Finding manufacturing ERP help and software support can seem like a daunting task. You've entered all the right search terms into your browser, checked out web sites, looked at advertising in trade magazines and on targeted web publications, and yet, how do you know if the owner of the pretty web site or flashy ad can handle your ERP maintenance and support needs?
Here are some ideas from Howard Kiewe, senior research analyst for Info-Tech Research Group:
In addition to the standard web site search effort, expand your scope to include referrals from colleagues, former colleagues, and acquaintances you might have in your particular industry.
Social networking sites, such as the business-focused LinkedIn, has groups you can join that allow you to interact with your peers from other manufacturers or tangential businesses. Often enough, third-party consultants who may have been involved with your ERP installation, database management, or related integration work will be a good source of recommendations.
Once you've identified a few options, there's more to the search than comparing prices. According to Kiewe, your next step is to take a close look at the details of the vendor operation.
"Question them about their process," said Kiewe. "If there is an issue, what do they do? How do they ensure quality when they are repairing an issue? You need to speak not only to the marketing people but to the technical people as well -- you should have access to the people you'll actually be working with."
Along the similar lines, Kiewe said the suitability of third-party software support can be revealed in how they handle their fix processes. "It's easy for vendors to say they can do it, but it's harder for them to tell you how they would handle a fix if they're not sure about it. Ask them for documents that support the process because the process should be documented internally...and make sure they'll do regression testing on any fixes."
The key is to look beyond assurances to find out how they do what they say can do.
Longevity is another filter factor in outsourcing ERP support. While new third-party ERP and software support organizations are starting up at home and abroad, it's important to be sure they'll be in business for years to come. "Look at their financial situation, and look for or ask for an audited financial statement. Not all service providers are willing to show them, but it's still a question you can ask clients -- you should get a feel for risk," Kiewe said.
Last of all, don't let a sound performance process and good vibes convince you too soon. "Third-party support vendors should be able to provide references, and in the due diligence phase, we counsel our clients to speak to the references," Kiewe noted.
Better yet, if you can find independent references through conferences, social networks, or even or tell-tale clues left behind on online forums or blog posts, try to talk to those references that haven't been vetted by the third-party support vendor.
What other resources would you like to see on managing ERP maintenance and support? Email us at email@example.com.
About the author: Chris Maxcer is a freelance writer.