Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Critical Steps In System Selection

As a reference for anyone undertaking the process of specifying and selecting an eCommerce solution and/or a multichannel order management and fulfillment platform, here's a summary of the key steps involved (from my Choosing & Using Direct Commerce Order Management and Fulfillment Software):
  • create a Systems Project Team (which should include representatives from all relevant departments)
  • produce a detailed Request For Proposal (RFP) (known as an Invitation to Tender, or ITT in the UK
  • develop a targeted list of potentially qualified solution providers/vendors
  • send the RFP to the vendors requesting their formal, written proposals
  • score and review the vendor proposals
  • develop a short list of the vendors
  • invite short list vendors for a site visit
  • conduct online vendor demos
  • conduct on-site vendor demos for "proof of concept"
  • evaluate the vendors’ implementation strategies
  • evaluate the vendors' training and support capabilities
  • conduct a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis
  • identify the best-fit solution
  • conduct user reference checks
  • make a final decision
  • produce an audit report of the selection process
  • negotiate the contract
  • notify winning and losing vendors
The book, of course, goes into considerable detail on each of these steps. But I would like to focus on the vendor demos steps here, because it is one of the more critical phases of the entire process.

There are really two types of demos required: one is a vendor-driven event in which the vendor sets the agenda and shows off the system to its best advantage. This type of demo is best done online: it saves everyone time (to say nothing of travel expenses), and if the demo reveals early on that there are significant gaps in a system, you can terminate the demo early without much inconvenience (the opposite, in fact).

The on-site demos, for those vendors who have passed the vendor-driven demo test, should be driven by you and your team, with a detailed list of features and functions you want to see demonstrated, preferably using a small sample of your own data that you have provided the vendors in advance. The important point here is to make the detailed list as meaningful as possible, focusing on mission-critical functions that are either "must haves" or "nice to haves" in running your business. Certainly the "must haves" need to be front-and-center, since you don't want to compromise on functions that are critical to your operations (including merchandising and response analysis).

Of course, any new system is going to work differently from what you are currently using. But the difference in the new system should be a step forward, an improvement, not a step backward. For instance, if you can currently achieve six steps in the order entry process on a single screen, you don't want to have to use three different screens to do those same six steps. Bear in mind, of course, that anything that was customized in your current application might have to be customized in your new application, as well, and that takes us into a completely different topic that we'll look at another day.

Questions? Give me a call at 267-987-7638. I'd be happy to talk with you about your own systems selection project.

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