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The Hidden Perils of Hiring Freelance ERP Consultants

The Hidden Perils of Hiring Freelance ERP Consultants

For every ERP product on the market, there are at least a handful of independent freelance ERP consultants out there servicing installed-base customers, usually offering their skills at a cut rate compared to vendor-certified organizations. While it may be tempting to save a few dollars by going that route, ERP customers should be aware of the pitfalls of working with independent operators.

It’s not unlike hiring a contractor to work on your home. If you hire a handyman to perform some work on your electrical panel, you’ll probably save a few dollars in the short term. That’s not without significant risks, though; and it may expose you to some liabilities that aren’t apparent until much later. There’s a good reason that when electrical work is involved, most people feel more comfortable hiring a licensed electrician.

The same principle applies with your mission-critical software systems. Yes, it’s in our self-interest for us to say this; but we have seen far too many horror stories first-hand. In many cases, we were the ones that were called in to clean up the mess left behind when a freelance ERP consultant promised more than they could deliver. To make matters worse, some customers were unaware that there was even a problem until it was too late.

If you’re thinking about using an independent consultant to work on your ERP system, we urge you to proceed with caution.

In this two-part series, we’ll look at some of the key factors that ERP customers should consider. We’ll start with some of the most common concerns. In part 2 we’ll address some of the lesser-known (but potentially higher-impact) pitfalls.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

ERP software is complex, and many of the tasks associated with maintaining your system require specialized expertise. When you work with a vendor-certified partner, you get access to a team of experts who bring an array of distinct skills to the table.

Imagine that you have three short-term projects for your ERP consultant:

  • The VP of sales has asked for a few modifications to the weekly pipeline report.
  • You would like to do some performance monitoring and tuning to optimize the system speed and make sure things are running smoothly in preparation for the peak season.
  • The head of purchasing wants to add some customizations and has asked about integrating supplier data from an external system.

While most freelancers will probably claim they can perform all three of those tasks, they actually call for very different skill sets.

As generalists, freelance consultants tend to be jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. While that might appear to serve you well much of the time, freelance ERP consultants may take significantly longer to perform tasks that an expert could do quickly and efficiently. Even more importantly, they may do substandard work.

In some cases, lone-ranger consultants do such poor quality work that it ultimately needs to be redone from scratch. We have seen it on numerous occasions. That’s not only a waste of money; there’s also an opportunity-cost. How much time does your organization want to spend grappling with makeshift solutions?

A few years ago, we were called in to rescue a customer that had hired a freelance consultant. After 2 years, that solo operator left them with a collection of 26 Access databases, each of which contained custom VBA code. None of it was documented, and it didn’t do the job they needed it to do.

We helped that customer achieve their objectives using their existing VISUAL ERP software, using standard system functionality to address their specialized needs. The result was greater efficiency, more accurate planning, and improved on-time delivery.

A vendor-certified partner can assign the right person to the right job the first time. That might require a database administrator, an MRP expert, or someone who has a deep knowledge of customization tools.

In some cases, the task may call for a multidisciplinary team. When the job demands a collaborative approach, you need a distinct combination of expert skills. You can’t get that with a lone-ranger consultant.

Generalists may be a bit cheaper, but experts get the job done right the first time.

Keeping Skills Up to Date

How much formal training is your independent consultant participating in? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is “none”.

When major new releases are planned, vendors roll out comprehensive training programs to ensure that certified consultants in the field have all the necessary knowledge they need to hit the ground running.

Freelance consultants, on the other hand, get their information at the same time that it becomes publicly available. They lack access to vendors’ formal training programs. Without early access to training and pre-release versions of the software, lone-ranger consultants have very little perspective on what’s coming and how to prepare for it.

The end result is that ERP freelancers are usually learning on the job. As a client, you’re probably paying them an hourly rate for that on-the-job training.

We were called in by a New York manufacturer to help straighten out some problems with production scheduling and prioritization.  They had spent three years working with a freelance consultant who was never able to get it right. After just 3 weeks, we got the client fully operational with their scheduling process, which dramatically improved delivery performance.

Consultants at established partner organizations have direct access to training and they verify their credentials by maintaining and updating vendor certifications on a regular basis.

Vendor-certified partners employ a team of experts that work together, share best practices, and call upon each other’s expertise when needed. With the combined experience of working with hundreds or thousands of customers, a team of vendor-certified professionals inevitably brings more to the table than a lone-ranger consultant ever could.

Understanding the Road Ahead

As a vendor-certified partner, Synergy gets the latest information directly from our software vendors. We’re aware of software updates before they’re released, and we know what kinds of new features and enhancements are on the horizon. That puts us in a much better position to advise our clients about their technology investments.

If you’re thinking about making an investment in third-party software or customizations, it’s important to know what the vendor’s roadmap looks like. After all, they may already be planning to release the functionality you need in the near future.

If you’re not aware of that, you could end up spending valuable time and money going down the wrong path, – buying and implementing third-party software or building customizations that turn out to have been unnecessary.

The value of that big-picture perspective, – and the close vendor relationships that make it possible, – shouldn’t be underestimated. Technology is a strategic asset; don’t short-change yourself on having a clear view of the road ahead.

Independent ERP consultants, – however well-informed they may strive to be, – simply don’t have that perspective.

In so many respects, lone-ranger consultants simply can’t match the quality and depth that a vendor-authorized organization can provide; but there are additional risks that might not be so obvious.

In part 2 of this article, we’ll cover some of the “gotcha” scenarios that we have seen ERP customers encounter.

Have concerns about work performed by a freelance ERP consultant? Contact us to discuss, we are here to help.

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