This is the story of a lot of pain that could have been avoided by talking to a few smart people, if only I’d known who to talk to…
A common question for any enterprise is the notorious build vs. buy decision for enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Completing a full due diligence process is costly both in terms of resource allocation, as well as calendar time, and it often leads to poor results. Internal teams typically lack the experience and exposure to best practices, and often are not experts on all the options that make up the full technology product landscape from which they will select their vendor. Having never done this before, there are no previous lessons from which to learn.
To avoid this, many large companies hire teams of consultants, believing that it is better to overspend on IBM, SAP, or Oracle in order to minimize pain than to suffer through “rookie mistakes.” Unfortunately, while it is easy to spend one’s way to the correct solution, this is usually not an option for small and medium-sized companies seeking a low cost, high value solution.
Long before Maven, I was faced with implementing a professional services automation suite (PSA) for my employer, an offshore software development services company. The purpose of the software was to bind together data and processes across the entire company, providing tools for workflow, resource assignment, resource profiles/skills, billing, AR, and reporting/BI. While many packages exist that claim to provide a solution for this, the selection process was not easy, even for a company comprised almost entirely of software developers and technologists! Assessing the capabilities of each package versus my company’s nuanced business requirements in order to complete my cost/benefit analysis was extremely challenging.
Over the next 6 months, I worked with various vendors to deeply examine their systems and further refine my business requirements. Since the small differences between the systems we were evaluating were lost in the vendors’ sales pitches, I ended up conducting a pilot implementation of each. I knew that I could save time and at least eliminate one or two unacceptable choices if I could talk to a few unbiased experts, but all of the experts that I was able to find on my own (or had referred to me by the software publishers themselves) all had a financial interest in my purchasing a particular package.
I also knew that I wasn’t the first person to ever face this dilemma. To be clear, while it was my company’s first ERP implementation, we were certainly not the first company of comparable size and profile to go through such an evaluation. If I could only find one or two other professionals who had conducted a similar project and get them to share some insights and advice with me, my life would have been a whole lot easier.
When I finally came to a conclusion and chose a package, I lacked confidence in my choice. The best deal, given budget vs. functionality, turned out to be an option that was my least preferred choice! While I loved Netsuite and OpenAir for personal reasons, intellectual honesty pointed me to a solution based on Microsoft Dynamics (the horror!). Since this result was so unexpected, we continued to analyze the Dynamics solution for the next 3 months to validate our initial findings – in other words, three more months tacked onto the back of the project just to confirm what we’d already decided!
At the end of the 3-month final review something unexpected happened. For unrelated reasons, I happened to meet the CEO of another services firm which was nearly identical to mine, and had the same exact problem. It turned out that this firm had just finished a 2-year project to plan and roll out a solution that was also based on Microsoft Dynamics.
The discussion was both motivating and depressing – motivating because they reaffirmed all of my ideas, gave me confidence in my choice, and showed me a clear path forward; and depressing because I realized how much time I would have saved if I had met this person earlier (and vice versa…). It became clear to me that during the diligence process, what I really needed was access to peers who had gone through this process before, not sales engineers from vendors who stand to profit by my choosing their product. It also would have given me answers to questions that I didn’t even know to ask – a classic case of you don’t know what you don’t know. I estimate that having access to this experience and wisdom at the beginning of my process would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars and 50% of the total project time, and ultimately would have led to a more successful outcome.
This experience was a big part of the reason I helped to start Maven. I didn’t want to ever again be caught in a situation where I had to make a critical business decision without access to the right expertise, and now I never do.
Editor’s Note: Mark Platosh is the Co-Founder and CTO of Maven. When he’s not selecting ERP packages and directing our crack Ukrainian development team, he enjoys fishing and BBQ.