RFI (Request For Information)
In Part 1, we discussed creating a selection committee and document your company’s ERP needs. In Part 2, we will look at researching various ERP solutions as well as developing the request for information.
Researching Possible Solutions
Currently, there are a number of software products that are dominating the general marketplace such as:
- Intuit (QuickBooks)
- Microsoft Business Solutions (Dynamics AX, NV, and GP)
- Sage 100 (MAS 90/200)
- Sage X3
- Sage 300 (ACCPAC)
- Sage 50 (Peachtree)
However, you may need to look at specific, or vertical, solutions for services, retail, manufacturing, and construction from Epicor, Infor, Viewpoint, etc. Keep in mind that SaaS/Cloud solutions such as NetSuite, Intacct, and Acumatica should also be included as ERP solutions to evaluate. If you are bewildered by the claims flooding the market and every company touting itself as the most reliable, the most trusted, and the best in the industry, there are five keywords to keep in mind that will help you separate the real from the pretenders:
Is your organization innovative and leading the way? Are you looking to take advantage of innovative technology to automate your business process? Functionalities like bank integration, automatic check printing, streamlined workflow, and OCR scanning all leverage automation with the goal of saving you time and money.
When researching ERP solutions, ask the vendor about scalability. Is there a built-in ceiling? Can you easily add new entities? Can the system adapt to new dimensions? Outgrowing your ERP system is a painful, difficult experience, and migrating to a new system should not be done every 5-7 years. Consider how you expect your company to grow in the future and choose an ERP system accordingly.
A growing consensus recognizes that configuration is better than customization when it comes to ERP implementation. Customization requires that technicians change the source code of a vendor’s solution, which ultimately results in operational challenges and makes every future update both difficult and expensive. More often than not, an organization would be better served by a system that is configurable by the user verses customized by the vendor to meet your needs.
Some solutions touted as “cloud suites” are really mashups of best-of-breed systems comprised of individually licensed modules from other sources, usually from companies the provider has acquired. Other cloud solutions function so narrowly that you are required to buy separate software licenses in order to use fairly basic functionalities. In either case, the provider does nothing to help you integrate modules that are, in the end, likely incompatible.
Whether SaaS or on-premise or hosted, today’s ERP providers define themselves in terms of the cloud. As much as 47% of organizations aim to move their accounting to the cloud within the next five to 10 years, according to Forbes. In an attempt to hijack this anticipated growth, many legacy systems have completely skipped development and have gone straight to marketing by selling their existing solutions, maybe with minor tweaks, as full-on “cloud solutions.” Words such as “hybrid” cloud, which are on-premise and cloud modules jerry-rigged together, and “private” cloud, which are owned, hosted, and maintained by the client, should be evaluated when you’re in the process of researching ERP solutions.
Once you have your list of possible ERP products, you’re reading to create and submit the request for information (RFI).
The Request for Information
The next step involves sending vendors a request for information outlining what you’re looking for in an ERP, including your key requirements, and requesting that they provide you with their ability to meet your organization’s needs. You also ask them to include the approximate cost for the software and implementation for your anticipated user count. Once you receive replies from all of the companies from which you request information, you will be able to more easily narrow the field to your top two candidates based on this apples to apples comparison of the vendors
As you proceed with the RFI phase, there are three vital things to keep in mind. An ERP selection is a big decision and one that will affect your company years down the road. However, it’s not always about the solution itself; the partnership you enter into must also be a smart, beneficial move for your company. Although you should be comfortable on most levels with this partnership, consider the size of the company, the ERP vendor’s overall strategy for the product, and the sales and support the company offers long after you sign on the dotted line.
In Part 3, we will discuss preparing for and conducting product demonstrations.