Steps for limiting SAP software purchasing mistakes

A lack of planning -- or asking enough questions -- can result in software purchases that don’t include functionality companies need, according to experts.

Companies have a small arsenal of steps they can take to make sure the SAP software they’re buying has the functionality they’re expecting, according to experts. There are also avenues to pursue if the SAP software they purchased doesn’t work out, they add.

For one, companies should talk to fellow SAP customers about the applications’ features and not leave it to the salesperson’s word alone, according to Jon Reed, an independent SAP analyst and owner of JonERP.com.

“The most effective enterprise negotiations are done by what I call ‘networked users,’ or ‘networked customers,’ ” Reed said. “These are customers that are connected to other firms, are active in user groups, sharing peer-to-peer information on the successes, trials, tribulations, advantages, disadvantages or particular products.”

Companies that are plugged in to user networks make better decisions, he said, though it’s surprising how many aren’t. “Some are winging it on their own way more than they should,” Reed said.

Users should take advantage of SAP conferences, he said. “Meet up at Sapphire [and the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG) convention] every year and share war stories.  See where that leads.”

‘Demand to see it’
Today’s ERP applications -- especially SAP’s -- are so broad and complicated that it’s nearly impossible for any sales representative to understand every single feature of the system, according to independent analyst Cindy Jutras.

“Just asking ‘does it do X?’ and just getting the answer from the sales rep isn’t enough,” she said.

It’s important to verify firsthand that the software performs a certain feature, she said. “If something is of critical importance, I would demand to see it.”

Try before you buy
Companies also have new ways to demo software, she said.

“Virtually everything today is accessible over the Internet. Particularly with small companies and SaaS solutions, a ‘try before you buy’ is not unheard of," Jutras said. "It’s got to be a pretty well-contained pilot, because you’re obviously not going to do a whole implementation on one or more solutions before you write the check. But you should do some level of ‘try before you buy’ whether it’s them doing a demo for you or you putting your hands on a keyboard yourself.”

With a new application, even more ‘due diligence’ is needed
The importance of verifying what’s in a particular software application isn’t lost on Neil Briggs, the chief financial officer of WL Plastics, a manufacturer and seller of  polyethylene pipes based outside of Dallas.

When his company implemented Business ByDesign last year, the SAP sales rep said that the application included a U.S. sales tax package and electronic data interchange. It didn’t, which is something Briggs chalked up to an honest mistake on behalf of the rep, especially since the product was new when they began talk of deploying the application.

“You can write it down to a lack of knowledge,” Briggs said, “But with a completely new product, you’ve got to cut [the sales rep] some slack. Everybody is on the learning curve.”

When evaluating an application, he said, companies need to make a lot of reference calls. And when it comes to industry-specific functionality, Briggs echoed Jutras’ advice: Companies should make sure they try it out -- or at the very least talk to companies that have.

That advice is especially true with any new application, Briggs said, but it’s even more important for applications that are [completely] new to the market. “You have to do a little more due diligence,” he said.

If the industry doesn’t require the functionality in question, but it is something that the company wants or needs because of the way it does business, the company may want to consider revising its processes to match the industry standards, he said.

Companies also shouldn’t assume that if the functionality is available in one ERP application, like the Business Suite, it’s available in another, like Business ByDesign, Briggs said.

 “They’re different products,” he said.

Enlist the help of experts for SAP purchases
Companies should also reach out to individuals who can provide expertise on various kinds of software, Reed said, no matter what their titles are.

“There’s a strong need to pull in subject matter experts to kick the tires on the functionality in question. Companies get into trouble with this,” he said.  When a company is involved in a software-buying decision, it often only consults with high-ranking executives, he said.

Sometimes the best subject matter experts in a particular area aren’t high on the food chain, Reed said. “They’re not necessarily going to be sitting at the table when those decisions are made. Smart companies pull them in. It’s ideal if it you have an internal person that can fulfill that role. Alternately, bringing in an outside person for a period of time can also make sense.”

If the functionality isn’t there, look again to user networks
Companies that end up not getting features they thought were included in the software they purchased may want to ask the vendor for a roadmap showing when that option is going to be provided.

If that doesn’t work, Reed said, companies should again look to user networks like ASUG for help.

“At the least, you could get involved in some kind of influence activities on functionality enhancements,” he said. 

“The more customers that join in on that, the better off you are in getting a result. You might make your case, and then other customers that are involved in that influence activity would do the same,” Reed said. “Pretty soon, enough voices are heard, that functionality’s going to get added.”

If it’s something different, for example, the company feels it overpaid for the software, Reed suggested working with the vendor to see what kind of price breaks might be offered on future purchases.

In either case, he said, vendors have an interest in making sure customers are happy.

“Vendors, for the most part, want your business for the long haul,” he said. “It’s not generally a one-off sale for them.”

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