Merchandise Planning System Implementation Issues

In my last article I raised some of the questions that you need to ask in selecting a merchandise planning system.

One final question to be asked is how you will actually undertake the selection. You will need a functional specification against which to evaluate the various offerings. Will you develop own or will you use consultants? If you are using consultants they should obviously be vendor independent.

The most effective way to select is to create an Invitation to Tender which is then sent to appropriate vendors. As your ability to evaluate responses will be of critical importance in selecting the right system, you might also consider using consultants to help here. Finally, you need to establish metrics for evaluating the success (or otherwise) of the system. These benchmarks should be established in advance. At the most basic level they are evidence that you are not embarking on this long road without fully considering the business case.

Once you have decided how to select a system you need to consider the issues that arise during implementation. These are going to vary according to the type of system that you select.

The first issue that you need to address is that of time scales. Many organizations who are new to planning have unrealistic expectations of the speed at which a new planning system can be assimilated into the business. It can, in fact, take years to implement bespoke planning systems.

Some vendors offer “rapid “or “quick start” implementations, where implementation time scales are reduced to months or sometimes weeks.. These are nearly always black-boxed approaches that assume that your business will fit the particular set of assumptions used in designing the application. If your business doesn’t fit exactly, you will be forced to change your planning processes to fit the system.

This in turn leads to the subject of management of change. Many users will resist a change that forces them into new and different ways of working. Managing that change can be as great a challenge as the physical implementation of the system. One of the main reasons that companies invest in the, generally more expensive and time-consuming, “tool kit” approach and design their own systems is that they wish to ensure that their existing investment in planning systems and culture is maintained In this way the system can be implemented with relative ease, and the systems tail does not wag the corporate dog.

Another problem with black-boxed systems is that they assume a certain set of data feeds from your central systems. Before you begin implementing you need to make sure that all of the data required is available in a suitable format for importing to the system. There is little point to planning markdown and promotions separately, only to find that you are unable to bring in actual data that identifies the two separately.

Once you have decided whether to adopt a packaged or in-house design approach, you need to ask how you are going to implement the system? If you are buying a packaged system you will probably use the vendor’s own implementers. However, if you are going for the “self-build” approach then you need to ask whether you have the knowledge and resources in house? If not then you should consider using the vendor’s own implementers. They will have intimate knowledge of the product, but they will be expensive and may have a vested interest in proposing planning methods that suit the product rather than the business. Another option is to use third party implementers. They too can be expensive, but they bring the advantage of acting as a buffer between the client and the vendor and are, nominally at least, independent.

Finally, if you are using external implementers, you need to work out your budget and make sure that you can last the course. A half-finished or stalled implementation isn’t going to reflect well on any of the parties involved.

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