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So you’ve got a long list of possible options for when you decide to upgrade or replace your demand planning software. In the previous articles we looked at the functional and service, technical, and implementation requirements of your new software. We have carefully calculated what we believe we can see as benefits and improvements, and created our budget to look for an 18 month return on our investment.  Now it is time to find that perfect match and seal the deal.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect dating app for this and no opportunity for you to simply put in what you like and when you and the solution provider both find a connection, you both swipe right.

From here, the next step is to begin conversations with the various vendors that meet your needs.  A great place to start – outside of some simple internet searches – is by attending an IBF conference.  Many of the top solution providers are available with booths to allow you to find all of the vendors under one roof or exhibition hall. This provides the opportunity to ask questions and even the opportunity for demos to see the functionality they offer.

For some, this is where things get even more confusing. How do you narrow down the list, scheduling demos and ensuring the right content is covered?  Are you missing anything? Are you asking the right questions? If what you need is not overly complicated, many people can sort through the next steps of the process to a final selection. If done right, you’ll have all the necessary information to make an informed choice and get the solution you need.

But there is another potential option that may help save time and money…

Should I Use a Third Party Company?

Many companies believe that going it alone or directly to a software manufacturer to obtain new forecasting or demand planning solutions is the best way to get exactly what they are looking for. For many companies this will work and there are good solution providers that will help you get what you need. Unfortunately, the reality is that no matter how good you or the software provider is, there is still bias and you have no way of knowing if the software gives you exactly what you need unless you have used it before. What’s more, you may not be completely confident you know what you need and want an independent, second opinion before you commit a big chunk of your department’s budget.

Rather than relying on the biased opinion of a specific software developer, it may be best to involve a third-party, such as a software consulting company

Rather than relying on the biased opinion of a specific software developer, it may be best to involve a third-party, such as a software consulting company. These businesses exist with the sole purpose of helping companies sort through their specific needs and budget, and navigate all available software options to find the best solution. They can also provide you with an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of each of your options, along with an estimate of the likelihood of a specific software platform to stay at the “top of the heap” based on current software trends.

Beware The Limitations Of Consultants

Consultants are not all-knowing though. You still need to do your own homework and due diligence.  Just because you pay someone $200 an hour does not mean they know everything. Many naively assume all consultants are geniuses and later find out they are far from it. It is vital you still understand your own needs and requirements, budget, estimated benefits and stay heavily engaged. No matter how much analysis consultants do, they will never know the business details and issues as well as your employees. When the project team is not fully engaged and not adequately trained on the software, even the best of systems will give you problems from the outset.

There are many things good third-party consultants can do for you. Because a software consulting company needs to know the ins-and-outs of the industry, they will be able to help you assess your needs and requirements too. Many consultants can facilitate process mapping exercises and drill down to better understand current and recommended future processes.

A software consulting company also has the ability to help you obtain a fair contract

Although no third-party company can guarantee you the best rate or a glitch free roll out, they can help you avoid the potentially serious issues that companies face when they decide to implement a new software package. In addition to helping you locate the right software, a software consulting company also has the ability to help you obtain a fair contract. They will have the necessary industry experience to know which contract terms to insist upon and which ones to avoid.

How Much To Pay A Consultant

All of this will come with a price tag. Many factors contribute to the total third-party consultant cost. The greatest aspect is time investment. Generally, you are looking at anywhere from $150 to $225 an hour plus travel costs but some do charge project flat rates as well which is highly dependent on scope and everything they will be doing. The time or scope can be as basic as the software selection to full service project management, so it is difficult to put a number on it.

Let us be clear though, hiring a consultant can be expensive. At the same time, with the many software vendors to choose from and potential pitfalls of the selection process, a good consultant can pay for themselves in project or contract savings alone. Additionally, if you are unable to do the implementation with your internal resources, the benefits of having an implementation consultant can be huge and ensure you launch your system as effectively as possible.

Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it to have the job done right? Absolutely!

A third-party company to help you identify your needs and negotiate the path of implementation of a new demand planning and forecasting system plays a huge role. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it wort it to have the job done right? Absolutely!

Remember though, third party consultants will not make us successful. Consultants can educate, suggest, coach, and help choose the right software but cannot make your company forecast better than the people and processes are capable of. It is important you focus first and foremost on the right talent, culture, processes and best practices that allow you to get the most out of the technology.

I and other S&OP leaders will be discussing this topic and more at IBF’s Leadership Forum in Orlando on October 17, 2018.  Designed for leaders in planning, forecasting and S&OP, it’s the best of its kind, and is designed to help managers with implementation and management of people, process and technology. It’s a great event – you can see the schedule here.