When it comes to ERP, systems integrators and software vendors get a bad rap.
And we get it.
If you’ve read our website you’ll know our logo is likely pinned to a few dartboards in Walldorf.
But however much we like to poke and prod at SIs and ERP vendors, when it comes down to it your ERP programme is your responsibility.
So why not give your vendors the benefit of the doubt and start things off on the right foot?
Here are 7 steps you can take to build a strong, beneficial relationship with your programme partners.
1. Understand your business strategy and have a business case for change
Our research shows that around half of SAP programmes don’t meet their business objectives.
Often, this manifests itself a year or two after go-live with the customer blaming their SI.
But it’s rarely that simple. And to understand why, you need to go back to the beginning.
Before you engage with an SI you need to understand your business strategy and what the ERP needs to do to support it.
This provides your business case for change.
It justifies the cost and disruption of an ERP programme to your organisation by outlining the business benefits it will deliver.
When businesses say their ERP programme was a failure it’s rarely because the system doesn’t work.
Really, they mean it doesn’t provide the benefits they expected.
In our experience, companies that don’t realize the benefits of an ERP programme didn’t spend enough time building a strong business case or defining how they will measure success.
Remember, if you don’t decide what you need from ERP your SI will more than likely decide for you.
The problem is your systems integrator isn’t part of your business. You can’t expect them to understand your business strategy or which business processes matter the most.
They’re not psychic.
To be a good customer to your delivery partners, take responsibility for your programme with a strong and well defined business case.
2. Have a defined vision and scope for your ERP projects
Along with missing business benefits, another common criticism of systems integrators is scope creep.
And in this case your SI might be to blame.
After all, systems integrators are run for profit. They exist to make money, not to look after you.
It’s no surprise they want to create more work on your ERP programme.
The thing is, they can only grow their team if you leave them room to.
As the customer, it’s your job to have a well defined vision and scope for the projects you engage them on.
When you outline the improvements you want to make, make sure you clearly define which processes and technologies to focus on.
If you aren’t sure about this step, get some independent advice to help scope out your requirements.
By clearly defining which systems and processes you want to work on, your SI will be better placed to put the right people on your programme and provide accurate quotes and timelines.
And they’ll be less able to increase their role over time.
If there’s a legitimate case to do additional work outside of the original scope this can be raised as a discrete piece of work.
By taking this approach you avoid the conflict scope creep can cause and maintain a healthy working relationship with your programme partners.
3. Understand your existing ERP system, business processes, tech landscape and integrations
Sometimes, even if you feel you’ve been clear about scope, it might feel like you’re getting a lot of push back from your programme partners.
Maybe your SI is telling you they need more people on the team, or they need to expand the project to include other processes and systems.
Is this just a bullying SI trying to land and expand despite your best efforts? Or, could they have a point?
If you’re experiencing push back despite being specific about your requirements, it’s possible you didn’t have enough knowledge about your processes and systems to scope out the programme.
When this happens your SI will come up against blockers and ask to adjust their remit.
This can put strain on your relationship if it means the project will go over budget or be delayed.
To avoid this, you need to fully understand your systems and processes in advance of briefing any partners.
An independent advisor can be valuable here if you don’t have a strong internal ERP capability.
When you get the right advice before scoping out projects, prospective partners can plan accurately and won’t come up against blockers further down the line.
And, your relationship will be easier and happier for it.
4. Focus on adoption and change management with every ERP project
In our SAP success report, we discovered that Adoption has the biggest impact on the success of ERP programmes.
Put simply, if your users don’t use a system correctly (or at all) you’re not going to see any business benefit.
But what’s this got to do with your systems integrator or software vendor?
The thing is, IT departments often approach a delivery partner from a purely technical perspective.
And guess what - if you approach a partner asking for a tech upgrade, then a tech upgrade is all you’ll get.
This ends up going one of two ways:
1. Someone realizes after the programme has started that there’s no change management planned.
A small technical change becomes a bigger change management project. Suddenly there’s scope creep, increased costs and programme delays.
2. No one thinks about change management and changes are put live without considering the business people who use the system.
Your business people don’t adopt the change and the IT department is seen as making unnecessary, disruptive changes that provide little business benefit.
Both of these outcomes lead to a strained relationship with your Systems Integrator - even though they’ve done as you asked.
If you want to be a better customer, realize there’s no such thing as a purely technical upgrade.
Change management needs to be baked-in to any programme plans you have from day one.
5. Know when you want ERP built to spec and when you want ERP advice
We’ve talked a lot about scope creep so far and how to be specific about what you want from a delivery partner.
But there’s one problem with this approach - what if you don’t know what you want?
Not all ERP customers have the capability to diagnose their problem - let alone remedy it.
It’s more likely you’re feeling the pain of a problem you can’t quite put your finger on.
Maybe you know your system is old but you don’t know what ERP can offer today. Maybe you know procurement isn’t working but you can’t pin down why.
There’s no point speccing out a system when you don’t know what problem you’re trying to solve.
If what you really need is advice, just ask.
And, if you’re worried about an SI exploiting your lack of knowledge, you can always choose a smaller, independent consultancy to provide you with advice.
Typically these smaller consultancies don’t sell ERP licenses or have the manpower to be the main delivery partner on ERP programmes.
What they can do is provide you with the deep knowledge and expertise you need when you don’t know what to do next.
And your future SI will be pleased to meet such a well informed customer.
6. Don’t ignore advice from your ERP delivery partners
We give SIs a hard time - but most of them are experts in what they do.
So if you go to market for a delivery partner you should be prepared to take on their advice.
If one SI comes back to you with an alternative proposal it may well be a sales tactic.
But if multiple vendors and systems integrators all suggest you rethink your plans it’s time to take that advice on board.
And once you’ve chosen a partner, remember why they’re there.
You don’t want to be taken for a ride but you did ask them to come on board. Sometimes they’ll have to take the reins which might mean a change of direction.
If you lack the technical know-how to validate your SIs advice, an independent advisor is a wise investment.
Find a trusted advisor who can represent you and face off to the SI on your behalf.
They will let you know if your SI is telling the truth or pushing their luck.
But remember, you’re paying your SI to do a job. If you’re standing in their way you’re not being a good customer.
7. Choose a delivery partner with the right cultural fit for your ERP programme
If you’ve followed the steps so far you understand what your business needs from ERP, you’ve built a business case, and you’ve taken independent advice to understand what needs to change.
It’s time to choose a delivery partner. And, if all goes well you might RFP and have multiple SI’s that want to do the work.
After all - they’re all experts.
Well yes, and no.
Just like people, your potential delivery partners all have different skills and personalities.
Finding a partner that’s right for you and your project is crucial to your success.
We call this finding the right cultural fit - and it’s an important part of being a good customer.
Some SIs are really good at technical stuff. If your project is more technical, a technology focussed delivery partner is worth considering.
If your requirements aren’t too techy but will mean a big change to your ways of working, you’ll want a partner with fantastic people skills who can manage the change.
But how can you gauge the culture at an SI if you’ve never worked with them before?
Well, your RFP process is one opportunity.
By including questions about culture as well as technical know-how you can get some idea of who’s a good fit.
You can also look to see if they’ve previously worked with companies like you and ask for an introduction.
However, often the best way is to go back to your trusted independent advisor.
Many independent consultancies have experience working with (and even for) the big systems integrators.
They can provide valuable insight as to which SI will be a good cultural fit for your project.
You’re going to be working with your SI for years so finding the right fit is really important.
And, like any relationship, it’s a two way street.
You hold as much responsibility as your SI for the relationship - so give this decision some thought if you want to be a good customer.
If this guide has been helpful and you’re serious about choosing a delivery partner, then download our ERP Spec and Select guide here.
This step by step guide walks you through exactly how we help our clients choose their software vendors and delivery partners - and it will teach you how to do it too.