Why an ERP Vendor Bake-Off is Rarely a Piece of Cake
As a means of reducing the risk in an ERP software selection process, companies occasionally insert a step known as a vendor bake-off into the process. An ERP vendor bake off is an attempt to have the final two or three vendors from the short list actually install and operate their software solution in your location for a period of time, giving you a side by side comparison of compatibility and fit. As a concept, ERP vendor bake offs are brilliant; in practicality, there are some serious flaws.
Let’s start by discussing some of the benefits of a bake off. The first is that by being willing to participate in one, a vendor is demonstrating confidence that a side by side comparison will actually aid its sales effort and make your ERP selection process more certain. Another is that – because bake offs are not inexpensive to create and operate – by participating, ERP vendors can demonstrate a willingness to invest in your relationship (with the caveat that the winning vendor will almost certainly find a way to recoup its investment). An ERP bake off gives your basis and hardware teams a much more concrete understanding of system architecture and requirements. And lastly, you substantially increase your nuts and bolts understanding of how the competing systems operate.
However, as mentioned previously, there are some significant concerns about vendor bake offs, particularly around the validity of the conclusions you draw. For instance, if the leading vendor for your industry refuses to participate in a bake off, is that sufficient reason to drop it from your ERP vendor short list? If so, you risk prioritizing “willingness to participate in a bake off” above “best software solution for our organization”. Also, it is important to recognize that a bake off attempts to be much more than a conference room pilot, but it is not a go-live parallel. As a result, what you learn a lot about is how things look when a pre configured set up works right. You don’t learn what configuration will trip you up or interfere with later decisions, nor will you be exposed to the types of problems that are so complex they are only visible when a computer fails to solve them. So, if you hate a vendor’s software during a bake off, that’s a pretty good indication that you will hate the software in real life, but if you love software in a bake off, it doesn’t follow as a certainty that it will work that well at go live.
If all things are equal, and two vendors are willing, and the end user invests time and resources as well, an ERP vendor bake off makes good sense. However, that’s a lot of ifs, especially all things being equal. Vendors differ in their long-term viability, their ongoing investment in development, their familiarity with your business problems and objectives, and their reputation for post sales support.
If you have two vendors whose ERP products are so equally viable that a bake off will be the differentiator, then consider yourself fortunate.
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