We have determined 10 steps to help you choose and implement the best software solution for your LBM business
- Identify and document your specific business requirements
- Make sure your software vendor understands your industry
- Secure management and stakeholder support
- Treat your software implementation as a change-management project
- Nominate a project sponsor
- Research your software vendors’ training and support resources
- Allocate appropriate internal resources
- Focus on data migration early
- Check your software providers customer references
- Determine your ROI
For LBM businesses, it's crucial to consider requirements related to inventory management, such as tracking of different types of lumber, their sizes, grades, and other specifications. The software should also be able to handle complex pricing structures and discounts that are common in this industry.
Make sure to consider extended stakeholders and business goals. Do employees need to check the system remotely? Do your customers need on-demand access to their account information, pricing, order history, or payments?
Be realistic in your expectations of your new operational model and how well the software fits your needs. Always keep your result and the efficiency of your operation firmly in mind as you ask questions and evaluate options.
#2 - Make sure your software vendor understands the LBM industry
Ask the vendor about their experience with the lumber and building materials industry. Have they worked with businesses that deal with similar inventory complexities? Can their software handle the unique challenges of tracking and managing lumber and building materials? Do they have case studies or testimonials from other businesses in your industry?
When choosing a business system, you are essentially choosing a technology partner. You would never consider a partner who has no experience in your industry, so familiarity with its unique needs should be top-priority in your discovery process. Has the vendor worked with companies like yours? How many current customers do they have with similar operations? How long have they been supporting the industry?
One-on-one demonstrations are the best opportunity to see the software’s capability and get a sense for how well the vendor understands the unique needs of your industry. Is the vendor asking about your business processes and workflow? A knowledgeable vendor will show that they understand the industry, can learn your specific business processes, and translate your workflows into functionality within the software.
Do not underestimate the power of clear communication. Make sure the vendor can explain things in terms that you and your employees understand and that they are open to questions about the technology and how it affects your business’ day-to-day routines. Personal demos are the best time to evaluate the software and potential partnership with the POS vendor, so be prepared to ask specific questions that can narrow the field of software options.
#3 - Secure management and stakeholder support
Stakeholder buy-in is essential for a smooth software implementation. If your employees feel involved in the project, they will help make it a success. To create enthusiasm for the project you must first get your entire team on board with the change.
Communication to all employees is critical as technology change can make people uneasy. Employees may not want to change the way things have “always been done,” or they may be afraid that new technology will reduce staff. Open communication and employee involvement will reduce tensions and give employees a stake in making the transition a success.
Executive-level management must also commit to a successful transition, not only because of the expense of the project but because they must lead any organizational restructuring and provide a vision for where the company is headed in the future. Regular project reviews with executives can swiftly address issues as they come up, maintain a positive momentum, and promote employee involvement in the project.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when bringing in a new business system—and a main reason for project failure—is not putting the necessary infrastructure in place BEFORE implementation. This step in the process relates back to step #1: know who you are as an organization and where you want to be in the future.
When making any changes to your operation, make sure to plan for extensive training. This will increase employee confidence in using the new system, making the transition smooth and ensuring it is fully utilized. Remember that a new software implementation is a change-management project. You want the new technology to improve your business’ capabilities, without causing widespread chaos.
#5 - Nominate a project sponsor
A body without a head doesn’t get very far. It sounds like an over-simplification, but you must assign someone to lead the project. Depending on the size of your business, you may need a steering committee made up of a sponsoring manager and representatives from every department. The project sponsors are responsible for keeping all employees, informed of the project’s progess and how it is impacting the organization. If problems arise with the implementation or with internal processes, it is their job to find resolutions.
All projects benefit from accountability, and software implementation is no exception. Therefore, nominate your champion early!
#6 - Research your software vendors’ training and support resources
Once you’ve narrowed the list of POS solutions to those that are truly compatible with your industry and operation, the next step is to evaluate the training and support resources.
Training is of upmost importance, not just at implementation but on an on-going basis. What type of training is offered? Is there web-based training and live webinars? Do they offer telephone support? What type of onsite training is available? A true partner will do everything possible to make sure you understand the software and are fully utilizing its capabilities.
For those businesses within the lumber and building materials industry, it's important that the vendor provides training tailored to your specific needs. This includes training on how to manage and track inventory, handle complex pricing structures, and use any industry-specific features.
The quality of support is equally important. Is the support team easy to reach and how quickly do they respond? Where are they located and to do their hours of operation meet your needs? How well do they know the software and understand its integration in your operations?
In short, training and support are a significant part of your vendor relationship, so make sure it will be a good fit.
#7 - Allocate appropriate internal resources
No matter how great the vendor partner is or how thorough their training, if there are not enough internal resources the transition may not go smoothly.
A good project manager can’t reach goals without a competent team and a great internal team needs clear direction to function effectively. Along with the steering committee (if there is one), the internal team needs to be familiar with all business processes and have the bandwidth to effectively execute the implementation plan.
Having the right people on your internal team will help establish realistic expectations of what the business system can achieve, protect key business processes, mitigate chaos and minimize project creep.
- Develop your data migration strategy and clearly communicate it to all relevant stakeholders. Offer details on how to handle open invoices, accounts payable, open purchase orders, and accounts receivable.
- Determine what data is planned for migration and verity its accuracy.
- Remember “garbage in, garbage out”; clean up as much as possible before initiating your data migration.
- Determine what data will be archived. Communicate a policy for gaining access and retrieving the data.
- Once transferred, verify the legitimacy of the migrated data.
Some vendor partners will play a significant role in assisting with data migration. Refer to steps 1–3 to ensure you understand how much (or little) support you can expect in this process.
#9 - Check your software providers' customer references
Getting references from your vendors customers can offer some insight to what you can expect from your relationship with the vendor. If you get glowing reviews, your choice is clear. However, mixed reviews can indicate a need to do more research.
These are some questions you can ask:
- What was your implementation experience? Was training thorough?
- Is there on-going training available for the life of the system?
- How reliable is the software? Is it scalable? Is it user friendly?
- What has been your experience with support?
- How committed is the vendor to your success?
Don’t neglect this part of the process. It’s an easy way to find out how compatible the vendor will be with your organization.
#10 - Determine your return of investment (ROI)
The final step in your vendor analysis should be to calculate what your total cost as compared to the business benefits you can expect. In addition to the vendor costs, make sure to include internal resources, infrastructure and hardware costs, data conversion and any other potential expenses. This exercise should be done for every vendor under consideration.
Try to make your expected benefits and internal costs as accurate as possible. Some systems may offer greater benefit for the same costs, leading to a stronger ROI. Alternatively, other systems may require your internal team to be responsible for more aspects of the implementation or data conversion process, leading to hidden costs and lower ROI.
The ROI calculation can help you determine which solution will offer the best overall long-term financial benefit for your business. After a vendor is selected, the analysis can help you understand and track the financial impact expected from your new technology.
For businesses in the lumber and building materials industry, the ROI calculation should also consider the potential savings from improved inventory management, reduced waste, and increased efficiency in order processing.