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Picking Your Path to Success: Navigating the Food ERP RFP Process

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Picking Your Path to Success: Navigating the Food ERP RFP Process

Nov 30, 2021

Jack Payne
Food business decision-makers discuss strategy.

While certain best practices have been established in the industry for using a request for proposal (RFP) to evaluate different vendors’ food ERPs, there are still several parts of the process that require a case-by-case assessment. It’s vital to remember that each business is unique, and what might work for another organization won’t necessarily align with your needs and limitations.

The journey of digital transformation requires careful planning, and making important strategic decisions at the outset will ensure that you have the necessary time to consider your options and pick the path that’s right for your company. There is no “one size fits all” method or simple list of instructions to follow to get it all right—your leadership team will need to put their heads together to determine the best course of action.

These are some frequently asked questions related to the RFP stage and general guidance to be applied based on your business model, resources and budget. While there are no hard and fast rules, these tips should help you tailor your approach optimally for your circumstances.

From How Many Providers Should We Request a Proposal?

There are a lot of options for food ERPs on the market. This abundance of selection is an advantage when your organization is shopping for a solution, but sending an RFP to every vendor on the market is impractical. Evaluating the proposals you receive takes time and effort, so while sending out more requests results in greater selection, it also creates more work.

Requesting proposals from as many as 15 different solution providers can be a great way to collect a lot of information at once, but this is only right for companies that have the staff and time to dedicate to evaluating the responses received. It’s true that some vendors will likely decline to submit, which will reduce the workload of your evaluation team, so if you can dedicate the resources necessary for the task, you can wait to narrow your list until you have material in-hand to assess all of your options.

On the other hand, if your business is leaner on staff, you’ll need to manage the burden of proposal evaluation to ensure regular operations aren’t impacted. In this scenario, it may be best to do more up-front research to trim your choices down to the most promising 3 to 5 solutions. That way, the proper attention can be paid to each submission, and your employees won’t be stretched too thin trying to get through the backlog while also attending to their mission-critical tasks.

Should We Hire a Consultant to Assist in the Evaluation Process?

An outside ERP consultant can be a great ally in your mission for modernization. That being said, hiring such a professional comes with some important considerations—their time costs money, which adds to your business’s financial burden for ERP implementation, and relying on their evaluation skills takes some of the ownership and agency over the project away from your key stakeholders.

Your leadership team will first have to assess whether you can afford a consultant and then weigh the importance of your staff’s more direct involvement in assessing your options and determining the offering that’s optimal for your situation. Of course, an individual with considerable experience in food ERP solutions can be an invaluable resource, especially if no one on your staff has knowledge of these systems and what makes some superior to others.

One other benefit of outsourcing the selection process to a consultant is their ability to dedicate more time to it and thereby evaluate more options to find the best fit. Still, in the end it’s a matter of comparing the cons of additional expense and less direct control with the pros of saving your employees’ bandwidth and leveraging outside expertise.

When Should We Send Our RFPs?

Timing the RFP phase of your food ERP selection process takes some careful forethought, but one step that you must take before sending out your requests is ensuring that the solutions you’re considering are built specifically for the food and beverage industry. A generic ERP won’t have the specialized tools and functionalities that your complex operations need, so this initial vetting of products on the market is vital.

Once that is complete, though, it’s up to your decision-making team to determine how much additional research needs to be done before issuing your RFPs to providers. If your leadership determines that the best way to assess the fit of a system is to have the vendor complete the proposal in full, then it may be best to send out your requests early on.

On the other hand, if certain factors could be “dealbreakers” no matter how well-suited the solution is—for example, the price is too high, or the vendor has never worked with a business in your sector of the food and beverage industry—you will need to seek further details on those matters ahead of time to save your evaluators unnecessary effort. See the section below on the timing of your request for quote (RFQ) stage for further guidance on the order of these steps.

How Should We Evaluate the Proposals We Receive?

Establishing your methodology for evaluating the proposals you receive is a critical part of the assessment process. There’s no simple “eye test” when it comes to the sort of powerful, purpose-built technology that ERP solutions are.

Many food and beverage businesses choose to work with an RFP template to create their request form, and if that template is as fleshed-out and nuanced as Aptean’s Food ERP RFP Template, you’ll be well positioned to obtain a complete picture of the options on the market. Many templates take the form of checklists, which lend themselves to fairly simple quantitative evaluations—for example, taking the total number of items or features that were checked off and comparing that to the number of fields left unfilled or not satisfactorily answered to assess compatibility.

If your organization chooses to use a different sort of template or wishes to create an original RFP form, you may need to create a “scoring rubric” of your own based on the information that you plan to gather. This is a perfectly viable option if preferred by your leaders, but remember that regardless of your approach, there should still be some element of qualitative analysis to gauge the cultural fit between the individual providers and your own company.

After all, you’ll be working with the vendor of your chosen solution for years, so it’s important that your values, communication styles and schedules align appropriately.

When Should We Request Demos of the ERPs We’re Considering?

The demo stage of the food ERP assessment process is crucial for getting a good feel for what the various solutions are like in practice. Most businesses on the market for a solution choose to take this step after collecting and evaluating proposals from vendors, but for situations in which the nature of the interface and user experience will be of utmost importance, you could consider requesting demos even before that.

Normally, however, you’ll want to narrow down your list using the responses you receive from your RFP and the evaluation method you’ve chosen before asking providers for a system demonstration. Because these sessions take time and effort on the part of both your organization and the vendors, jumping the gun before knowing whether the platform fits your needs could result in wasted resources for both parties.

Should We Request Price Quotes Before or After Sending RFPs?

For many food and beverage companies searching for an ERP system, requesting a price quote from vendors is one of the last steps in the selection process. Many organizations prefer to hold off discussing costs and negotiations because those matters can take time to sort out based on the configuration selected (an on-premise installation versus a cloud deployment) and other special considerations.

However, if your business has a very tight budget and only so much money can be allocated toward the implementation of your new ERP solution, it might be prudent to request quotes much earlier—perhaps during or even before the RFP process begins. In that way, you can quickly rule out options that are simply beyond your spending limit and concentrate on those in your price range.

Of course, this is another part of the process that requires time and effort from both parties, so requesting many quotes at once up front isn’t necessarily ideal either. Your initial research of the options on the market should help to narrow down the list and get the information you need to assess the affordability of your options.

Putting Together Your Plan for a Successful ERP Selection and Implementation

In a way, the RFP process is a series of smaller decisions all leading up to one big decision—which food ERP you’ll select for the foundation of your digital transformation. It’s a weighty choice for sure, but not one to be intimidated by, assuming your leadership team does its “homework” and accounts for the particularities of your organization.

You’ll likely have more questions in addition to the above as your journey progresses. As a leading provider of purpose-built, industry-specific solutions, Aptean offers many resources to guide businesses undertaking such a change initiative, including the aforementioned RFP template, as well as this list of 7 questions to answer before using an RFP in your ERP selection process and another with 4 critical considerations for making sure you get the system that’s right for you.

Want to hear more about Aptean Food & Beverage ERP, what it can do for your business and how we can act as a partner during your implementation process? Contact us today.

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