Expert Interview Series: Shawn Windle, Founder

I'm Shawn Windle with ERP Advisors Group. I'm the Founder and Managing Principal of the firm and what we do is really simple. We help companies with ERP problems whether it's determining what they need for ERP or helping select software or even help get through implementations. We do it all.

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Meet Shawn Windle

What exactly IS an ERP advisory firm?

So An ERP advisory firm is a collection of individuals who are focused on helping clients with their ERP projects. Sounds really basic, right? But actually, if you look in the market, there's not a lot of firms that do that. And there's a reason why because it's hard. It's just hard work. That's just the reality ERP projects if you do the research, which I'm sure you have if you've looked online and even listening to this video, you see that story after story after story of failures that have occurred but yet we still spend in North America for mid-sized businesses over $50 billion a year. That's a year, every year, on ERP software. So you need to do it. You know you need to do it. And so what has happened is individuals like myself and the rest of our firm have decided we need to go out there and help. We need to make sure that as people are going through this process that they have a trusted advisor, an ERP advisor. It's why we're ERP Advisors Group, that can go out and basically facilitate clients through that whole process. And that's basically what any ERP Advisor Group does.

Why do CFOs and other executives hire ERP Advisors Group?

What a lot of people start to find out when they look into ERP applications in the market is there's a ton of them. There are hundreds really thousands of different kinds of enterprise solutions in the marketplace. And so what can happen is an individual, maybe it's a chief financial officer or a chief information officer, CEO or Chief Executive Officer, somebody in the organization is responsible for picking out software. They go to the Internet and they really get confused very quickly because there are lots of different apps out there. Then what happens is they start getting phone calls from people, from usually software salespeople that are really good at what they do. And so those individual software representatives will say well I can sell you the software and it's going to solve the needs you have. And that can raise questions like, "Well what are my needs? Well why do I even want this software and how do I know which vendor really is the best vendor out there in the market and how do I get the best deal?" So you can really start to go into so much confusion on these projects that a lot of people will just abandon them and they may come back to them later. But it also may be too late. So what companies can do and individuals who are looking for help as they can find a firm like ERP Advisors and we can help them through that whole process and just really eliminate all of the confusion so that there can be absolutely certain with what they're getting.

What makes ERP Advisors Group Unique in the market?

ERP Advisors group is a bit different from an advisory firm in the market. There are three things that really come into mind here. The first one is we are completely objective. We do not sell or take any dollars from any software vendors or any implementation partners. All we do is focus 100% on our client's needs so that makes us objective and able to really focus again on what's best for them and not on the software solution that we make a cut off of. The second thing is we have combined over several decades and even really hundreds of years of experience with our senior team. All of us have been in the market and doing this for 15-20 years. And so you look at that combined expertise and whatever issues our clients are going to run into it's not going to be the first time that we've seen it. So we bring tons and tons of experience to our clients that they don't have. The third thing is that our approach is extremely collaborative. So what we do with our clients is we really understand what it is they need and we help them to make sure that we've got that understanding really well and really well defined and understood so that then we can take that to the market and do all the research and the hard work to come back with, "Here are the vendors that can meet your needs." And very quickly we can vet that with our clients and they can actually see, "Wow I can see how my business can run on this." Versus a consulting firm that says, "Okay here's the three apps that are going to work for you." That's not our approach. Our approach is again to understand what our clients really need, to go through a collaborative process so that our clients are absolutely certain at the end that they know what they need and that they know that the applications can definitely fit their needs and will be successful.

What types of projects do ERP Advisors Group do?

We do four kinds of projects basically. The first kind of project is a needs analysis where we help a client figure out what it is they really want and need for software. Not just what they think but we go through the whole business and determine what it is that's going to really make a big difference for them. The second type of project we do is called the selection where we'll go to the market with those needs and determine which application is the best fit and what application making get the best deal with, the most cost-effective deal. And typically we save our fees in the savings that our clients experience with the software that they buy. The third type of project we do is implementations. So we'll facilitate the entire implementation process from beginning to end on our client's behalf. We're in the business of doing this and our clients frankly have full-time jobs that they're focused on. So we'll go in and we'll run that project from beginning to end to make sure that it's successful. The fourth type of project we do is called an optimization project where we'll look at a client's existing software solution and kind of figure out what they need to do to make it better and to maybe even make it meet the needs that they had for it in the beginning as to why they bought the software, we'll put a plan in place, we'll run that plan, we'll do whatever it takes to get them to a successful point. So those are the four types of projects we offer.

What kind of companies does ERP Advisors Group work with?

At ERP Advisors Group we work with very specific kinds of companies. It's interesting because we actually work across a vertical or industry, if you will, from wholesale distribution, high-tech, to non-profit to even some government agencies and lots of software firms and different kinds of applications with verticals and industries. We've even worked with seafood distributors and we've even worked with manufacturers of dog toys. It really is a wide variety of companies that we work with. But what they all have in common is that the sponsors, the executive sponsors are fully committed to making the project a success. So even company size. We've worked with very early stage well-funded organizations that want to put the right software in place for long-term growth. All the way to divisions of Fortune 500 companies that are in the hundreds of millions even billions in terms of their revenue. But the one thing again that makes everybody similar is that the executive that's responsible for the selection or that team is committed to success. When that's in place and we can talk to them, we can definitely have a bit of a synergy where we bring the know how and how to get through the whole project and that knowing that the client is committed and we'll make happen what needs to happen on their side, we're golden. Those are absolutely the clients that we're looking for.

What happens when companies don't hire an ERP advisory firm?

So what can happen if you don't hire an ERP advisory firm is really a broad array of ultimate outcomes. You can go from there being no problems and everything goes fine, all the way through to there are major implications and in some instances, companies have spent hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars on software that didn't do what it was supposed to do. And unfortunately, that can lead to outcomes that are bad for not just the overall organization but for the individuals that supported the project. And frankly, that's why I got into this business because I saw good people that I had helped a little bit with well here are some apps that you can go take a look at. And they would go and implement them and then they would have very bad outcomes including in one case where an individual actually lost their job from doing the implementation and I realized as a firm that we need to do more, we need to take more responsibility and so we do do that today. So in a way we kind of serve as our client's insurance policy that their project is going to be a success. That is ultimately why everybody gets into ERP in the first place is because they want to put in the software, they want their business to run better, and they know they need software to do it. But the getting there is so hard and so difficult that to have a partner or a trusted adviser or an insurance policy that assures you're going to get to a success, that's why firms hire ERP advisory firms and that's exactly what we do for our clients.

How much does an ERP project typically cost?

So we often get a question that is how much does an ERP project typically cost and the right answer is always, "it depends." But there are some metrics and some benchmarks that you can use that will give you an idea of what an ERP project will cost. So you have to first look at the components of what makes up an ERP project, what the costs are. You have the software and the software can be a cost that you pay upfront and then you pay a small maintenance every year or more likely in the industry today you'll see software as a service where there is recurring cost every year that's the same. So that's one component of the cost. Another component of the cost is the technical implementation dollars required from a partner to actually configure the app. So typically if you look at a decent sized implementation for a good size organization let's say anywhere from maybe a 50 to 100 million dollar business or more. You're going to look at a 1:1 ratio between the cost of the software and the implementation services in year one. So software pricing can go anywhere from maybe 100,000 dollars and up. 100,000 to maybe 500,000 a year. I'm throwing out some broad numbers but just giving you some ideas here. So then you would plan on the implementation services being about the same. There are other costs that come in in year one. There are costs for our kinds of services where we help you through the project, there are data migration experts that you might need to hire or there might even be some technology you need to incur and invest in desktops maybe new mobile devices and we plan on about 25% of that first year cost to cover those other additional costs. And then really ongoing you've got the recurring software cost and that's it. Now what I didn't talk about here are your internal resources that are required to support the software. If you hire an individual to help you through the implementation and they run the project every year and they help you with support and maintenance issues, those are recurring costs too that need to be included as well as your implementation partner will typically do some support and enhancements for you every year. So that also costs that go in. So when you start to run the numbers in your mind and hopefully if you're listening to this now and thinking through your own situation you can quickly see how what seems like a pretty small project can add up to a lot of dollars and in some instances you'll see that what seems like a hundred thousand dollar project can easily turn into 500 over a couple of years and even farther into the future. So when you look across that whole time frame of what the investment is, this is why companies engage us because they realize the individuals responsible for the project say wow this is like a 3 or 4 or 5 million dollar total cost of ownership project over 5 to 10 years. We can't get it wrong. So we want somebody who can help us understand what those costs are going to be and can control them down to really the penny and make sure that what they're incurring is actually needed and wanted. And that's basically what we do.

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