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Do I need a consultant’s help to select and implement an ERP System? If so, how do I find the right one?

I would have to say, “It depends”.  My first impulse is to say, if you had this expertise in house, we would not be having this conversation and/or these steps would be complete and I would be here in a different capacity.  But, since that is not the case, I suggest that it would be in your company’s best interest to work with a specialist in this field.

There are many ‘consultants’ in the marketplace.  Some of them are professional consultants and some of them are ‘between jobs’.  My suggestion would be to go to the Institute of Management Consultant’s Website and look for a professional consultant registered as an ERP Consultant.  The ideal candidate will have an APICS Certification (CPIM or CSCP or both). 

It is important to state the obvious.  Finding a consultant through either the IMC or APICS website will not guarantee that the consultant can help your organization.  However, it will probably increase the odds that the consultant is qualified to perform that type of work because they have done it before.

Now, we must talk about some of the drawbacks.  Some consultants focus their efforts in an ERP Specialty like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics AX, etc.  While this may seem well and good, they may unduly focus their activities toward their niche and not towards your best interests.  Some packages may not fit well and will require expensive modifications if you do not change your business practices.  There are ERP Packages focused more toward your company manufacturing philosophy.  Most seasoned professionals are able to learn a package in a very short time and may charge no fee or a reduced fee during the learning process.  The look and feel is common within an ERP Package and a professional ERP Consultant will probably pick up the flow quickly.  It might be a good “tell” if the consultant is not quickly able to learn the flow of a new system.

There is a difference between ERP implementation activities and learning which buttons to push on which screen (i.e., training).  The training part of the ERP Implementation is the easiest piece of the puzzle to solve.  Knowing how to implement a package and how to use the pieces of that system are the real concerns for organizations.  A truly season ERP consultant can learn the flow and idiosyncrasies of the system  at customer sites management training sessions and serve as an additional resource when department managers conduct the “user training classes”.

Here is a word of caution.  There is an old adage that “you get what you pay for”.  This is especially true with consultants.  Nonetheless, a large fee does not qualify someone as a good consultant.  Expect to be charged at a rate of between $130 and $350 per hour.  This fee may appear exorbitant but remember that the greatest numbers of consultants are independent people who are not aligned to a particular software package.  They do not work 2,080 hours a year.  Their fees must cover the overhead of bench time, looking for contacts, researching the contact and securing a first meeting.  Small consultancies spend the biggest part of their day prospecting and trying to sell new customers.

You may consider working with a large consultancy firm, but, if you do, expect to pay about $150 to $500 per hour for their time.  You may get what you pay for, but a large fee does not necessarily mean a good consultant.  If you do use a large consultancy, insist on a consultant who has actual shop floor and operations experience not restricted to the classroom.  Large shops have large overheads and sometimes compensate by using inexperienced consultants.

There is another consideration.  What do you expect the consultant to do for you and the company?  Make sure that both you and the consultant agree on expectations.  What should a consultant do?  Let me quote Oliver Wight.  In his book The Executive’s Guide to Successful MRPII, he stated that the consultant “should be the catalyst, not reactor” (p. 153).  Listen to Mr. Wight's advice and find a consultant who has done it before, understands how your organization functions, and is mature enough to act as an agent for the organization, not as an answer to the organization’s issues.

One special note: consultants who are members of the Institute of Management Consultants, are bound by oath to perform work only for which they are qualified.  Click on the link above to review information about that organization.


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