"There is going to be a gap between what ERP software can offer and what a company needs," said Martens. Companies want "to minimize that gap as much as possible" but also need to "be realistic about what has to happen to fill that gap," which may require spending additional money to customize the product, she advised. Conversely, businesses also want to avoid too much customization. That leads to buying software that goes unused and angry CFOs who want companies to use purchased technology, Martens said.
Beyond examining their internal workings, businesses shopping for ERP software should review some of a vendor's completed projects. Visiting a few companies --- rather than just one -- can expose possible problems with the software and eliminate vendors from the running, said Gandy.
"Will it keep a problem from happening? No," he said. But such shopping around "can certainly minimize problems and might even keep you from picking that ERP solution."
Said Martens, "Vendors come in and promise the moon." But if you talk to other customers, seeking unbiased reviews, you can "get a sense of the product because they'll tell it straight."
After selecting a vendor and moving on to contract negotiations, avoid hourly charges for the work it does, added Gandy. "I hate the billable hour," he said. "You're not paying for seats. You're paying for results." Instead, set up a payment plan based on reaching project goals determined by the vendor and company.
That offers a "very solid timeline of what work would be done and when, and the remedies if we didn't hit these deadlines," he said. Paying by deliverables, he has seen, allows the company to have projects completed and running before cutting the vendor a check.
Competition from cloud computing, though, has forced traditional ERP sellers to offer new deployment strategies. And finance chiefs may like the new offerings, said Martens. ERP vendors introduced packages that cover all components of a deployment for a set price, a counter to software as a service and its claims of offering cheaper and easier deployments.
"They try to package something up that is the software, the services, the training and commitment to implementation and try to hit various mast ends," she said. "The idea is that everyone sits down, you map things out and there is a fixed price," she said.
Martens cautioned, however, that companies get what they pay for. When two ERP companies were pitching all-in-one deployments to her client, they both cut the contracts' cost by scaling back on services included in the implementation.