Determining Which DTC Operations System Platform is the Best Fit

There are many systems possibilities for direct to customer businesses. The choices include ecommerce platforms with order management (OMS) functionality; standalone OMS; “best of breed” integrations with OMS, customer care or CRM front ends and a warehouse management system (WMS) for fulfillment; or ERP systems. How do you determine which is the best fit for your direct business?

At a high level, each of these approaches has its strengths and weaknesses.  However, knowing your company’s user requirements lies at the heart of selecting the right system, vendor and software for your DTC operations.

As with any major software selection process we recommend creating a system selection team with representatives from all stakeholder groups, including operations, IT and a senior management sponsor.  This team will review each major process milestone and obtain the necessary user signoffs.

VAR Experience in DTC Multichannel and Omnichannel

With many ERP systems, software vendors sell and install their product through VARs that specialize in business market segments.  Thus selecting the right VAR is as important as the functionality of the software, because they will develop a suite of functions tailored to DTC. Be sure the VARs you consider have a track record of providing the detail functionality you need for your catalog, ecommerce and retail business. This is true whether you sell to B2C, B2B or both. You also need to understand their client base and how many installations they have with similar businesses.

Your Company’s Requirements

Having your company’s writtenuser requirements is the key to beginning the software selection process.  The acquisition of software should not be relegated to the IT department.  Yes, it’s about technology and a company’s ability support the to be acquired software.  But, more importantly the proper software functionality is the biggest single element in efficiently servicing the customer, providing the marketing data and running your warehouse.

 

The creation of the requirements document:

  • Becomes the baseline for a side-by-side comparison of vendor responses to your RFP;
  • Identifies areas for system demonstration;
  • Helps determine where modifications are required;
  • Becomes material for addendums to contracts for services

You can’t tell a player’s validity without a scorecard – the requirements become the scorecard.

What should be included in the requirements?  Writing requirements applies to all the platform solutions we identified earlier. We break down the sections of requirements by departmental functions.  For example, OMS would have departmental requirements for order entry, customer service, credit and payment processing, merchandising, inventory management, forecasting, warehousing functions and interfaces to the various credit processors shipping stations. Warehousing functions would further be detailed for receiving, quality, put away, replenishment, picking, packing, manifesting and shipping and returns.

Identifying the detail functions your senior and department managers expect is the best way to be sure you have captured all of the user requirements and have all the bases covered.  For best results, the system selection team and management should sign off on these requirements.  This level of diligence becomes the baseline against further software and vendor/VAR selection. Their responses to the requirements become the basis for understanding the software functionality, and for what parts of it to include in the demonstration. It is also part of the contracting process and helps in the planning of any potential modifications and testing in the implementation phase.

Companies often ask whether exception requirements can be developed rather than spending the time and money on a full set. The answer is a qualified “yes.”  However, you have to be extremely careful with the assumptions you make about how similar your business is to other DTC companies a vendor is installed in. We have seen poorly written exception requirements which are hardly adequate for system selection, resembling pages pulled from a book – and you can’t judge a book well from a few selected pages. Without requirements, it’s hard to defend against a vendor saying “I didn’t know that’s what you meant” in the implementation process.

A closing checklist:

  • Don’t buy software without doing a thorough review against your written requirements
  • Establish with the vendors and VARs the requirements that will be the baseline for your selection and implementation
  • Get signoff among department managers and senior management on the requirements, with all agreeing that the chosen software is the best fit and within budget

Curt Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company

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