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Finding the right ERP consultants is key to project success

With ERP implementations, choosing the right or wrong project consultants can be the difference between success and failure, so experts agree that you should choose wisely.

There is no shortage of variables that can make or break an ERP deployment.

One of the most obvious -- and underrated -- elements is choosing the right ERP consultants or deployment partners. Experts should be aligned with the project's objectives, but, more importantly, they must be in sync with the overall character and culture of the organization.

ERP solutions have evolved dramatically over the last few years -- think SaaS and hybrid offerings -- yet the field of potential ERP consultants who can assist with deployments and upgrades hasn't changed all that much. There are the large global consultancies, like Deloitte and Accenture, but they mostly cater to Fortune 500 giants. There are also legions of systems integrators and value-added resellers that are typically affiliated with a particular ERP platform, and a growing crop of small, independent consultants that may have specific industry or technology expertise.

Choosing the right category, let alone the specific ERP consultants, has never been easy, but the stakes may be higher today as new cloud and hybrid ERP implementations often function as the centerpiece of manufacturers' digital transformation efforts.

"I've run into too many projects that are screwed up because the chosen partner is coming from a different industry, has a different focus area or required too much time learning the business before they could get around to actually delivering value," said Josh Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, an enterprise software consultancy. "The margin for error is very small on an ERP project. SMBs can't afford to screw up because the impact is enormous and, potentially, quite devastating."

A cultural fit

The biggest difference between choosing ERP consultants today compared to in the past is a greater emphasis on soft skills, like project and change management and ensuring a cultural fit between organizations. While ERP has always been and still remains a heavy lift from a technology standpoint, cloud-based delivery has taken some of the sting out of deployments.

Further, most SaaS ERP tools limit companies' ability to customize the software to their business processes. Instead, organizations moving to cloud ERP need to modify their business processes to fit the constraints of the software, and there is often a greater emphasis on integration with other enterprise systems.

"You need partners with data migration expertise and integration expertise, but it's not all about technological change," Greenbaum explained. "You need to look for partners that are experts in change management to help you make sure you're not just dumping change on a workforce [that is] ill-prepared to consider it and not happy to embrace it."

Deep vertical experience preferred

Another important aspect of choosing an ERP consulting partner is their level of experience -- including domain expertise and customer references -- that is specific to a particular vertical segment. Partners that have in-depth knowledge of industry-specific business processes, regulatory requirements and supply chain operations are that much further ahead when mapping the business requirements to the ERP solution, which reduces the likelihood of implementation problems and accelerates time to deployment.

Picking a partner with a regional presence and that is matched to a company's size can also impact ERP deployment success, according to Doug Jett, senior vice president of managed services at Apolis, a global IT consultancy and Oracle premium partner.

"If you're an SBM, you may not want to go with a big company, but rather opt for someone attuned to their size," Jett said. "You don't want a legion of junior implementation people learning on the job, which can happen with some of these bigger companies. You also need to think about location; if you are shipping people in and out, that has bearing on the project."

Avoid using just one partner

Restricting the choice to a single partner is a mistake many companies make, but they can easily avoid it, said Eric Kimberling, CEO and founder of Third Stage Consulting Group, an independent ERP consultancy. For example, a manufacturer might bring in a traditional systems integrator to handle the functional, software-specific work, while enlisting a different type of consultant to focus on project management or change management.

"Don't feel like you have to put all your eggs in one basket and choose one," Kimberling said. "Know what skills you need to be successful ... Chances are, you might have to go to multiple sources to get them."

Kimberling also emphasized the importance of selecting partners that are a cultural fit -- evaluating them much like you might assess job candidates with personality tests and in-depth interviews.

"The team needs to have a comfort level that they can work with this person or team for X number of months or years through a transformation," he said. "You need resources that blend in well with the team."

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