Should You Use A Manufacturing ERP Consultant?

What to look for when selecting a manufacturing erp consultantAs manufacturing companies begin a new calendar year, many take this opportunity to evaluate new manufacturing ERP software in hopes of starting a new year with a new implementation project. Often times, companies ask us about the use of consultants: Should they use them? How should they pick one? Are they a help or a hindrance? The answers to these questions are as varied as the number of consultants available. Here at IQMS, we have encountered all types of implementations and, based on what we have seen, here are some things to consider when evaluating outside consultants:

Should consultants be used at all?
The first step in deciding if you need a consultant is to decide what your ERP goal is. Are you getting new ERP software because your current system cannot handle your industry requirements without a lot of work arounds? Is your ERP system an amalgamation of many disparate systems and you want to combine all your needs into one? Is your current ERP software simply too expensive or old to maintain? Your goal can help you determine not only if you need an outside consultant, but the role that consultant will play. Consultants can be very useful in assisting with research, RFP compilation and initial ERP vendor selection – this is especially true for those manufacturing companies with a smaller (or non-existent) IT department. Other times, consultants can get your search project going and sit on the sidelines to offer advice only when needed. After you define your goal, the decision about needing assistance in the form of a qualified consultant can be made.

How should I pick a manufacturing ERP consultant? 
As with most big decisions in life, word of mouth is always the best referrer. When people speak highly of a consultant company or implementation project, chances are you will also have a good experience. When you haven’t heard of a consultant company, the next best thing is to ask around. For example, check with manufacturing organizations you belong to (i.e. MAPP, MDMA, APICS) and poll their membership roster for any recommendations. Another option is to review various manufacturing related blogs or articles. Many times, guest authors are consultants who write about their experiences, philosophies and industries. Once you see an article you like, you can seek out more to really determine whose voice most closely matches your goal.

Lastly, be absolutely certain that, if utilizing consultants to assist in ERP software selection, you are getting an unbiased advocate. Too many manufacturers find themselves several months into a failed implementation for an ERP system that doesn’t fit and then discover the consultant had a monetary relationship with the chosen ERP software company. Experience implementing an ERP system is vastly different than getting paid to recommend a selection. Be aware of the difference.

Are they a help or a hindrance?
This question is impossible to put a straight answer to. Many consultants are wonderful at what they do and always put their clients’ needs first. However, much like used car salesmen have a bad reputation simply for a couple of bad apples, consultants face the same scrutiny. Here is a tale of two recent consultant experiences and hopefully you can learn how to make your outcome the best:

Hindrance: One manufacturer we recently worked with hired a consultant to be their main point of contact for purchase and implementation. This is pretty typical. However, this consultant made it clear that our employees (from sales to support to application specialists) were to contact no one at the manufacturer, except the consultant. All correspondence went through him. Where this became a problem is that the consultant was also working on several other projects and often times failed to meet deadlines, never turned over key information to the manufacturer and blame stormed delays he caused on both the ERP software company and the client manufacturer. It wasn’t until several months into the project that the client realized something was amiss and contacted us directly. This consultant was a hindrance to the project because he was spread too thin and had complete autonomy without any oversight. Both money and time were wasted needlessly.

Help: On the flip side, an IQMS customer recently went live on EnterpriseIQ with the assistance of an outside consultant who worked as project manager for the manufacturer due to lack of internal resources. This consultant, like the last one, was the primary liaison between the client and IQMS but also asked that a team member from within the client company be copied on all correspondence. The consultant felt this approach provided more communication to the client company but also more responsibility to the consultant. The consultant was prompt with deliverables, firm and motivating to the client on setting and reaching goals and provided feedback to IQMS on both project status and additional needs of the client. The project went live under budget and under time, saving money and returning quicker ERP ROI.

In the end, the choice to use a consultant for manufacturing ERP selection and implementation is completely different for each company. We have seen great results and some less than stellar results. Each implementation project, as a whole, and each project team is different. Being familiar with what to look for and how to proceed can make an OK implementation a great and successful one!

What sort of experience has your company had with outside ERP consultants?

Glenn Nowak, IQMS Vice President of Sales, has more than 25 years of experience in software and business management. His broad background and problem solving skills have increased IQMS’ annual profits by double digits every year. Prior to joining IQMS, Glenn worked in consulting for various companies including Weston Solutions and Ogden Consulting working on a wide range of projects including operations and business management.