by Redhuan D. Oon
Firstly there is no holy grail of software that can do everything for you ideally. Yes there are softwares that do wonders and also failed wonderfully. First question you should ask or the consultant from the software should ask is ‘what business are you in?’.
Your requirements have to be defined and defined on paper. Your personnel has to sign off which part they are responsible for. This makes life easier not only for the software experts but also yourself. You are not expected to know everything like wikipedia. Another point to remember, is that software people do not lose more than a customer if your ERP fails. You as the customer lose your business if the ERP fails. So you have more to lose than the software implementors. So if the software vendor cannot defined your business until an idiot can understand your business, don’t panic. Throw them out and get another consultant in.
Your business is either complex or has a lot of boring redundant work processes. Otherwise there is no need to automate it. But that does not mean you have to write every detail down before you can consider having a go at an ERP software. You can even implement an ERP system on day one. But in a smaller, straightforward and well defined part. Order-taking process for example. Instead of filling out in excel spreadsheets you can key into a basic ERP that stores it all in and present you back with reports on what you have ordered and all its attendant dimensions such as total value and list of clients involved. Do not expect such a wonderful start to be performing entirely on day one. You may have to wait for your own staff to get used to it, making or suggesting corrections to the interface and reporting formats before moving to the next step such as inventory movement or vendor purchasing. Financials integration may just be the conversion of orders to invoices. Such incremental smaller steps to ERP adoption can be more realistic and acceptable to your staff and also customers that may be affected by any hiccup from the system.
Remember also that with Free software, you do have a better chance of stopping a disaster before it takes place and better exercise that go, no-go option. Any software expert that does not provide you that option is not giving you the freedom that comes with your choice of going open source. Proprietary software suffers from the vendor-locking constraint. Free software is supposed to be not so. However be also aware that an open source provider can also lock you in. In fact, such a tactic of giving a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing is becoming more of a business practice among mushrooming open source projects.
How do you avoid been locked in by an open source provider? Do some homework. Is their project truly open source? Is it well known out there? Can you download and examine the sourcecode? (Get another expert to examine it for you if you cannot read code). Is it well-documented? Are the user forums well populated? Are questions well answered? Does the project practice ‘open core’ or dual licensing? This means they have the tendency to charge you money for using the software when you are deep into it. That is moving away from the time and effort services charging model to the proprietary model. This is not good and i call it an unethical trap of innocent users. If you profess to be free, then stay free and stick to your original business model of charging only for your time and effort or preparation in helping the paying client.
The other common factors that apply to good partnership also applies here. Is the consultant understanding and attentive to your needs and concerns? Or is he just out to make a quick buck? Is he willing to give and take? Also bear in mind that they do need to make a living and if you keep taking from them too much without paying them for their time, you will lose such a provider as they can always certainly get other deals from many other users out there crying for their attention and are willing to pay more than you think they can.
Next we look at what makes a successful implementation last longer. This is an issue of sustenance and maintenance that affects not just free software but also proprietary ones.