Selecting the right cloud ERP manufacturing software is one of the most important business decisions you can make. But with so many vendors on the market, the process of evaluating their software can be difficult and time-consuming.
We think this process should be easier. That’s why we put together this simple cloud ERP evaluation guide, which you can use to help plan your search for the solution that’s right for your manufacturing, distribution or supply chain business.
1. Get Started and Get Organized
Whether you’re new to cloud ERP software or looking to replace an on-premise ERP system, your first steps in the evaluation process involve research. These first steps are critical.
Review the Basics of Cloud ERP
With so much information out there, where should you begin your research? Even if you think you know all about cloud ERP, a good first step is to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the basics. The following resources will
Learn how replacing your on-premise ERP system with a modern cloud-based ERP system enables you to build operations that scale and take advantage of new technologies to out-service your competition.
Assemble Your Team
Regardless of the size of your company, putting together an evaluation team with the right resources can make the process more thorough and efficient. Your team should include an executive sponsor, someone knowledgeable to serve as project leader, an IT expert, and key representatives from different functional areas of your company.
Learn how to assemble an effective ERP evaluation team that meets the needs of your organization.
Gather Business Requirements
This will be most important step in your evaluation process, so don’t rush through it! It is easy to get lost in a long list of features and functions, so here are some ideas to help you identify the most important requirements for your business. Your evaluation team should fan out across the company to answer these critical questions:
What role will your new ERP system play in supporting your business strategy?
What capabilities does the ERP system need to support your business plan?
How will ERP help you differentiate your organization or achieve your critical success factors?
What reports do you struggle with today or have resorted to spreadsheets to produce?
How “real-time” does the information have to be? What information do you need and when?
What is the span of information you need to see together? I.e.,does the ERP system need to combine information from different departments? Does it need to span across systems such as CRM and ERP?
What information is required for each user persona? Sometimes it helps to categorize each of your users or types of user information needs.
How granular is the information you need to track beyond what you are doing today? For example, what is your costing method, what are your chart of accounts needs, do you need to track the full lifecycle of serialized items?
Have you developed analytics or AI use cases you want to see demonstrated?
Cloud Platforms and IT
Do you have a cloud platform strategy? How will ERP fit into your vision?
Are you looking for a system that can be driven and managed day to day primarily by business users (systems vary greatly in this regard)?
Does your staff have the necessary skills or familiarity with the new cloud technology that can be used for the ERP deployment?
These are good starting points; your team will likely come up with more as they work to define your business requirements. Once you have gathered all of your requirements, rank them as must-haves or nice-to-haves.
Don’t get cloud-washed–learn more about the differences between hosted ERP and cloud ERP.
Find Vendors with Manufacturing and Distribution Industry Expertise
Now you’re ready to turn your research outward. There are a lot of cloud ERP vendors out there, but many of them are more focused on service industries or companies with intangible products, rather than on manufacturing. Your goal should be to look for vendors like Rootstock Software who have deep manufacturing knowledge and experience.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Research available cloud ERP vendors and narrow your search to those that not only have the functional capabilities, but also focus on manufacturing or distribution companies like yours.
Prepare a list of detailed questions about your specific industry and needs based on your research from above.
Get past the pretty demos and videos. Question each vendor carefully to determine their understanding and knowledge of your requirements. The answers they provide will help you decide whether they have the right experience to solve your unique challenges and support your business. Are they selling you features or taking a consultative approach to help you solve problems?
Based on their answers, create a final list of vendors whose cloud ERP solutions are backed by manufacturing experience.
Learn how Rootstock Software brings decades of manufacturing experience to cloud ERP.
2. Evaluate the Software
With a list of vendors with manufacturing expertise in hand, your evaluation team can start asking each vendor more detailed questions about their cloud ERP solution. At the end of this process, you should be able to make an informed decision about which software best fits your needs.
Does the Software Satisfy Your Business Requirements?
Remember those business requirements your team put together earlier? Now is the time to probe deeply into each vendor’s software and match their capabilities to your requirements. We suggest at least two levels of demos. The first should give you a high-level overview of the vendor’s capabilities and technical environment. The second and following demos should be more detailed demonstrations that focus on your specific requirements.
You need to know if a vendor’s cloud ERP software will decrease the number of steps required to perform your most important processes. Be sure to get answers to these important questions:
Are you able to compress time out of processes?
Will your processes be more accurate and eliminate downstream work or re-processing?
Are you making life easier for your customers, suppliers and employees?
Here are examples of process questions you could ask each cloud ERP vendor to demonstrate:
Does the software support multi-modes simultaneously (if your business requires it), such as build to order, build to stock, engineer to order and project manufacturing? Some systems have trouble managing multiple modes of manufacturing at the same time.
What does the quote to cash process look like? Does the software automatically and effortlessly convert customer quotes into sales orders, and then automatically generate the production and fulfillment work orders for downstream processing?
If you manufacture and service serialized items, can you track the history of an item from the original manufacturing specifications through the entire lifecycle after revisions and changes, including repairs and disassembly processes?
If customer service is critical to your business, can all employees see a complete view of the customer and all their interactions across ERP and CRM systems?
Get a more detailed discussion of these and other Cloud ERP evaluation topics.
What Will the Software Cost?
Cloud ERP has a subscription-based pricing model, which gives you lower upfront costs. But it’s critical to examine all of the costs of the software and compare detailed price quotes from all vendors.
Be sure to examine not only all short-term expenses, including implementation and training to get you live, but also all long-term expenses, such as maintenance and support.
Watch for confusing or hidden costs. When you speak with references, ask if they were surprised by hidden costs after the sale and if the vendor had a habit of continually increasing maintenance costs.
Consider all of the costs to determine the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and look at your expected return on investment (ROI) over several years to see how much the new software will really cost.
This article discusses the details of TCO calculations for ERP systems.
How Flexible Is the Software?
With rapidly changing customer demands, you need to be as flexible as possible. Here are questions you can ask each vendor to gauge the flexibility of their cloud ERP software:
Will I have to adapt my business processes to the vendor’s software, or is the software flexible enough to adapt to my business processes?
How easy it is to add new product types and new lines of business (i.e.,does the software support multi-mode manufacturing, or “as-a-service” business models)?
Does the software support multiple companies, divisions and sites?
Can I change processes and workflows using clicks, not code?
Can business users create their own reports?
Can I add objects and my own special applications to the ERP environment?
Is it easy or difficult to add customer or supplier communities? Can you easily select which information is exposed to customers or suppliers, or is the system hard-coded?
How many different ways are there to plan and manage the shop floor? Can the system handle the production volatility of your business?
You need to know if a vendor’s cloud ERP software will decrease the number of steps required to perform specific tasks. Of course, you’re looking for increased efficiency across your enterprise, so you want as many tasks to be streamlined and easy to perform as possible. For example, quotes and orders, inventory and supply chain planning, shop floor control and even customer service can and should be streamlined to increase efficiency and lower costs.
Don’t simply believe what the vendor tells you. When you test the software, you must run through every critical workflow to make sure the software does what it promises.
Get a more detailed discussion of these and other Cloud ERP evaluation topics.
Can I Integrate the Software with My Current Systems?
You may have software already in use that works very well for specific functions. Will the cloud ERP software seamlessly integrate with these existing tools, or will you have to jump through hoops getting everything to work together?
Integration is where the choice of cloud platform plays a central role in your evaluation. For example, if your company already uses Salesforce CRM, you will want to look at cloud ERP solutions on the Salesforce cloud platform. Salesforce and Rootstock Software seamlessly integrate to give you a 360-degree view of your entire organization, your suppliers and your customers.
The Salesforce AppExchange offers thousands of apps designed specifically for the Salesforce Platform; not only is integration seamless, you can also easily extend Salesforce ERP with additional software on the Salesforce cloud platform.
Don’t underestimate the importance of ease of use. Everyone in your organization needs to get up to speed quickly with any new cloud ERP system, so the software must be as easy to use as possible.
This means software workflows and screens need to be laid out and presented with a consistent interface that lets users intuitively grasp how to use them. If users have to guess how to access critical functions, what buttons to click or what different labels mean, they quickly become frustrated having to spend more time learning the software than actually using and benefitting from the software.
Poorly designed software is usually easy to spot; different parts of the software may have different looking layouts and workflows, and functions may be difficult to find. Avoid cloud ERP software that looks like it was put together hastily with little attention to detail.
Also be aware of “Frankenclouds” that are bolted together from product acquisitions. The company’s messaging and marketing may position the product as completely integrated, but the reality is that they have different user interfaces, different tool sets and separated data.
Does the Software Support Innovative Technologies That Drive Growth, Like Mobile, iOT and Advanced Analytics?
To compete successfully in today’s digitized world, manufacturers need to find new and innovative ways to run their business and sell their products. Think about the digital future of your company when evaluating cloud ERP software; the software should let you leverage these new technologies to help drive the growth of your company.
Mobile devices have changed the way people work, play and communicate. For you, this means your employees can access real-time data and solve problems quickly from anywhere and on any device. This means that mobile applications should be available for all employees, whether they work on the shop floor or the highest level of management.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is already here, connecting people, data and devices across the different departments of an enterprise. Smart sensors can alert you to potential problems in the factory or in the field.
Advanced analytics, backed by artificial intelligence.gives you deep insights into your business and can uncover new revenue streams.
Learn how advanced mobile communications has changed manufacturing.
3. Implementation and Beyond
Your evaluation doesn’t stop after you test each vendor’s cloud ERP software. Implementation, training and ongoing support should be critical considerations for your team.
How Will the Software Be Implemented?
It’s important to know how the cloud ERP software implementation will affect your business and if you and the vendor have adequate skills and staffing on hand to manage the implementation. Ask these questions before making any final decision:
How will the software be implemented – all at once or phased in over time?
What is a realistic go-live date? Why is it critical to hit that live date?
Does the vendor come across as a true business partner dedicated to my company and my implementation?
Does the vendor have the resources to implement, maintain and update the software in the timeline required?
Does your company have the ability to dedicate people to this project? How will they manage their own day-to-day jobs and this project?
Who will manage the project? You, the vendor or a third party?
How will departmental processes and reporting needs be configured? Do you have leads assigned from all key constituencies in the company and can they devote enough time to this project to make it successful?
Who has the authority to sign off on configuration decisions?
Do you have the technical skills on staff to do integrations and manage the cloud computing environment (i.e., user profile management)?
Do some of your staff need basic training in underlying tools such as reporting and analytic tools?
How will the cutover to the new system be handled? Which departments and operations in the company will be affected by implementation and for how long?
Learn more about avoiding the pitfalls of implementation.
Does the Vendor Provide Training and Ongoing Support?
Because you want your employees to get up to speed as quickly as possible with the new software, you need to ask each vendor about training:
Is there online and/or onsite training available?
How many users in my company will require training and in which departments?
How much will training cost?
Software updates, problem-free maintenance and speedy responses to issues are also important to consider when evaluating cloud ERP software. Some vendors offer direct support, while other vendors provide support through a third party, while still others offer different levels of support, with higher support levels typically available for a fee.
Determine the amount of support your company needs and how each vendor will provide it. You don’t want a software vendor who cannot deliver support when you need it.
Learn how Rootstock provides high-quality, high-touch professional services and support.
4. Before You Make a Final Decision
By this time in the evaluation process, you’ve probably narrowed your search to a just a few cloud ERP vendors. There’s just one last step to help you make your final decision, and it’s an important one.
Software vendors will often tell you what you want to hear. Now you can compare what they’ve told you and what you’ve learned from testing their software to what others are saying about them, including industry analysts and other customers.
Checking customer references is a critical step in choosing a cloud ERP solution. Calling or visiting a customer reference can provide very useful information that you won’t get from the vendor. Here are some questions you should ask during your call or visit:
Ask about the company. How big are they? How long have they been in business? Are they in the same industry as you?
Ask about the customer’s cloud ERP search process. How did they find this cloud ERP system? What other vendors were considered? What made them select this one?
Ask detailed questions about the customer’s experiences with the software. Are they satisfied with it? Did they implement the same product you are considering? Did they require any customization? How long did the implementation take and did it match their expectations? Were they able to go live and stay within budget? Was the vendor easy to work with? What problems did they have with the software and how satisfied are they with the vendor’s support?
Learn about Rootstock customers who have enjoyed returns on their cloud ERP investment.
If you follow the steps in this guide, you will be on your way to finding the right cloud ERP software for your business: a solution that is flexible enough to help you adapt quickly to changing business and customer needs; modern enough to evolve with your business; connected enough to help you stay in close touch with your customers, suppliers and employees; and one that gives you a 360° view of your entire enterprise so you can know everything about your customers and your business.