How to choose your next (tractor) business application platform

Well, it’s easy isn’t it? Write down what you want and then see what best fits. Done.

Perhaps not.

But isn’t that the way we choose anything in life? We work out the criteria and use that it as a checklist to get the closest possible match. We work out the compromises we are and aren’t willing to make and then select the best (or maybe least worst). But what happens when all your choices tick all the boxes? How do you then differentiate?

If you’ve read previous blogs of mine, you’ll know that I’m from a farming background, and we have this problem all the time when selecting a tractor. As you can imagine, tractors are mostly the same. They have the same power, same attachments etc. So, when something is a commodity how do you choose?

In the case of tractors, it’s about service, value, reliability. It’s about making sure your tractor will work when you want it to (you already know it will do the job you want it to do). It’s about the relationship with the dealer, the skills of their service team, their ability to help you get the best out of your tractor, etc.

What does that mean for systems selection?

Why are systems different to tractors (other than the obvious)? Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have been around for more than 30 years. Most of them have evolved from finance systems to incorporate stock management, warehousing, production etc. All of them have had to compete with each other and so have evolved to be similar.

So, they are like tractors. When buying a tractor, you don’t need to test whether it will pull both a trailer and a plough, it’s simply a qualifier to the market. Therefore, with an ERP system do you really need to check that it can process a Purchase Order? Complete a General Ledger Journal? Are the systems you’re assessing really going to be able to distinguish themselves by testing this functionality?

If not, then how do you differentiate?
  • Scale is important: The horsepower of your tractor, for example, having the right sized product for your business is key. And that right size gives you confidence it has the capabilities you need without behaving like the proverbial hammer, treating everything like a nail.

  • Industry focus: This gives you confidence in the ability of the system to support your business, that the team implementing the system can speak your language, can relate to your staff, and can provide good pragmatic advice in implementing and ultimately transforming your business.

  • Service: You need to be comfortable that your business is served appropriately. That your systems will perform (more horsepower). And that when there is an issue, there is a reliable team available to help you get back up and running.

All the above are testable, have metrics, and, along with the security requirements of a system, can be validated.

In my opinion, the above criteria are simply the qualifier to market. The details that justify a deeper conversation and more discussion. The real challenge is making a difference!

Which Business Application Platform will make the biggest difference for the next 10 years?

This, to me, is the real differentiator. It’s no longer about systems but about platforms. It’s also no longer about functionality, but about transformation, automation, and efficiency. How can you use technology to drive your (digital) business transformation? Which provider has the industry knowledge and technical know-how to really help you transform?

How to transform your organisation

All the above assumes you want to do what you do, but to do it faster and with less effort. But what if you want to transform? Your new platform is likely to be cloud based which means it’s unlikely to need to be replaced at the same cadence as your existing (and previous) systems. That means you need to think about what your business will look like in 10 years. And to make sure you have the right infrastructure and capabilities in place - or to see that there is a desire to build them - to support that transformation. Are you looking to embrace IOT? Could you servitise your business? Could you collaborate more with your supply network eliminating waste in your communication touch points? All of the above are important to your investment decision than the simple ability to process a PO!

To assess the ability to transform means understanding your vendors capability and desire to invest, their track record in identifying trends and providing functions to fulfil the needs. It’s also key to embrace your implementation partners capabilities in your space, the qualifications of their staff and their likely longevity within your project.

Transforming your business requires some deep thinking, a clear view as to both “What” you are trying to achieve and “Why”. Once those are clear the ability of your implementation partner to work with that vision and inspire you with how their system will support you will help your decision process.

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What about your team?

Many of our customers have significant experience but minimal exposure to trends outside of their teams/company/industry. Technology is now such a transformative influence that to get the best from a new platform, your teams need to look past the function and investigate the capabilities. They need to understand the future path/opportunities of the business and be given the flexibility to investigate. This may require investment/encouragement and, given the evergreen nature of today’s platforms, shouldn’t think about the implementation as a project with an end date but as a pillar of their career/role.

Conclusion

Purchasing your new platform is no longer about comparing functionality but about comparing the whole life cost / experience of your purchase. It’s about service and capability. It’s about the ability of your platform to grow with you and for it to influence your customer and employee experience.

This is no longer about a snazzy demo from a polished presales professional but about deep industry knowledge and the ability to help your teams do better. The focus of your partner to encourage change and drive efficiency and the expertise/experience to explain the consequences of your actions.

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