The Fulfillment Doctor Consults on . . . Systems Selection

Feb 28, 2007 9:33 PM  By

Question: I am trying to select a new catalog management system that also includes warehouse functionality. After reading the brochures, talking with vendors, and participating in Webinars with them, how do I make sense of all the information?

Answer: Software vendors have great brochures and Websites, but avoid narrowing your search down too quickly. Initial discussions and online demos will show you just a portion of what the software can do.

To begin, document your business requirements, listing each and every task that the new application needs to accomplish. Include any future needs and wishes as well. This allows you to send a detailed request for proposal (RFP) to each vendor. You can then evaluate their responses in a comparative format. No one can remember everything that a vendor’s product is capable of, especially after reviewing several online demos. Get the vendors to respond by telling you what is actually available in their base applications rather than something that they will have to modify.

Next, sort through the vendors’ responses and eliminate those that do not fit a high percentage of your requirements without modifications. If there seem to be a large number of modifications from all the vendors, you should ask yourself whether you are looking at the right group of vendors and if the requirements you documented truly what your business needs.

Look to reduce, if not completely rule out, the need for any modifications if possible. Narrow your choices down to two or three software vendors you believe are capable of supporting your business and bring the top two vendors in for scripted demos—your agenda for vendor presentations–keeping a third vendor “in reserve” just in case.

Base your scripted demos on business functions specific to your business that you want to be sure the vendor can perform. Remember, you control the software demonstration, and you decide what is important for your organization to view and understand.

To develop your scripted demos, work with each of your user departments to address their major concerns, reviewing in detail how the software can accomplish these requirements. Send the vendors examples of your catalogs, a link to your Website, and a list of functions you specifically want to have demonstrated, such as drop-shipping.

For the demos themselves, have each vendor walk through the entire business process, from creation of items and offers to writing purchase orders, receiving, and put-away. Ask the vendors to demonstrate the entire order entry process with multiple scenarios, including back-ordered items, ship alone, and multiline and single-line orders. Follow an order through all of its processes from credit-card authorization through pick, pack, and ship. Don’t forget returns and customer service issues that you encounter every day. Be sure you have a scribe who can write down the details of what works well and what does not. Also, there will inevitably be postdemo follow-up queries that you want to have documented and forwarded to the vendors for responses.

Ultimately you are trying to determine which vendor can be a long-term partner and assist you better with growing your business. No vendor is going to be a 100% fit, and you should scrutinize vendors that tell you either in the RFP or in the demo that they can support 100% of your requirements.

As soon as possible after each demo is completed, you will want the participants from each functional area in your business to provide a high-level scoring of the vendor’s functionality. You will need to rank the pluses and minuses of the software demonstration in each functional area while they are still fresh in everyone’s mind.

If at this point the scripted demos—and whatever immediate follow-up is necessary— have you comfortable with these vendors, it’s time to take the next steps in finalizing your decision: reference checks and site visits.

When checking vendor references, ask to see the full customer list, not just the vendor’s selected references. You want to make sure that you will not be either the largest or smallest client with a particular vendor. If you’re the largest, you risk having to drag the vendor along in order to enhance the application fast enough to suit your growing business. If you’re the smallest, you may not receive the level of attention you need from the support group.

Call as many as possible of the vendor’s customers that are of a similar size or have a product makeup similar to your company, as well as any other companies that you feel are leaders in the industry. It’s a good idea to review any areas that you feel might pose a problem for your company and ask if the vendor’s clients have had any issues in that area. Ask if they have to work around any of the vendor’s functionality.

You are trying to confirm that you are headed down the right path in selecting the best possible partner for a long-term investment. Ask the references everything: Did the vendor complete the installation on time and within the budget? How are the software releases—are they full of bugs or pretty clean? How is the vendor’s support? How active is the user group? How well does the vendor listen to its customer base?

Choose one or two of each vendor’s clients to visit. Seeing first-hand how a similar business uses the application is very important. Here you can tell where the true work-arounds are and how efficiently customers are able to use the application. You will also get a much deeper perspective then you would from a phone conversation.

Hopefully at the end of this process you will have done all the homework and research you need to make a well-founded decision that will create a partnership with a vendor for many years to come.

Brian Barry is senior consultant of F. Curtis Barry & Co., a consultancy specializing in contact centers, fulfillment, direct systems, benchmarking, and inventory management. For more information, visit www.fcbco.com.

Related articles:

Four Steps in Selecting a Business System

Six Steps in Selecting the Optimal Order Management System