With overpriced “you can have it all” Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERP’s), a five person small business can expect to pay $10,000 up front and $50,000 over the next two years making the system “work for them.” This relatively new model of software gives the buyer the comfort that they aren’t spending a ton of money initially and the ease of knowing they’ll get a system that is going to fit their business eventually. Still, it means depending on a staff to frequently deliver custom programming for a software that was originally sold under the impression that “out of box” was gonna solve 90% of their problems (then why is it 20% of the total cost?).
The other distinct options are still: (1) buy inexpensive one-size-fits-all software and deal with it, or (2) be given the keys to a yacht and no boating lessons.
The best approach for those looking at ERP software then has to be some combination of these things, having a custom-fit solution (as opposed to custom software, which is all but extinct in small businesses) that doesn’t break the bank, but does address their current needs while maintaining most of the terminology and functionality each company is familiar with already.
This approach requires a flexible system, giving the user a set of tools to modify the system with “out of box” software. Hopefully too, the software is implemented by a flexible software support staff using additional tools to modify reports, views and system workflow with little to no additional technical effort. The goal of any custom-fit implementation specialist should be to consistently present options and propose solutions that require minimal technical effort throughout the implementation process. It’s like being able to pick “the Chevy or the Cadillac” at each decision point, based on the importance of the functionality and the relative cost of each option. Implementing custom-fit software means empowering the customer to decide what they DO and DO NOT think is worth adding to the strong foundation of the base application being implemented.
While the base system may be sufficient to get started on, it’s those first 6-12 months after go-live that make or break each custom-fit software vendor-software customer relationship. During that time, the right software vendor will constantly check in to make sure their customer is using the application in the best way possible. When new features are made available, sometimes email alone isn’t enough to convey much needed information about how it works. When the customer realizes a new need has arisen they should be saying to themselves “I wonder if this is one of those ‘all set, no billing’ type changes?” not “how much are they going to charge me for this one?”
Custom-fit software may seem like a crap-shoot at times, some things seem so easy, but cost thousands of dollars and other things look daunting, but end up being 10 minute changes. The only way a potential ERP buyer can feel comfortable with their vendor is with trust earned through a series of successful, affordable and well-informed system modifications. While choosing your software is crucial to your business, trusting your vendor can be crucial to your sanity.
The right software needs to be flexible enough to solve your current problems and also prepare you for your future challenges. The right vendor needs to keep you informed about different solution options and, based on relevant experience, have the foresight to warn you of what the future might bring so you can be prepared. A set of tools built into the system can be the most powerful thing you have at your disposal when implementing software, but without the right guidance those tools often go to waste.