Implementing a supply chain collaboration platform can be greatly aided with some simple pre-planning and preparation. In my experience, companies that neglect one or more of these areas will often run into (avoidable) challenges as a result. Ensuring these eight requirements are in place will help get you up and running to drive a faster ROI.
1. Ensure internal stakeholders are ready
Many mid-market companies still handle a majority of procure-to-pay activities manually, so the change that comes with transitioning to automated processes can be challenging for team members and negatively impact team morale. To prevent this, ensure all stakeholders are on board with the project by getting buy-in from them on the productivity and cost advantages for the organization as well as the priority for the project relative to other initiatives. If the changes result in a reduction of job duties for a position or group of positions, consider alternate responsibilities for those affected within the organization. And finally, identify any other divisions of the organization that could be affected (positively or negatively) and include them in the discussions early so they can prepare and support the transition.
2. Identify the key functionality and ROI requirements
Once there is buy-in from internal stakeholders, clearly define the project’s specific functional (what it needs to achieve) and ROI (how soon it needs to pay for itself) requirements. It’s also helpful to segment the requirements into buckets of critical needs and nice-to-have’s. It is rare that any out-of-the-box solution will satisfy 100 percent of the requirements list; the upkeep and maintenance of solution customizations can quickly erode ROI and drive up total cost of ownership. Determine if there are any other needs, such as performance metrics or support for mobile devices.
3. Determine whether your implementation will be on-premise or SaaS
The solutions available on-premise or SaaS vary widely. The IT team will help make this selection from a technology standpoint, but if a quick return on investment is important, then SaaS is by far the preferred option. Either way, because the IT team will need to be involved, securing buy-in at an early stage is critical. On-premise solutions will require IT involvement for the duration of the implementation and throughout the life of the installation. This also includes scoping and deploying any hardware required for the solution (such as new servers). SaaS solutions, on the other hand, have minimal IT support requirements and are typically focused on set up and maintenance of the required connectivity between your ERP and the third-party solution.
4. Research which solutions are available for your ERP
Some ERPs offer their own supplier integration portals. Appropriate study should be made regarding advantages / disadvantages of using them—both in terms of functionality and cost. If you have multiple ERPs (including custom home-grown systems), it would be better to consolidate or use third party systems that can handle multiple ERPs.
5. Find out how your ERP can or will integrate with third-party solutions
One of the major hurdles in successfully implementing any 3rd party solution is having the required tools/systems/IT resources to help with the integration. Determining the current tools/systems/IT resources available and gathering any missing resources are the most time consuming activities and should be amply discussed and planned prior to any implementation project. Look for solutions that can integrate using a variety of protocols (XML, EDI, CSV, etc., using HTTPS, SFTP, AS2, etc.). The more options available, the more likely the solution can fit what is already available within the organization. Also, determine if some internal data is present in other 3rd party applications. If so, integration with those systems will also need to be considered.
6. Put a Supplier Onboarding strategy in place
Supplier onboarding is absolutely critical to any collaboration project. The final success or failure is directly linked to the number of suppliers who adopt the system. Larger companies have an advantage here as they can often dictate which systems their suppliers will use, however as mid-market and smaller companies often do not have similar leverage, additional planning, communication, favorable terms, and support services is often helpful to make the system as easy and appealing to suppliers as possible. Having a plan well in advance and keeping your suppliers updated regularly on the implementation would help to gain their trust.
7. Plan your testing and training schedule for the maximum amount of user preparation before launch
It’s important to establish realistic timing for user training (internal and external) for the new solution. Often times, the solution provider can provide a training and support program. Additional time invested during user acceptance testing and training during the implementation will go a long way to reducing confusion, frustration or reluctance to use the system. The better trained and more confident your users are, the faster they will be able to take advantage of the benefits the new platform offers.
8. Set a quick implementation timeline
A better ROI is achieved when the overall costs to implement are low and the implementation is completed quickly. An implementation cycle of less than 3 to 4 months (including all data integration) can convince the internal stakeholders and decision influencers that the project will pay for itself sooner rather than later and help to justify a higher priority.
All mid-market companies interested in supply chain automation should review the eight requirements above. This pre-planning and preparation can help ensure a smooth and rapid implementation for a third-party supply chain collaboration solution as well as long-term success.