Reference Site Visits, the Evidence

Yesterday I was editing a document for a project in which we’re helping an organization select its ERP system. The document covered practical reasons that the organization’s selection steering committee should take part in reference site visits. In other words (and this is a regular practice our company recommends) while evaluating the right system, the people that are responsible for overseeing its selection ought to visit real customer sites that have already implemented the system. (I suggested the author develop the document into an article as well, so we will likely be publishing a full article on the subject, at the TEC web site.)

I thought there were a few interesting points that seemed to jive with a recent Strategy+Business magazine article I read concerning evidence-based management (I appear to be quoting them a lot lately). In the Strategy+Business article, Why Managing by Facts Works, the authors point out

“…we are convinced that when companies base decisions on evidence, they enjoy a competitive advantage. And even when little or no data is available, there are things executives can do that allow them to rely more on evidence and logic and less on guesswork, fear, faith, or hope. For example, qualitative data, such as that gathered on field trips to retail sites for the purpose of testing existing assumptions, can be an extremely powerful form of useful evidence for quick analysis.”

If a committee of people is going to be involved in a big selection project, it can analyze all of the business processes and software functionality possible, it can see scripted vendor demonstrations, but it seems like it would still be pretty difficult to envision just how the system works out in the world, in actual production situations.

So if the steering committee of the selection project visits a few sites in their own industry, which have implemented the ERP system, they get the opportunity to see how unexpected issues arose and got resolved. They might witness benefits or problems that they didn’t expect or even consider beforehand. Finally, they have a chance to see how the system affects the people working with it. Because those issues would be important considerations for making a critical business and technical decision like selecting an ERP system, the site visit is a clear way to vaporize assumptions with real evidence.

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