Six Steps to Selecting the Optimal Order Management System

It’s time to replace your order management system, you say? How are you going to undertake this daunting project?

First and foremost, you need to create a systems project team consisting of representatives from every department. This team will meet periodically to manage the process from start to finish; realistically, this will take at least 20% of their time until the project is completed.

Obviously, the decision to replace your current system needs endorsement from top management. In fact, the chief operating officer and chief financial officer should be members of the team. If you have a “hands on” CEO, he or she should attend key meetings of the team as well.

As for timeframe, a safe window for the project is a minimum of 18 months from beginning to implementation, testing, debugging, and training. And remember, that’s a minimum!

When it actually comes to evaluating potential solutions, try these six steps:

1) Establish systems objectives and priorities. There are lots of reasons for acquiring a new system: managing increased capacity, improving customer service, introducing business methods (such as continuity shipments), lowering processing costs, improving inventory efficiency, reducing paperwork, supporting better e-commerce integration… Specify the objectives most important to you. Chances are you won’t be able to achieve all of them, so it’s also important to prioritize your goals as well. When it comes time to choose among alternatives, your prioritized goals will make that processes easier.

2) Assess operations and budgets. All systems demo well, so once again, it’s up to you to focus on what’s most important to you. Spell out how the software should serve your business needs in a formal and comprehensive functional needs analysis.

3) Produce a written request for proposal (RFP). The results of your functional needs analysis will form the heart of your RFP. In addition to the functional requirements, the RFP should provide:

• a request to the vendors who receive it to indicate whether they can meet your requirements as stated; how much and how long it would take to make modifications, where necessary, to meet requirements they can’t support out of the box; and what functions they cannot support

• a profile of the number of orders, customers, SKUs, and vendors you need to maintain your daily and weekly average and peak order volumes

• a listing of all your computer hardware and software, including networks

• an overview explanation of how your business works

• a listing of third-party processors you rely on and a description of those relationships

• a timeline for the systems acquisition process

• requests for information about the vendor, including the number of systems installed and terms for training and support.

4) Investigate systems options. Now you are finally ready to start looking at systems and to determine which vendors should receive the RFP. An initial list of six to eight contenders is a good number to whom to send the RFP. You should allow about four weeks to receive formal responses.

5) Evaluate responses. Once the formal responses are in hand, develop a quantitative method to score them based on the stated ability of the vendor to meet you needs as is or with modifications, and on other factors such as system cost or ability to meet your timeframe.

6) Review trade-offs. There will probably not be an “ideal” candidate. The final selection of a vendor and a system will be a matter of trade-offs. Price and features alone won’t tell the whole story; take into account the full measure of the relationship to ensure that you can live with your new systems partner long after the “honeymoon” is over.

Ernie Schell is author of “The Guide to Catalog Management Software” and director of Ventnor, NJ-based Marketing Systems Analysis (, which helps multichannel merchants specify and select order processing software.

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