Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why NOW is the best time to start searching for a new OMS/WMS/CRM platform

Multichannel merchants have more than a dozen fully integrated OMS/WMS/CRM third-party solutions to choose from (actually, down from three dozen in the 1990s). These are, by definition, complex systems that require careful specification and painstaking implementation to be fully functional and provide maximum ROI to the companies using them.

Implementation can take anywhere from six to eighteen months, with twelve months a practical goal if managed properly. Before running through a high-level pro forma schedule, let's focus on the "managed properly" aspect of the process.

There are three basic elements to such management:

1) The merchant must have a designated Selection and Implementation Team whose top priority is choosing and implementing the new system. The team should include a representative from purchasing, sales & marketing, operations/fulfillment, IT, eCommerce, and order entry/customer service. And it needs a Team Leader, who can be from any department or C-Level position, so long as they have a demonstrated track record for project management. This will be one of the most important and critical projects the company will be undertaking for quite some time, and cannot be sidetracked, neglected, or mismanaged. Everything is riding on its success.

Note, however, that none of the team members, including the Leader, will be working on the implementation project as a full-time commitment. Some days and weeks it will be full time and more, but in general it will require about eight to twelve hours per week, some in contact with the system vendor, others in meetings of the entire team or designated members, and some in administrative or follow-up tasks.

2) The Selection and Implementation Team must have an Implementation Plan. This must be done in close collaboration with the third-party vendors, which include at minimum the OMS/WMS/CRM provider, the eCommerce provider (if separate from the OMS vendor), the company handling sales tax calculation, and the company doing payment processing. There are some OMS solution providers who offer all of these services in one integrated package, but even then, there will be integration with other systems in the merchant's IT stack, including accounting, product management, merchandise forecasting, supply chain management, and so on.

And last but far from least, there will be data conversion, which can be a snake pit of problems and challenges. In general, since systems manage order data so differently from one another, merchants should keep the old system up and running for at least six months, and use it for looking up orders that were created on it. Customer and product look-ups and management, on the other hand, will be done on the new platform from Day One (see "Go Live" in the Pro Forma Schedule below).

3) No scope creep! Once the system has been selected, based on careful evaluation of how well it meets the defined criteria and functional specification, the functionality of the system should be "closed," with no "by the way" or "if you're doing that, can you do this?" Scope creep is death by a thousand cuts, and should be avoided completely!


The following is a generic schedule for the entire systems specification, selection, and implementation process that can be adapted to suit any company's specific situation:

Month 1: Preparation
The company needs to determine first of all if a new system is really required. I have seen all too many instances where an initial planning group gets together to discuss general system needs, and discovers to its shock and delight that the current system can actually handle everyone's top priorities (and often more) but users were unaware because those functions had never been implemented or "turned on."

During the prep month team members should compile a list of system vendors to be included for consideration for the new system. In general, there are three "buckets" for candidate solutions. A) Systems that focus on one or two aspects of the OMS/WMS/CRM process, B) Systems that will meet most requirements, but from vendors who have a high-cost business model based on large sales teams and expensive database platforms, and C) "The Goldilocks" systems that manage all OMS/WMS/CRM functions and cost in the $50,000 to $500,000 range (for, let's say, 30 users; will be in seven figures for 50 user or more). The latter are specifically designed for multi-channel merchants.

Finally, in the Prep month the company needs to form the System Selection and Implementation Team and make sure everyone understands the process. The Team needs to determine the Team Leader, and contact any potential consultants that can assist with this process.

Month 2: Request for Proposal
A Request for Proposal, or RFP, can be an extremely detailed document covering a broad range of features and functions, or it can be a much more focused summary of system needs and requirements. If the latter, the top ten requirements should be described in sufficient detail to assure that system providers/vendors can ascertain the degree to which they can support them.

Month 3: Vendor Responses
The system vendors who have received the RFP will submit their responses. Some may request an extra few weeks to complete their replies, but in general, we can assign one month for this.

Month 4: Proposal Reviews
Some vendors will be eliminated based on system cost (way out of line with the trend) or lack of critical functionality. Those who remain based on review of their proposals should be contacted to do remote Web demos of about two hours or so. From this group (perhaps three or four vendors), two "finalist" candidates should be invited to do full-day, on-site demos at your facility.

Month 5: Vendor Selection
Based on the on-site demos (and review of any available system documentation), the Selection Team will make a final vendor selection, which should be based not only on "functionality" but also on how well you feel your organization will fit with the vendor's existing user "family." The companies using the system should be somewhat similar to yours in size, product range, and company culture. If the vendor personnel and/or the system users aren't compatible with your corporate style, the likelihood of long-term system success is greatly diminished.

Month 6: System Configuration Planning
Once selected, the vendor should meet with your Team and determine exactly which features and functions are the highest priority and focus on any configuration or customization that might be required to provide them. Even if you have a chosen a cloud solution with few if any options for modification, there will always be configuration to take care of, and this is the time for nailing it down in detail.

Month 7: Configuration Review/Data Conversion
The Team should review in minute detail all system configurations, and specify in detail how existing customer and product data should be converted for management on the new platform.

Months 8 and 9: Execute Configuration and Data Conversion; User Training
Training Users should be done in two phases. A week-long overview of the entire system for all users, followed by a week of training specifically for each user group on the features and functions they will be most focused on going forward.

Month 10: Go Live!
With the new system fully configured and populated with legacy customer and SKU data, and users ready to use the system, you are ready to cut over to the new system. I recommend doing this on a Wednesday, so that on the previous two days users can do a final "recap" or "review" of the new functionality (and often new terminology, as well), and can use Thursday and Friday to "clean up" any glaring or show-stopper issues or problems. Don't assume you won't have any such issues. You'd be the very first companies in history to be so lucky!

Months 11 and 12: Debugging, Documentation 
So certain is it that there will be problems of some kind that two months should be allocated for resolving all of them. Sometimes, fixing one problem will cause two others. That's just the way it is.

And finally, I have not included a full discussion of documentation in this overview for the sake of simplicity, but you need to pay attention to it. Review whatever documentation the vendor has provided to be sure it is current (it is often anything but!). If there is no adequate documentation, you should devote these two months to working with the vendor to create it specifically for your use. It can be on-line or a PDF or other format (including Evernote), and if possible, it should have keywords or an index for easy reference.

Finally, your business is constantly evolving. Work closely with your system vendor to make sure that your new system evolves with you to the extent that is possible. Remember, you're part of each other's "families" now, and you need to keep those connections refreshed and friendly!

P.S. If you are reading this in September, your new system should be truly and fully ready to Go Live this time next year, which is the perfect time for merchants who have a heavy fourth quarter order volume. Your company will be very busy in the fall, but you can be assured that when the orders start ramping up you will be able to handle them on your new stable and functional solution!

Questions? Please contact me at ernie@schell.com

Monday, August 07, 2017

4 Steps to Getting Started with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation

"Most data managers have now heard enough about the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that they’ve moved beyond denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to grudging acceptance that it will indeed require major changes in their operations," writes David Raab in an August 7 posting on the Information Management website. But this leaves many wondering exactly how to move ahead in adapting to the new regime.

Be sure to check out David's post - 4 steps to getting started with GDPR compliancefor all the details. 

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