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Choose the best ERP implementation partner: 7 key questions

Learn which questions CIOs, IT administrators and others involved in an ERP implementation project should ask when they are evaluating and interviewing a partner.

The right ERP implementation is critical to a successful implementation.

Making changes to an existing ERP system -- whether an upgrade or a complete replacement -- has a ripple effect on many parts of the business. A failed upgrade or implementation can render the system unusable.

That's why choosing the right implementation partner is so important. These consulting firms are approved by a software vendor to help roll out its system.

Asking the right questions can supply you with some valuable insights into the partner's approach to an ERP project and whether it's the right match for your company. Here are seven of the most important questions to ask.

1. Does the partner intend to dedicate resources to the planning, design and implementation phases?

Defining the business requirements and functional design of the ERP rollout is critical because it gives the project team a strong foundation of the overall business processes and project expectations. The partner should assign senior business consultants and technical staff to define the implementation plan. You'll also want to understand whether the consultants and technical staff will be dedicated to your ERP implementation project throughout its lifecycle. Some vendors bring their best team to the planning phase, but switch to different teams for subsequent phases, creating a shifting work environment and an inconsistent product.

2. Does the ERP implementation partner have expertise in your vertical?

While there are many partners that specialize in a specific ERP platform, a particular partner may or may not have the vertical experience you need. For example, an SAP ERP implementation in a manufacturing organization is very different compared with one in a retail organization. Discussing the extent of the partner's experience in your vertical can confirm whether their consultants understand your needs.

3. What post go-live support options are available?

Asking the right questions can supply you with some valuable insights into the partner's approach to an ERP project and whether it's the right match for your company.

Once an ERP upgrade or replacement is completed, the post go-live realities start to settle in. To help address all the new issues that may arise, you'll need to assess your post go-live support needs. Put your mind at ease by asking the ERP partner what their recommendations are. Post go-live, most ERP implementation partners do offer the option for their clients to engage in an ongoing support model that provides ERP system resources.

That said, Microsoft and SAP, for example, still require their user companies to maintain software agreements to receive software updates and additional resources. But it's common practice for companies to still choose an outside partner to assist with system optimization and support.

4. Will the partner dedicate people to your project?

There's nothing worse than being unable to reach the IT department when problems arise in the middle of a major ERP upgrade or replacement. Unavailable key consultants and technical staff can cause project delays. Unfortunately, many implementation partners assign staff across multiple simultaneous projects and not being able to reach them is a common problem, as senior consultants are in high demand. However, during the initial evaluation process with the ERP partners, find out how the project team will be allocated in order to avoid such situations.

5. Is the potential ERP implementation partner willing to give out references?

You're likely to first meet with sales executives and senior architects from the potential partner. Their job is to sell you on the firm; therefore, you may not get a true picture of what the interactions and experiences during the implementation will be. To get a reality check, you should assign someone from your team to contact other clients within the same vertical to ask about their experiences with the vendor.

6. What guarantees are available to ensure that the project finishes within a reasonable time and within budget?

It may be difficult to get vendors to commit to a guarantee like this. However, a significant number of ERP implementations develop scope creep and go past the designated time. Your company is investing millions of dollars in an ERP project -- there has to be some burden on the partner to ensure project success.

7. What difficulties should you expect?

While no one wants to expect an ERP implementation project to go sideways, the reality is that things can and often do go wrong. It's important to identify what the partner sees as potential pitfalls. The hope is to be well prepared for what is to come.

The evaluation stage is critical to determining which partner will be a good fit for your team and for the ERP initiative.

There are certainly other questions to consider as vendors are being interviewed during the evaluation phase, so be sure to brainstorm the information you need to uncover. The evaluation stage is critical to determining which partner will be a good fit for your team and for the ERP initiative. Have your team members compare notes after each implementation partner interview. You should develop a comparative analysis that includes some of the insights gained from these questions, as well as other key details, such as cost, timelines and project implementation methodology.

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