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Best practices for buying an order management system

Get expert and user tips on what features to look for when vetting order management systems, as well as implementation and end-user training advice.

Selecting the right software for a company is no easy job: Because enterprise systems have big price tags, business leaders should be absolutely sure the selected system best meets the needs of the organization. This is especially true when it comes to choosing an order management system, which plays a critical role in handling the increased complexity of the fulfillment process.

According to experts, these days it's no longer just about traditional order management -- it's about orchestrating an order all the way from the front office, through customer relationship management systems and across all channels.

"I would go outside a pure order management system," said Tyler Wilson, senior ERP consultant at Panorama Consulting Solutions in Denver. "I would look at something that's all-encompassing. Look at something that can integrate with your order management to feed it to the receivables, and that can capture your customer data and put it right into your customer master files."

And the work doesn't stop after a vendor is chosen, as implementation poses a new set of challenges. But with valuable best practices in mind, order management technology selection and implementation can be a smooth and successful process.

Map out requirements before choosing a vendor

Wilson pointed out that there's potential for redundancy in order management if the same data is being captured by and shuttled between multiple systems. "That's not the goal in business these days," he said. "You want to streamline those processes and avoid as much work as possible."

So, before setting out to purchase an order management system, business leaders should first figure out what they want and need.

Wilson recommended starting by physically writing out existing order management processes. "If you're looking at your order management, what does that look like on paper? What are your business requirements around that? Ask yourself those questions and physically map it out," he said.

He also stressed the importance of planning for future requirements. "You don't want to select a system based on what you do now. You want to define what you want to look like in the future and integrate those requirements into your selection process." And it's the people actually working in the system on a daily basis -- in addition to department heads -- who should be involved with defining these requirements, he said.

"They're the people who know what's going on day-to-day," Wilson said. "It's a collaborative effort. You want the people who are doing the job as well as management who have that vision into the future of the company."

When Mike Zhang went looking for an order management system, he had to ensure that it was compatible with his company's shopping cart system.

"In terms of buying best practices, it's [a] hybrid approach for e-commerce," said Zhang, president and chief operating officer at Airsoft Megastore in Irwindale, Calif., a Web-only retailer of recreational pellet guns, gear and accessories. "It's the traditional concept of spec'ing out everything you need from the software and providing that deliverables list to all the vendors."

At his company, Zhang is responsible for making the decisions about what technology to buy. However, he solicited others' opinions in the vetting process, and factored them into his ultimate decision.

"I evaluated business processes to determine what we needed to do on a day-to-day basis, and then I outlined how order management software would be able to help us work more efficiently and more inexpensively," he said. "We also had certain executives in the company involved -- but I wouldn't say to a great extent. Everybody laid out what they wanted in a solution, and we pieced that together and I was the person to carry that project forward."

Airsoft was mainly interested in reliability and uptime, as well as the sturdiness of the infrastructure because the company was looking at hosted systems, Zhang said.

"We were also concerned about how the software facilitated process," he said. "We didn't want to be in a position where we were conforming our company's procedures and sacrificing efficiency in order to satisfy software logic -- how the software was designed to work. Ideally we wanted the software to be designed around how we work." He added that price was another consideration.

Companies should also be looking for distributed order management systems instead of the classic order management, said Gene Alvarez, vice president and analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"The difference is distributed order management systems have orchestration components that enable you to create workflow," he said. "That way, the system can determine which distribution centers are the best ones for fulfillment and it can determine order of execution. For example, you may have an order that requires delivery and service scheduling for installation. The distributed order management system should have a workflow capability to enable that."

Implementing order management software can take time

Ultimately, Zhang selected an order management system from OrderDynamics, the vendor that provides Airsoft's e-commerce application. But buying the software was just the beginning.

"The implementation for the order management system was rather lengthy because we had a lot of data migrating from our legacy system," he said. "It took about 12 months to get up and running, and during that time we were still running the legacy software."

Training involved getting users on the system before it went live so they could familiarize themselves with the new functionality. Zhang explained that it had to be customized from department to department.

"So, if it's customer service, it's doing use cases for customer service needs. If it's warehouse, it's examples of shipment receipts," he said. This specialized training was supplemented by a two-day on-site training session presented by vendor representatives.

The company also took pains to document the process along the way. "We documented our operating procedures internally for every single department or category of user," Zhang said.

Looking back, Zhang stressed the importance of the steps that occurred post-purchase as key to the system's overall success. "Implementation and training was a critical process to get right," he said.

About the author:
Linda Rosencrance has written about technology for more than 10 years and has been a reporter for more than 20. A former Computerworld reporter, she is a freelance writer in Massachusetts and also an author of several true crime books.

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