When you make a decision to purchase an ERP system, you’ll almost certainly also be making a decision on an implementation solution provider as well. Some companies define the relationship with their solution provider as a customer/vendor relationship – a relatively adversarial relationship where the vendor must be closely managed and their “feet must be held to the fire” as needed. Other companies choose to define the relationship with their solution provider as more of a partner relationship – one where there are mutual rewards for success. After over 20 years of experience with both approaches, I believe that viewing this relationship as anything other than a partnership is a significant problem, right from the start.
My core argument for partnership is that – from the first moment that you engage – your mutual success should be important to both sides of a business relationship. The customer’s internal team needs to deliver on the agreed upon project tasks and responsibilities, just as the solution provider’s team does. Mutual documented commitments on both sides should, of course, be part of the standard project plan. Knowledge transfer will be a critical part of the total equation, and this means that both sides need to be working together, and there needs to be accountability for results and statuses on both sides as well.
Providing customer references is something of a lynchpin for this sort of partnership. Would you even consider moving forward with an ERP system purchase and implementation without a reference from someone who’s using it? Very likely not. ERP solution providers live and die by the quality of their references. While nothing can guarantee the long-term success of a partner, nothing will guarantee their failure as quickly as the inability to provide references. I’ve only run into a handful of customers over the years that have an actual company policy against providing references, but it amazes me that anyone would think that this would ensure a good working relationship.
I’m not advocating that customers should let poor performance off the hook – far from it. Solution providers should deliver on time and at budget, and should manage the project continually and transparently. At the same time, the customer’s designated project manager should also be managing to the milestones for the customer’s internal team. While it is practically impossible for any solution provider to deliver a successful ERP project without an active, participating customer on the other side of the equation, a partnership approach will go a long way to ensuring success, despite any unforeseen obstacles.
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