Relationships can be tough. They’re labor-intensive, and without good communication between both parties, you can bet there’s going to be friction.

When footwear manufacturer Nike announced lower-than-expected third-quarter results back in early March, the company attributed some of its inventory problems to i2 Technologies—the company providing Nike’s supply-chain management solutions. According to a recent TechRepublic discussion in response to this announcement, many members believe that poor communication between the two companies was the root cause of Nike’s inventory shortages and excesses. This article highlights some concerns and recommendations for effective collaboration between ERP providers and hiring firms.

Communication is key
It is likely that the solution provider and the hiring company know very little about the nuances of each other’s core business. Of course, a certain degree of due diligence was probably conducted by the hiring company in its search for an appropriate solution provider. However, according to enterprise architect Jim Huggy, when it comes to actually determining the company’s needs from the provider’s perspective, it’s the business’s responsibility to explain itself.

“I2 only knows their product. If the information from Nike on the way they do business wasn’t communicated or wasn’t communicated correctly, then i2 built what they had knowledge of.”

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Before implementing ERP systems for a living, eemp programmed ERP software. Eemp agrees that the party who chose to implement an ERP solution bears the burden of communicating to the solution provider.

“One of the most difficult issues is communication between the customer and the company which implements the solution the customer chose. Blaming i2 may be taken to show that Nike has lost control of the implementation process, which is not a good sign.”

Out of sight, out of mind?
When a consulting firm is hired to undertake a project, it’s easy for the hiring company to become removed from the process. After all, part of the reason for hiring someone is to minimize the workload and headaches of a project for in-house staff, right? Wrong. According to member fitzeagle, “Outsourcing does not mean ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Consultants are only as good as the client is at managing them!”

So what steps can a company take to best communicate with and manage its solution provider? TechRepublic member edfulgar believes that the foremost considerations should be the “3 C’s”—communication, collaboration, and consensus.

“In this case, both vendor/consultant and client must be involved at all levels. This is easier said than done, as experience has taught me, but it helps in managing expectations from both sides.”

Jim Huggy believes that a written outline of expectations and processes backed by a corporate team trained in project management and life-cycle methodologies will yield the best results. Corporations, according to Huggy, should have “an established and published life cycle [with] testing and migration procedures/standards…[and] contracts written with performance points and testing points.”

ERP project manager fitzeagle believes that a clear understanding and discussion of the roles and responsibilities people and parties will take on is essential to a successful ERP undertaking.

“I always take responsibility for making sure each participant knows what is expected of them and that weekly project meetings occur in which the consultants and client share their concerns…no holds barred. Brutal honesty works well.”
How can firms avoid problems like those that occurred between Nike and i2? Are there steps that you take to sidestep common project pitfalls? Join the discussion and share your thoughts.