Your supply chain collaboration implementation can be greatly aided with some simple pre-planning and preparation. In my experience, companies who neglect one or more of these areas will often run into (avoidable) challenges as a result. Ensuring these requirements are in place will help get you up and running faster and help drive a faster ROI.
1. Ensure internal stakeholders are ready…
Many mid-market companies still handle most of their procure-to-pay activities manually. So the change that comes with going from manual to automated process can be challenging for team members and negatively impact team morale. To prevent this, make sure all stakeholders are on board with the project by presenting the advantages to the organization in terms of the productivity and the cost.
It would help if anyone who is affected by the move to automation is provided with alternate / additional responsibilities within the organization. You can also help ensure readiness by setting the priority of this project with respect to other initiatives within the organization. And finally, determine if other divisions of the organization might be impacted (positively or negatively) by the project and bring them into the discussions early so they can prepare and help smooth the transition.
2. Identify the key functionality and ROI requirements
Once you get a buy-in from your internal stakeholders, set down the specific functional (what it needs to achieve) and ROI (how soon it needs to pay for itself) requirements. However, be ready to be flexible on any nice-to-have functionality as it is very rare that any out-of-the-box solution will satisfy 100% of your wishlist. Determine if there are any other needs such as performance metrics, support for mobile devices, etc. See my colleague’s blog post to determine which transactions are most effective when mobile.
3. Determine whether your implementation will be On-premise or SaaS
The solutions available On-premise or SaaS vary widely. Your 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, your IT team will need to be involved so their buy-in at the earliest stage is critical. On-premise will require your IT team to be involved for the duration of the implementation as well as throughout the life of the installation. They will also need to scope and deploy any hardware requirements (such as new servers). SaaS, on the other hand, would require your IT team’s help to set up and maintain 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 systems which can handle multiple ERPs.
5. Find out how your ERP can or will integrate with 3rd party solutions
One of the major hurdles in the successful implementation of any 3rd party solution is having the required tools/systems/IT resources to help with the integration. This is the most time consuming activity and should be discussed and planned long before any implementation project starts. Look for solutions that can integrate using a variety of protocols (XML, EDI, CSV, etc., using HTTP, FTP, AS2, etc.). The more options you have the more likely that the solution can fit what is already available within your organization. Also determine if some of your internal data is present in other 3rd party applications. If so, you will need to consider how you will integrate that data in addition to your ERP data.
6. Put a Supplier On-boarding strategy in place
Supplier on-boarding is absolutely critical to any collaboration project. Please see my previous blog post 7 Steps to Easy Supplier On-boarding for points to consider. The final success or failure is directly linked to how much you can convince your suppliers on the advantages of using the system. Having a plan well in advance and keeping your suppliers updated regularly on the implementation would help to gain their trust. Larger companies have an advantage here as they can often dictate which systems their suppliers will use, but mid-market and smaller companies do not have that leverage and must make the system as easy and appealing to suppliers as possible.
7. Plan your testing and training schedule for the maximum amount of user preparation before launch
It’s important that you determine when your buyer and suppliers will have the time and availability to test and get trained of the new platform. Additional time spent during, user acceptance testing and training during the implementation will go a long way to reducing user 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) could help convince the internal stakeholders that the project will pay for itself sooner rather than later.
9. Ensure easy program and platform administration
Any solution you choose should requires as minimal maintenance and overhead as possible for your team once it is fully implemented. Look for solutions which have out-of-the-box standard features for automation, ease of administration which avoid unexpected internal maintenance costs. Look for solutions where changes can be quickly done by your Buyer admin with little technical knowledge instead of requiring a dedicated resource from your team or IT just to administer the solution. Also look for solutions where supplier and internal user support is included for the life of the contract.