Are you selecting a systems integration partner for the first time, preparing for an upgrade or new site rollout, or looking at outsourcing work you previously managed in-house? The supply chain execution system space is very specialized and each company you find will offer you a unique combination of price, expertise, scalability, and service. Here are 5 things you should consider when selecting a systems integration or services partner for supply chain systems.
The amount of valuable and critical information your implementation partner gives you upfront is often a good indicator of the quality of the work they do. There are a lot of considerations that go into an implementation project, but it starts with selecting the right services partner for your business. While there are numerous questions and business terms you may need to iron out with a potential vendor, the following are 5 things that will help you differentiate the vendors during your selection process.
5 Things to Consider When Selecting a Systems Integration Partner
1. Services estimates assume your team will do their part on-time, thoroughly and completely.
It’s impossible to estimate the final cost of an implementation project with one hundred percent accuracy, but you can get very close if both parties uphold their obligations as outlined in the service contract. You will run into enough unforeseen obstacles during the project without your project team—or the vendor’s team, for that matter—causing additional concerns and wasting resources by not doing each task in a timely and complete manner. While it’s up to you to keep your project team aligned, your implementation partner should be upfront about exactly what is needed and expected from your team before the project begins. Assuming your implementation partner also fulfills their responsibilities, your project should stand a very good chance of finishing on time and budget.
The more experienced and specialized your implementation partner is, the more focused their recommendations will be, and the better equipped they are to execute a strategic system implementation that will empower your business’ competitive advantage and maximize ROI.
2. The terms Best Practice and Simplification are sometimes used as a cover for missing capabilities or inadequate product knowledge.
While you should be receptive to vendor recommendations, you should be wary of an implementation partner who frequently pushes for processes they consider to be “best practice” or “simpler,” as these are often a cover for missing or inadequate capability or possibly a lack of technical experience. Maximizing efficiency with fewer process steps is always a goal, but many challenges facing today’s supply chains, like pharmaceutical supply chain regulation and omni-channel, are unavoidably complex. Be particularly wary of vendors that encourage you to cut corners operationally or technically without explaining potential consequences.
Both you and your system integrator must acknowledge that there is always room for process improvement and that there is no such thing as a “best practice.” You’ve adapted your processes and workflows to fit your operation, but when you transition to a modern system or newer system release that automates much more than before, you must understand that the software may not conform to those practices that worked best under your previous system—and in many cases, it shouldn’t conform to older methods. From the outset of the project, you must work closely with your implementation partner to uncover inefficiencies, waste, and process gaps within your operation, and then be receptive to adapting to new system-driven ways of eliminating those problems.
An experienced integration partner with solid knowledge of the systems involved in your project will be able to actively collaborate with your team to determine how your processes can fit into standard product configuration and also how to cost effectively adapt the system to fit your business processes when needed.
3. Your complex application software will almost certainly require some custom development to support your specific business processes.
Some system integrators may disregard, downplay or misrepresent the importance of and need for custom development within a complex application like a WMS, automation, or shipping software. This aligns with a fear among businesses that modifications are costly, risky and generally unnecessary. Enterprise software modifications (sometimes called adaptations) are prerequisites of and essential to gaining a competitive advantage, so you should be wary of any implementation partner who won’t acknowledge the need for them at all. Conversely, you should be cautious of implementation partners who advocate modifications with little or no business reasoning, as the cost of custom development will surface in the project and those costs will probably inflate the total cost of the implementation. An experienced integration partner with solid knowledge of the systems involved in your project will be able to actively collaborate with your team to determine how your processes can fit into standard product configuration and also how to cost effectively adapt the system to fit your business processes when needed.
4. Out-of-the-box integrations may save time, but they don’t account for your unique business processes and workflows.
Enterprise system integration, especially between ERP and execution systems (like WMS and TMS) can be daunting. Many vendors have partnered to create “out of the box” integrations in order to reduce costs and save time when implementing across their mutual customer base. Unfortunately, enterprise software vendors and system integrators sometimes present these packages as 100% solutions instead of foundations, leading to unrealistic expectations and unexpected cost overruns.
In the consumer-facing software world, interface data is usually included to trigger a specific action or data retrieval, like updating a social profile, editing a picture, or listing the movies in your Netflix queue. Standardized interfaces work in the consumer world because the intended meanings and expected results are the same – every single time. Business processes aren’t 100% consistent or predictable, so it is unlikely that a packaged integration will have all the functionality and workflows you need. Integration frameworks can save a lot of time by providing a foundation, but it is far more important to work with a company that has the know-how to perform a successful integration than it is to find companies with “out of the box” solutions.
5. A specialized implementation partner will give you more focused attention, better quality, and a better value proposition than a general-services vendor.
Your system integrator should do more than just take meeting notes and write code; they need to have the functional, operational, and business resources to handle all of the vendor responsibilities for your implementation project. Since any critical system implementation touches so many parts of your business, you need to know how your implementation partner can align the new system with your current business. Before the project begins, your implementation partner should provide you with a thorough value proposition that outlines the unique business benefits you will experience relative to the costs. The more experienced and specialized your implementation partner is, the more focused their recommendations will be, and the better equipped they are to execute a strategic system implementation that will empower your business’ competitive advantage and maximize ROI.
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