In the first four parts of this series, we talked about some key factors to consider when selecting financial accounting software, such as looking at where the accounting application sits relative to the technology life cycle, how to decide on what selection criteria are the most important, and what the pros and cons are of cloud computing. We then discussed the first five steps of a better way to select and implement new business applications:
Step 1 – Form a Selection Committee (Pick 4 – 5 key users & an executive sponsor)
Step 2 – Define your Objectives (Identify 4 -10 key business issues & prioritize)
Step 3 – Identify Vendors/Solutions to Evaluate (Limit to 2 to 3 options)
Step 4 – Request for Information (Issue an RFI, not an RFP)
Step 5 – Software Evaluation (Don’t require scripted demos. Let vendors decide on how best to address your issues)
Keeping these key factors and steps in mind, let’s conclude our discussion by looking at the final six steps of a better way to select and implement new business applications:
Step 6 – Proposal
Ask the vendors to prepare a formal proposal for you based on the additional information that they now have on your organization and your needs. This proposal should include:
- Detailed pricing with complete list of software modules/features
- Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over three years
- Estimated implementation timeline with recommended phases, if applicable
- Outline of Implementation Methodology
- Statement of Work (SOW) or Scope Definition for implementation services
- Biographies or profiles of the staff members that may be on your project
- Two to three customer references (Note: It is not essential that they be in the same industry, although that can be helpful)
- Technical Support policies
Be sure to emphasize to the vendors that it will be the quality of the responses that is important, not the size of the proposal.
Step 7 – Notify Your Preferred Vendor
Once you have determined your preferred vendor, tell them. You may be inclined to keep them in suspense in hopes that it will strengthen your negotiating position, but the reality is just the opposite. You want your vendor to be a trusted business partner and the best way to start building that relationship is to notify them early and let them work with you to reach an agreement that is a win-win for both parties. If you picked the right partner, they will be very appreciative of the fact that you are willing to tell them that they are your preferred choice and they will work even harder to win your business and help you achieve your goals.
Step 8 – Due Diligence
No matter how good you feel about your choice, you still need to do some due diligence. To begin with, don’t assume that the software vendor or value added reseller that you are working with is financially strong. The last few years have been difficult ones for many companies and some of them are barely hanging on. Check out their financial health through Dun & Bradstreet or a similar service.
Be sure to also contact their references and spend enough time with those references to drill down into their experiences. Ask them what their top goals were and whether those goals were met. Ask them what the key benefits of the software have been and what surprises they uncovered. Find out how good the on-going support is and whether their project was on budget and on time. If you uncover something during your reference calls that concerns you, go back to the vendor and give them the opportunity to explain.
Step 9 – Contract Negotiation
When it comes time to negotiate final price and contract terms, don’t play games. Remember, a good solution provider is also a trusted business partner. Their success depends on your success, so be honest with them and make sure that the final contract is a win-win for both parties. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask for a discount. In today’s world, discounts are to be expected. They need to be reasonable, though, and make sense for all involved.
The most important factor to keep in mind when finalizing your agreements is to make sure that you don’t skimp on services in an attempt to save a few dollars. If the project looks like it is going to cost more than you want to pay, look first at cutting back on the scope of the project or implementing the project in phases. Or, look at areas where maybe you can take a little more responsibility (e.g. report writing). Don’t cut training or consulting time, though, because that will assuredly have a negative impact on your ROI.
Step 10 – Implementation
The key to a successful implementation is setting proper expectations and keeping a strong handle on outstanding issues. Relative to setting proper expectations, it all starts by making it clear to the people involved with the project that it is going to get tougher before it gets easier. Contrary to what software vendors claim, implementations are not easy and by the time you go live, user satisfaction is likely to be pretty low. Worse yet, it may be several weeks or months after the go-live before user satisfaction starts going up again. This period where moral may be low and frustrations are high is what some consultants refer to as the “Valley of Despair”. Be sure to talk about the “Valley of Despair” up front so team members understand that it is normal for most implementation projects to have challenges and it is nothing to be overly concerned about. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and the light is bright and exciting and you will get there. It just may take a little pain and effort to do so.
Your implementation partner should have a methodology that they like to follow for keeping projects on track, but if you want to make sure your project completes on time and on budget, I highly recommend maintaining an Issues Worksheet. The Issues Worksheet gives you a place to track all of your tasks and issues and make sure that you know who is responsible and when the tasks or issue is to be completed. That way, finger pointing is avoided and nothing slips through the cracks. It’s simple, but effective. For a sample of an Issues Worksheet, please visit our website.
Step 11 – Measure Results
Once you’re up and running, take the time to look back at the project and ask yourself three key questions:
- Did you achieve your goals?
- Was the project (factoring in agreed changes to project scope) on time and on budget?
- Would you do it again?
- Would you be willing to be a reference for your software vendor and/or implementation partner?
Evaluating, selecting and implementing new financial software is not an easy task. There are lots of options, they all sound good and the more you research them, the more confused you get. Follow these ten steps, though, and your chances of success will go up dramatically. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you exceed your own expectations.
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About the author.
James Meyer has an MBA from the University of Michigan and is a Microsoft Certified Professional. He has over thirty (30) years experience working with financial accounting / ERP software as a consultant, software developer, end-user and value added reseller. He works primarily with small and mid-sized organizations and has spoken at numerous industry events. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions or would like to learn more about the services that he provides.
About Maner Costerisan.
Maner Costerisan, a Michigan-based CPA firm and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, specializes in helping Not-for-Profits improve operations and support their mission through accounting, CRM and productivity software solutions. We are certified resellers for the leading mid-market accounting software solution, Microsoft Dynamics GP, and the leading cloud-based financial management and accounting software solution, Intacct. For more information on how we can help you excel in these challenging economic times, please contact us or visit our website.