should also be able to explain technical matters in a non-techie way and be patient and understanding when working with your non-technical colleagues. Too often communication problems thwart what might otherwise be a successful IT project. The better your relationship with your consultants, the more likely it is that everything will go smoothly.
5. Set the right fee structure
There are several fee structure alternatives when it comes to ERP projects. The last thing you want are budget blowouts or other nasty money-related surprises. While some consultants charge by the hour, others provide a costing estimate for the entire project while others issue an invoice whenever a particular phase of a project is completed. If the consultants' preferred way of fee-charging does not suit you, don't be afraid to negotiate. After all, you're the boss.
You should also bear in mind the old adage, 'You get what you pay for.' If a consulting firm is proposing unusually low fees for their work, regard that as a red flag. They may be going low to secure the contract with a view to making it up later. Also be wary of entering into a long-term contract up-front. Agree on a fee structure that allows you to bail out if you're not satisfied with how the project is progressing.
If the proposed fees seem a little on the high side, this could turn out to be a good thing if the justification for it is their greater depth of expertise, experience and problem-solving skills. In this scenario you may find that project gets completed faster than you originally envisaged and with fewer headaches along the way.
6. Make sure you have all the support you need.
Particularly if your project is a sizeable one, you can expect that you'll require ongoing tech support. What are your consultant's terms when it comes to this? Before engaging your contractor find out what support services will be available, and at what cost, after the installation is complete. For example, does your IT consultancy have an out-of-hours help desk? Will the support professionals be the same people who installed your system?
7. Finally, take the plunge.
Once you've commissioned your IT consulting team, lay the foundations for a successful project. Ensure all internal stakeholders know what's going on and are engaged in the process. Set milestones to be reached as the project progresses and maintain that all-important information flow between your business and the contractors. Enjoy the ride and let the results speak for themselves!