By Bill Pollock, President and Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies for Growth
Selecting the right Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) solution provider may be the most important decision you will make in your role as a service manager. The following represent some of the guidelines that may assist you in making your final choice:
1. “Fit” Of The Solution
Whether a best-of-breed SLM solution, or a solution that is available as part of an ERP package, your final choice should focus on its ability to provide the organization with all of the desired functionality, scalability, and “fit” to your specific — and oftentimes, unique — needs, requirements, and expectations.
Best-of-breed solutions, by their nature, are designed specifically to address the key requirements and functionality of a complete SLM offering and, as such, may represent the best fit for many field service organizations (FSOs). However, an ERP system that incorporates a complete SLM solution may also work for many FSOs, depending on exactly what they will be expecting to get out of the solution. Just remember: it’s all about the “fit” to your organization’s specific needs, and whether or not it will be robust enough to meet all of your services operational goals and objectives.
2. Ease Of Acquisition And Use
When considering an SLM solution, size — that is, size of the company — does matter. But, that is only in terms of whether the vendor has all of the internal resources, capabilities, expertise, and coverage to support the solution throughout the entire spectrum of the user’s operations. Clearly, the ERP generalists — and, especially the “brand name” ones — may have the necessary infrastructure and coverage in place; but, do they also have the specific SLM-specific capabilities and expertise?
It will typically the best-of-breed solution providers that have designed, developed, tweaked, and re-engineered their respective solutions in-house over time, evolving them into state-of-the-art solutions that go well beyond some of the “one-size-fits-all” 80/20 ERP solutions that presently abound in the marketplace. Plus, they may also have stronger internal engineering talent and resources to delve deeper into technology-related issues and concerns that prospective users may ultimately face. The vendors that have designed, developed and implemented their own proprietary solutions are typically the ones that can most easily support the overall installation, training, burn-in, and ongoing support (i.e., use) of the solution in a service-centric environment.
3. Implementation, Training And System Burn-in
The key to any successful system implementation is the degree to which the organization’s day-to-day operations are left undisturbed throughout the implementation process. No major system implementation is totally non-invasive; but it may be argued that ERP solution providers may have a competitive advantage as their users would only need to deal with a single vendor, managing all aspects of the implementation from start to finish — including the integration with existing CRM and sales and marketing management platforms already in place.
Best-of-breed SLM vendors, on the other hand, tend to focus primarily on getting the system up and running for the services side of the business. They understand the requirements of the client, including the cost of downtime — and the ramifications thereof — and they know the costs — both in terms of time and money — for any major disruptions to the flow of service. They also understand both the commonalities and the differences between and among each of the service organizations they support with their specialized implementation expertise.
4. TCO And Anticipated ROI
Ultimately it is the total cost of ownership (TCO) and anticipated ROI upon which many prospective users will make their final acquisition decision. Going with a solution provider that has designed, developed, and is continually improving its proprietary solution provides an edge over many of the larger ERP vendors that have, in many cases, cloned, acquired, and/or aggregated their enterprise-wide systems into a composite 80/20 solution that provides nearly adequate coverage for multiple areas, but without a dedicated-enough focus on service.
The “tongue-in-cheek” rule of thumb for estimating system acquisition and implementation costs is to take your best estimate — and double it! While this may not always be the case, the larger the overall implementation, and the more departments or functions the implementation involves, the greater the prospects for cost overruns, increased TCO, and diminished ROI. However, with a more well-defined and finite implementation focusing primarily, if not exclusively, on SLM, the likelihood of cost overruns to any great degree will likely be significantly reduced.
5. Ongoing Availability Of Maintenance And Support
When you stop to think about it, the design and implementation phases of any solution represent only a brief “blip” in the overall duration of the system use. That is why the ongoing availability of maintenance and support becomes so critical to the long-term use of the system. Here again, the general rule of thumb is that the system is most likely to be well-maintained by the vendor that designed it, implemented it, and has both the infrastructure, resources, and technical expertise to maintain it over time.
Without all three of these attributes working in sync with one another, the prospects for receiving less than required service and support in the long-term would be heightened significantly — not that there is anything really wrong with third-party service! However, most organizations would rather have direct access to the system engineers that actually designed the solution than to the channel partners that have been tasked to support an ERP vendor’s solution on a third-party basis.
Making The Best Real-World Choices
In all aspects of business — and particularly in the SLM segment — there are many choices that can be made. However, each of the choices will ultimately have a profound impact on the potential success of the solution once implemented. SLM is a critical discipline where bigger is not always better; the vendor’s claim that it can “do it all” may not provide the user with all that it needs; and merely being acknowledged as one of the industry’s “best” may not make a vendor the best “fit” for your organization’s specific needs.
In the real world (i.e., the world we all operate in), we are all tasked with making the best choices for our businesses; and in the SLM world, the best choice should always be based on the specific needs of the organization.