The trade press seems to love stories about failed ERP implementations. The stories usually focus on incompetent implementation teams, indifferent vendors and end-users who are incapable of understanding how their own businesses work or the markets they serve.
Adding to this is the barrage of editorializing on what Apple, Microsoft, SAP or Oracle should or should not be doing in terms of development, licensing and support. Perhaps that level of scrutiny and second guessing is beneficially important to enterprises since they are indeed betting their own companies when they select a strategic system such as ERP. The reader could easily get the impression that software companies must be run by revenue-obsessed idiots with no clue as to the most basic concepts of customer care or after-sale support.
In the most extreme cases, these vendors may be portrayed as diabolically dishonest, doing anything they can to get the sale.
The Headhunter Story
I read of an account several years ago about a large systems project being put out to bid by a medium-sized company. Early in the process, the IT director responded to a request from a headhunter for a dinner meeting to discuss a dream job. He was told to be prepared to discuss in detail some of the projects he was currently working on. Turns out, he wasn’t a headhunter at all; he was a vendor posing as a headhunter. The conversation during the “interview” provided the vendor with everything they needed to know to win the deal. The hapless IT director had no clue that he had been played.
Reading stories like this makes me wonder what people really think about their vendors and suppliers in the IT area. My company has actively been involved in enterprise-level software products for 44 year, and I was particularly concerned about how our customers felt about us. I also wanted to see how others felt about their vendors. Surely this kind of nefarious nonsense wasn’t as commonplace as was suggested in the article.
To start with, I ran a simple survey asking participants to categorize their relationship with their own ERP vendors. I did not ask for vendor names or limit the survey to market segments or other demographic divisions. For each participant, I offered five choices. These were:
- Beneficial – a partnership
- Adversarial – not allowed on site
- Useful – but expensive
- Consultative – a team member
- Never met our ERP vendor
I posted the survey within an ERP LinkedIn group and braced myself for the storm of negativity that I was sure would erupt.
The actual results were really quite surprising. The sample size was not huge, but the results were nearly all positive.
None of the respondents selected the second choice (adversarial), and fewer than 10 percent selected the fifth choice (never met our ERP vendor). The largest group of respondents (45 percent) considered their relationship with their ERP vendor to be consultative in nature and view the vendor as a team member. The remaining group (44 percent) rates their relationship as being beneficial or useful.
These are not the approval numbers of an industry troubled by vendor irresponsibility or customer ineptitude.
The other reason why this is heartening is that it means companies are really driving maximum benefits from their ERP choices. In most cases, ERP companies have much to offer beyond features, benefits and support. When they are included in the discussions and processes related to a company strategy and execution, everybody wins. The users benefit from external knowledge coming into the enterprise and the vendord win by learning more and more about what drives the customers, what their needs are and what they expect from their enterprise software products.The chart above illustrates the distribution of answers supplied by the survey respondents.
In the case of Cincom Systems, my employer, we run customer quality surveys on an ongoing basis. These are typically sent to individuals who call into our customer support centers around the world.
Cincom measures a number of factors, but we are very proud of the fact that we consistently rate in the upper 90s when it comes to the all-important question of willingness to recommend our solution to another company.
The dealings among an ERP system, the vendor and the customer are not so much a transaction as it is a relationship; it’s a team. If you are not getting that type of domain expertise and ongoing contribution out of your vendor, perhaps you should bring them in and see what they have to say.
They should be one of your best friends!