How to Find the Best Independent ERP Consultants

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: July 12, 2018

I've been an independent ERP project consultant for over 20 years now. I hate to admit it, but my experience so far with project management for Enterprise Resource Planning has left me a bit jaded.

I like to think I've always had the best of intentions with clients, but that vision was watered down at my previous venture. Unqualified managing partners and ERP consultants – along with what I would consider ethical lapses – negatively impacted clients, in my opinion. This is why I spun off to form Third Stage Consulting earlier this year.

The good news is that there are a number of questions you can ask about the enterprise software to avoid the same traps I've seen clients fall into. These will help determine whether or not you are adequately vetting a partner that can influence your level of success in the future.

1. Are You Really Independent?

With the diversity of technologies available as part of your digital transformation, it is important that your ERP consultants are truly independent. Find out if they are partners of software vendors or resellers, or if they have affiliate companies that create conflicts of interest. You'll want to know that your comparison of SAP S/4HANA vs. Oracle Cloud ERP vs. Microsoft Dynamics 365 vs. other ERP systems is unbiased and not influenced by under-the-table economic incentives.

2. How Much Hands-On Implementation Experience Do Your Independent ERP Consultant Really Have?

I am of the opinion that academic consultants aren't of much value to most organizations. The best that I've worked with know how to marry theory with hands-on implementation experience. Be sure your consultants have implemented multiple types of technology solutions – including the ones you are considering.

3. How Much Attention Will I Get from Your Managing Partners – and Do They Understand Consulting?

You want to know that your organization, business objectives and project will get the attention of the top brass within your consulting firm. Be sure that you feel comfortable with their backgrounds and ability to help your project – especially when times get tough throughout your journey.

4. How Much Time Will You Spend On-Site Getting to Know My Business and My Team?

Consultants are not effective when they spend more time working from their ivory towers. Instead, they need to be on-site with your team, side by side, learning your culture, understanding the nuances of your operations, and giving you the high-touch experience and expertise that you deserve and are paying for.

5. How Many Times Has Your Firm Been Fired by Clients in the Last 1-2 Years?

There's no better indicator of a consulting team's abilities than by looking at recent client references. Ask the firm how many times they've been fired by clients in that last couple of years. Be very careful of the firm if they have a history of unhappy clients.

6. How Many of Your Clients Over the Last 1-2 Years Will Provide Positive References?

Some consulting firms bask in their glory days of when they used to do good work and use those references to help them win current work. Instead, look for references on very recent projects.

7. How Much of Your Revenue is Derived from ERP Software Selection Projects vs ERP Implementation?

Consulting firms without balanced experience and revenue from multiple phases of an implementation cycle are not credible. You want to know that your consultants don't just do software selection and pretend to do implementations (or vice versa), so dig into the details of the type of work they actually do. Whether it is experience with SAP S/4HANA implementations, Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementations, or any other sort of digital transformation, your ERP consultant should have relevant hands-on experience.

8. How is Your Company Perceived Among Industry Vendors, Resellers, and Competitors?

Consultants that can't play well in the sandbox with others are not very effective. Ask around to gauge perceptions among industry peers. If you hear negative feedback, just know that where there's smoke, there's usually fire.

9. What Do Current and Former Employees Have to Say About Your Firm?

A disgruntled workforce is one of the biggest detriments a consulting company can have. Read reviews on Glassdoor and Indeed, look at the company's LinkedIn page to see if the company is growing or shrinking, and maybe even reach out to former employees on LinkedIn to get the inside scoop.

10. How Much Turnover Have You Experienced Among Consultants and Executives over the Last 1-2 Years?

A company with high turnover (more than 10% per year) has underlying issues. Look at the company's LinkedIn page to find out how many have resigned in recent years. Also, beware of consulting firms with high turnover at the executive ranks.

Your ERP consultant should be on that you partner with for years to come. The best ones will make you successful, while subpar ones can undermine your success.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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