How to divorce your ERP Consultant
A couple of weeks ago a Fishbowl Salesperson called me and asked if I could help a customer. That conversation went like this:
SP: “They need data from their old system, they need Invoice history.”
Me: “So, why you calling me?”
SP: “Primarily because the system can only run on Windows XP, and they cant find XP Systems any more and it is too expensive to upgrade to a version that can run Windows 10.”
Me: “Yep that makes sense, but why me?”
SP: “Well because the old system consultants are charging $5,000”
Me: “$5k for basically a query and export!?”
SP: “Yeah, I thought that was a go-away price”
Me: “You know if we did that in Fishbowl it could be done via the Export function, and if they needed an Excel file it could be less than $400, more if they have specific formats like XML; but that is crazy. Why would they do this to them?”
SP: “I know, can you help them? They are using Dynamics Solomon 6.0. Do you know what that is?”
Me: “Yep that uses a Microsoft SQL Database, I would have to learn their schema, and guess where data is stored. You know my rate, $200/hr, and I cant guarantee success. It is basically a bet on finding the data.”
SP: “How much?”
Me: “Initially 4 hours, and it could take another 4. So $1,600 total; but if we figure it out in 3 hrs, I’ll bill them for three. However, I’m going to require it to be non-refundable”
SP: “I’ll pitch that to them”
Later I had a conversation with the client. They were a bit shocked at the non-refundable part. I had to explain to them why. 1) I don’t know Solomon, 2) I’m busy, you want this in the next couple of days, 3) I can’t spend time and not bill for it. You realize that its a $1,600 bet against $5,000. IF, this doesnt work out, then the value of accurate data is $3,400.
Before I had the call and to hedge my ignorance, I put up a Job Ad on Odesk/Upwork for a Dynamics Solomon consultant. I got nothing. So If I was going to figure this out, it just would be on my own wits.
In the end, it worked out. I found the Data Dictionary for Dynamics Solomon 6.0, I could only view it on a Windows XP Virtual Machine. I poked and prodded at the database until the paper invoices matched my query.
The client was ecstatic, and disappointed with their ERP Consultant. They were on Dynamics Solomon 6.0 since 2008, about 8 years of service. I can’t imagine they didn’t make enough money on that client.
So that comes to the topic of this post, how to divorce your ERP Consultant.
#1 Be honest and realistic
Migrations happen, companies outgrow systems, moving on will happen.
So, take stock of the relationship between your company and the ERP Consultant.
- Has there been unresolved challenges?
- Issues of trust?
- Are you locked-in with them?
- Do you owe them money?
Confirm your own position in relation to leaving your ERP Consultant.
#2 Prepare ahead of time
Leaving the ERP system, and therefore the Consultant will happen. So plan for it. Ask yourselves these questions.
- Does my company have the expertise needed to get data out of the system?
- Does my company have documentation on how the system works?
- Does my company have the tribal knowledge and mastery of my business model?
- Do I have the reports/software necessary to migrate data?
- Would there be charges for leaving (breaking contracts)?
- Are there any customizations that would be difficult to reproduce/support in the new system?
- Do you have the intellectual rights to that customization?
- Who owns the hardware that the system runs?
- Can you lock out the consultant from remote access?
#3 Mock a Backup Restore
Sometimes the best way to answer the questions above is (except the ones about remote access) is to stage/mock a Disaster Recovery Event. Call up the ERP Consultant, and ask innocently if there are plans for restoration if things fail. A lot of the questions above can be answered through this kind of scenario.
Its a good idea anyway, but gives you a better confidence in your current situation, and avoid uncomfortable conversations if the company is not yet ready to migrate.
#4 Find other consultants / Train In House
One of the best ways a company can feel confident to move on, is to find another consultant for the same system. I recommend this because the backup consultant has no axe to grind, no history to get tripped up on, and is interested in helping you for the billable rate. This can get difficult as a system gets older.
As I mentioned in the story above I couldn’t find anyone, (granted upwork is not an appropriate channel, but I’ve found other niche experts before), and that helped me confirm that there were no easy ways for this customer to move on as well.
Another option that some companies have, is they train an in house resource. They may be of the size that would support a part-time/full-time internal ERP Expert. If this is possible that is really the best option. They know your business, know the system, and can defend the business against the next system’s peculiarities.
But I recognize that is not always an option so…
#5 Plan for a clean break
Try to resolve any possible problems with the ERP Consultant before you announce that you are moving on, and would need their help. Then, and only then if they are not willing to help (or are at an extortionate rate) then you will have to recognize that you might be alone in this.
If they are willing to come to the table, explain honestly why you are moving on (limitations, costs, etc,.).
The last thing you should plan for is someone that can learn your system from scratch (like what I did), but honestly; databases are not magic (unless its an AS/400 – that is decidedly dark magic), and it is possible to get data out of them.
One of the best transition experiences I’ve had is when I’ve had access to the previous consultant. We speak the same language, and we are interested in making sure the transition goes well.
But plan for things to go wrong as well, and you will still have a good deployment.
Overall, I hope this story helps others plan for leaving their ERP systems, and possibly when they plan to leave Fishbowl as well.