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Maple Leaf



Software selection and implementation can be an extremely difficult undertaking. Horror stories of failed ERP system implementations are unfortunately very common. Anyone frequently reading business publications has likely read stories where large corporations, posting smaller than forecasted profits (or losses), cite problems associated with implementing new business software systems as one of the culprits. Such failures can result in anything from a minor nuisance to a complete operational shutdown. This only serves to demonstrate the extent to which a modern business depends upon well implemented reliable information systems.

Even if you are already somewhat familiar with business software terminology, you can expect to be bombarded with many acronyms and buzz words used to describe (sell) these products. This can be intimidating and you should insist upon clarification in these cases to gain a real understanding of what the software actually does. Similarly, if the vendor representative seems unwilling to discuss product pricing during the early stages of your discussions, walk away. You probably can’t afford it anyway.

The most important part of the software selection process involves identifying key processes within your organization and determining functionality that is critical to your operation. Many times customers get lost in the bells and whistles and forget about their core business functions. If you are in the distribution or fulfillment business, you’ll want to focus on functionality related to order processing and warehouse management. Never assume a software package must be capable of handling something that you consider to be a standard business function.

Don't settle for a "yes, we can do that" responses from the software vendor. It's your responsibility to verify that not only can they do it, but also that they can do it to the level you require. Ask detailed questions as to exactly how it works in their system. Look at the specific programs used to achieve the task and verify that the data elements required to achieve the task are present. Don't allow the software vendor to not answer your question. They sometimes do this by answering your question with technical jargon they know (or hope) you won't understand. Don't be afraid to stop them and make them restate their answer in different ways until you understand it.

It’s unlikely that any software package will do everything you wanted it to do, so be prepared to compromise on some of the functionality. Shortcomings in functionality will need to be addressed through process changes, software modification, or in some cases, off-line workarounds.

When addressing the issue of modifications, I have become convinced that the question to ask is not "will we modify ?" but rather "how much will we modify ?" Packaged software will not do everything you want it to do, the way you want it to do it. Sometimes these deficiencies result in minor annoyances and other times they result in costly business inefficiencies. It's important to treat software as you would any other process, system, or piece of equipment. Evaluate the costs and benefits of the modifications and make sound decisions that are in keeping with the business objectives of your organization.

In addition to functionality, you also need to consider usability. Functionality answers the question can it do something? while usability answers how does a user get it done ? You especially want to look at any high volume tasks that occur in your organization. Look at the information provided in critical programs and count the number of mouse clicks and/or key strokes required to perform a task. Can you complete the task in one or two screens or do you have to cycle through four or five ? Is all the information you need readily available and presented in a logical manner ? Are mouse clicks required or are shortcut keys available ? As much as we all love the mouse for surfing the Internet or working in graphics programs, it is often not the most efficient tool for entering business transactions.

Are the bigger, more expensive packages better ? That depends. No doubt there is a relationship between functionality and cost. But with this greater functionality also comes greater complexity. Greater complexity can easily overwhelm and confuse employees. Many of these expensive packages incorporate "Best Practises" which are geared for use within large formal corporate structures. However, these practices are rarely well suited to smaller businesses. This gobbles up resources, extends implementation times, and drives up implementation costs. For large complex organizations, highly functional software is indispensable. However, for a small company, even if the supplier were to give you the software for free, you probably won’t have the resources to implement and maintain it.

In the end, the success or failure of a software selection/implementation project is directly related to the efforts put into it. Information systems are a critical part of managing operations, so don't shortchange the process.