Selecting the Right System

Understanding your business’s financial information needs is the first step in selecting the appropriate ERP software. However, there is typically no obvious choice because so many competing products promise similar results. You can end up mired in the feature lists and still be uncertain of your final selection. Here are some tips for choosing wisely.

16. Choose your ERP software before your hardware.

You’re probably going to need some additional hardware to implement the new system. But since system requirements are generally determined by software and not hardware, you should choose your software first, and then buy the hardware recommended by the software manufacturer or your consultant.

17. Start with the big picture.

Don’t dive into details at the beginning of your selection process. First decide on what key characteristics the system must have. Eliminate any packages that don’t comply with your fundamental requirements and you’ll narrow the field significantly. There is no point in having a 200-page Request for Proposal (RFP) if 10 questions will shrink the field from 50 possible vendors to five.

18. Don’t underestimate the importance of system architecture.

You’ll want your ERP software to have the capability to grow and change as your organization changes. Most accounting software companies have various families of products geared toward specific sizes of customers. A key question to ask is whether or not the products are built on unified system architecture and if they have a built-in upgrade path from one product to the next. If the family of products has been developed on the same architecture, future upgrades from product to product and the subsequent data exchange can be managed much more smoothly.

19. Make sure your software can be customized.

No one software package is right for everyone. And no accounting system on the market will have every single feature you’d like. Many packages give you useful modification features that let you change reports or screen formats. For even more control over your system, look for software that enables you to make more specific customization. This will ensure that your software will meet your needs no matter how your business changes.

20. Make sure the software can adapt to your needs.

Finding a system that can adapt to the specific needs of your company is essential. Some packages offer open architecture, which allow you to easily add on additional features and adapt to new IT paradigms. Open architecture is especially important if you expect your company to experience growth or change in the future. If you have a growing business, one of the most important characteristics of your system is its scalability. Open architecture scalability ensures your system can grow along with your company.

21. Look for software vendors that invest in research and development.

A good company invests heavily in engineering and develops new product features and enhancements regularly. These companies stay abreast of new technologies and make sure their customers do too. A good software manufacturer will provide frequent upgrades at reasonable prices.

22. Explore what support will be available to you.

Find out what technical support each software manufacturer makes available to its customers. What days of the week and times during the day are telephone technical support specialists available? What costs, if any, are associated with various levels of support? Does the manufacturer provide classroom, self-study, or Web-based training programs? How frequently does the manufacturer keep in contact with customers regarding product announcements, upgrades, etc.? You will need assistance getting the most out of your software—the best manufacturers provide this assistance.

23. Documentation reflects software quality.

You rarely find excellent documentation with poor software. Clear, accurate, and useful documentation takes time to produce and indicates a long-term commitment to users. You’ll save time hunting through manuals if the documentation is included electronically as help files within the application.

24. Check out the software publisher.

Study the makers of the ERP software. Find out how long the company has been in business, what their long-term prospects are, and what kind of customer support, upgrade protection, and technical support they provide.

25. Popular products are popular for a reason.

Just because a software product is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you. But if a company has lots of users, they’re probably doing something right. A large installed base is like an insurance policy for users. Choose a product that has stood the test of time, satisfied companies similar to yours, and delivered good value.

26. Evaluate the software by what it can’t do.

Software product limitations are often much more revealing than feature list comparisons. Find out the maximum number of customers, vendors, and inventory items allowed. Ask how many line items a single invoice or sales order can handle, and find out the maximum number of users that can work with a particular application at the same time.

27. Use mistakes as your acid test.

People make mistakes. If the software handles errors intelligently, that’s a sign of good design. Some of the most widely promoted accounting systems do not allow you to correct an error in a purchase order without canceling the entire P.O. and re-entering it from scratch. Look for software that tests for errors, such as duplicate customers and vendors, incorrect item numbers, and unreasonable amounts and dates. The system should also flag unusually high quantities or unit prices and offer valid alternatives.

28. Evaluate the learning curve.

Intelligently designed software is easy to learn. An intuitive interface will shorten training times and facilitate the conversion. Look for input fields in consistent and expected locations, and screen design similarities among all modules. Be sure that the ERP software comes with effective learning tools, classes, and demonstrations to speed the learning process. Don’t compromise when it comes to end-user support.

29. Understand the difference between standard functions and extras.

Some software organizations provide basic functions but then make you purchase the various extras that come standard in other organizations’ software. An extreme example would be to buy a car, and then discover that you must pay additional for the engine, steering wheel, and tires. Confirm what is included in the core pricing and what must be purchased separately.

30. Go paperless.

Today’s most effective software applications utilize less paperwork. As you explore accounting and other software systems, focus on how much paper you can eliminate during order entry, basic accounting input, shipping and handling efforts, and other areas within your organization. The more paperwork and input you can eliminate, the more efficient and error-free your organization becomes. Consider systems that support document attachments and have built-in data backup and storage.

Click here for the last blog post of this series: Steps for Purchasing an ERP Software System #3