Using an Architect Consultant to Evaluate, Validate, and Effectively Move Forward with ERP Solutions

Enterprises and smaller organizations have ongoing needs to introduce new systems into their landscape, including ERP solutions.  Often, your ERP solutions are going to be on-premise or cloud based SaaS based solutions that will be implemented according to your enterprise’s roadmap and aligning to your business operations or critical capabilities.  Hiring an Architect Consultant to aid your organization to ensure the right solution is selected, and the appropriate System Integrator strategy is used, can be crucial to ensuring the right ERP solution is properly integrated into your enterprise environment.

Quite often, the organization wants to bring on new ERP solutions to solve a business need, address very specific pain points, better manage the business, or automate.  The business stakeholders are core to this, and should be the drivers from the business perspective, with reliance on the consultant to ensure that from a technology perspective that the solution being offered is going to meet their business requirements, and that there are no hidden and expensive surprises in which the organization is not prepared for.  Ultimately, the Architect Consultant will ensure the total cost of ownership is in check from a technological, architectural, and integration perspective.

Being involved as an architect and consultant on many of these types of projects, I speak from experience.  The Architect Consultant will start by looking at the business need, and ensuring the technology options being presented are technically sound, and that technically they will meet the business needs.  For example, the business may have a grand vision of automating many existing processes, and it’s duly the consultant’s responsibility to ensure it is possible from a technical perspective.

Part of the architect consultant’s responsibility, includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Understand the current technology landscape across the enterprise and how the solution will integrate with existing technology landscape and if it is possible
  • Alignment with technology standards and enterprise road maps?
    • If not in alignment, how do we get it in alignment?
  • Understand solutions are being utilized for business process which may be replaced or further automated by the new solutions?
    • Can any of these be retired?
    • Do we have to integrate to them?
    • What are the options for integration?
    • Does the target solution provide a mechanism to integrate the way we need to?
  • Which modules or pieces of functionality are included and which are not? What’s the cost?
  • Can we get the data we need?
  • What are the integration points required?
    • Are all integration points available?
  • Non-functional requirements
    • Are their user access controls sound? Adequate data isolation?  High availability?  Redundant data centres?  Supports single sign on? Etc
    • Data centers are within our operating country, or outside? Etc

Expect the Architect Consultant to quickly get up to speed with the organization’s existing landscape, understand current technology and the integration stack (like, what is the current ESB technology used for integration and are there roadmaps to a future technology stack already in place).  The Architect Consultant should have done this many times in the past with various different organizations and ERP solutions which means he or she knows the exact questions to ask the technology team and business teams, and the most effective format for interviewing all potential ERP solution vendors.  His or her cheat sheet will be an effective tool in evaluating ERP vendors and draw out any areas which will leave the enterprise vulnerable from a costs, legal, standards, governance, functional, or timing perspective.

ERP vendors are experts in dealing with enterprises to sell their enterprise software – and they should be, and the less due diligence done by an organization (and this is where the architect consultant comes in) the more surprises down the road.  The vendor’s are expertly trained to slide inconsistencies or limitations past their enterprise customers forcing the enterprises to figure them out later.  That being said, most ERP vendors will do their best to continue to be on the best possible terms with their customers.  Having an Architect Consultant, who’s dealt with these companies over and over, can be a secret weapon, to get everything drawn out up front, and mutually get all sides on the same page to ensure contracts and statements of work are drawn up and negotiated that account for any significant risks that need to be mitigated.

Ultimately, business requirements and usability are king when evaluating ERP solutions.  Architecture is just as important and your architect consultant will contribute to the total cost of ownership and ensure the solution is viable from a technology perspective in the short and long term.  The architect will identify risk where expensive costs may be incurred in the future, such as in the following examples:

  • The business is unaware the data would be stored outside of the country and this introduces a legal and governance risk on some of our data points. Terms are reached with the Vendor to move the data to a local data centre by 2020, and in the meantime, executive sign off is required by the enterprise to accept the out of country risk and data sitting at rest outside of the country.
  • The business assumed a smooth integration with their existing invoice and payment systems, however the Architect Consultant has identified that the vendor’s product offering does not currently include the possibility to integrate via API’s or another mechanism to integrate with invoices and payments. That’s a problem.  The vendor has dodged the question and tries to work around the question, but ultimately the architect has discovered this flaw with the Vendor’s product.  This would severely limit the future functionality available, and cripple the functionality of this expensive ERP solution, and even though the Vendor has promised to provide this mechanism in the future, a firm date is not provided, and the business decides to remove this vendor from consideration.
  • The architect consultant has identified critical enterprise reporting capabilities that will be required along with the ERP solution. This means that analytical reporting from the Enterprise Data Lake is required to use data that will be housed in the ERP solution.  This ERP solution we are considering will actually be running in a private cloud, so this means that care must be taken in determining the strategy.  The architect consultant works with the Vendor to understand possibility and complexity of doing a full data lake integration.  Because the data lake deals with raw data, generally, you’d push the entire data and schema, as is, to the lake, and worry about your business transformations after the raw data is in the lake.  However, the vendor has stated this is possible, but it has given a ballpark estimate that is very expensive.  The architect consultant works hard to understand the enterprise data points needed and that are critical for reporting.  A plan is created to integrate data from the SaaS ERP solution via a direct integration into an existing system.  That system will then use an existing integration to push it’s full raw data to the lake, which will include these new enterprise data points.  Conceptually, the data points fit within that integrated system, and therefore costs can be figured out quite easily for the integration, and a full, and very expensive data lake integration was successfully avoided.

This article has used examples of past projects in which I lead the architecture, technical sessions, and technical assessments of ERP solution providers for on-premise and in the cloud solutions.  As an Architect Consultant, my responsibility is to ensure my enterprise clients have no surprises, know what they are getting into, and risk is mitigated up front.  The effort that goes into the pre-selection architecture process reduces long term costs, and ensures that the right verbiage and wording goes into the final contracts and statements of work which ensure that not only from a sound architectural perspective we are making the right choices, but all of the mitigating factors going into what we have decided is the right choice are bound by legal agreements.

Daniel is an software and solutions architect consultant who’s work has lead to successful development and execution of large enterprise development projects as well as large ERP projects, both on-premise, and in the cloud.  Daniel has worked with the major ERP software vendors including PeopleSoft, Oracle, Microsoft, NGC, SAP, PTC, and others.

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