Making an investment in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or electronic document interchange (EDI) solution is a considerable expense. A good solution is the backbone of a company, facilitating many of the processes that make conducting business possible. Whether you’re replacing an existing system or buying for the first time, careful research, consideration, and planning are all necessary for a successful rollout.
Though there are some EDI and ERP giants that offer great solutions, these systems are not one-size-fits-all. What’s perfect for an enterprise-level retail organization may not be a good choice for a start-up.
What are your current needs? What do you anticipate for the future? Write these down and use them to guide your comparisons. Take into consideration how the solutions integrate with your existing systems, and if they play well with the systems of your largest, most important trading partners.
After working with thousands of retailers and suppliers throughout the years, we’ve learned quite a bit about what makes a good fit. Here, we’ll explore seven important steps to take when investing in a new ERP or EDI solution. From securing executive buy-in, all the way to the full rollout, here’s what you need for a successful transition.
7 considerations for EDI or ERP change management
Executive and management buy-in
Getting management onboard is integral. They’ll ultimately sign off on the associated expenses, a change management plan and more.
Making a convincing argument will require some data gathering. If you’re searching for a new ERP or EDI, it’s likely whatever you’re doing or using now is lacking functionality, volume capabilities, visibility, or some other need. Identify pain points, lost opportunities and what your competition is doing that your company isn’t are all great places to start.
Be prepared to show how a new ERP or EDI will help your company gain efficiency, save money and solve the problems you’ve revealed.
Identify your resources and stakeholders
What existing software and systems do you have – accounting, WMS, an existing ERP or EDI solution? What sort of solution will your network and existing infrastructure support? Do all the employees who will use the system work on location or remote? Do they use laptops, have barcode scanners or require mobile access?
There are dozens if not hundreds of ERP and EDI options with varying capabilities, and by looking at all these angles (and more), you’ll be able to better narrow down which solution is best for your needs.
Make a list of requirements – for now and the future
Of course, you’ve already made your list of pain points. The results of that research should point to some of the requirements that you will need to solve for now.
Additionally, consider what you want to do in six months, one year, three years, five years even. For example, greater inventory visibility, adding drop-ship capabilities, phasing out third-party providers or landing your first enterprise-level trading partner.
Make a list of what you think you’ll need and consider ranking or categorizing them for abilities that are “required” or “nice to have,” or aspirational such as “for a later upgrade.” Such a list will make it easier to narrow down which ERPs meet your priority needs and can evolve with your growth plans.
Identify the solutions that meet your needs
Different ERPs and EDIs have varying degrees of functionality and strengths. Some are standalone software, while others have a suite of complimentary solutions to easily add capabilities down the road as your business needs change. Think CRM or analytics. You don't have to buy the whole suite to start, but it's good to know you can easily add capabilities down the road.
Another big consideration is whether you should have an in-house or a cloud-based inventory management solution. An in-house solution must be purchased, installed locally on your network, maintained, updated and managed by your IT staff. Cloud-based solutions are software as a service (SaaS) – accessible through your technology, but ultimately the software is maintained, updated and staffed as a service from a solution provider.
Understand the total cost of ownership (TCO)
There is a cost difference between choosing an in-house solution and an outsourced, cloud-based solution. With both, there will be upfront costs to get started, often in the form of tech and added internet bandwidth. However, there will be significantly greater financial and resource investments in hardware, software and staffing needed for an in-house system. With an outsourced, cloud-based solution, there will be subscription fees for the service every month, but much of the costs of infrastructure maintenance, upgrading and staffing will be the SaaS provider’s responsibility.
Seek out customer stories
Whichever ERP or EDI systems you’re looking at, there are likely already customers using those systems. Seek out real-life customer testimonials, and not just the ones found on their websites. Find out what other companies are saying online about a particular ERP or EDI system - review sites dedicated entirely to tech provider critiques can be particularly useful.
Ask the provider for introductions to existing or previous customers if possible. If a company with similar needs as yours has found success with the system you’re considering, that's a signal it might work well for you.
Develop a realistic implementation plan
Timing is everything, from implementation to system-wide rollout. When you implement a new ERP or EDI solution, you’ll want to get the system implemented during the low season so you have all the bugs worked out before the busy season. Be sure to set a completion date for a time with the least potential for disruption. Partway through January is a great time - you certainly wouldn't want to change over in the middle of the holiday shopping season.
Installation is only part of the equation – there’s connecting it to other systems, transferring or translating the existing data, adjusting or eliminating old processes while creating new ones, retraining the staff, connecting to trading partners, setting up products, etc.
It’s important to appoint a manager for the project to lead the strategy for the change management plan, make sure tasks are assigned, set milestones to keep the implementation moving forward and generally be a cheerleader until the rollout is complete. The path to success for this changeover is more often measured in quarters, rather than weeks or months.
These suggestions are just the start. The process of choosing and installing an ERP or EDI solution can be time consuming and will have a cost. However, an investment in a system that helps you better serve your customers often pays for itself quickly.