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Preparing Your Food and Beverage Business for Change and Using an RFP to Assess ERP Providers

Preparing Your Food and Beverage Business for Change and Using an RFP to Assess ERP Providers

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Preparing Your Food and Beverage Business for Change and Using an RFP to Assess ERP Providers

Aug 3, 2021

Jack Payne
Two food facility workers discuss a shipment.

Even if you’ve already identified the key advantages of food and beverage enterprise resource planning (ERP) software solutions and have made the decision to upgrade your business’s systems, you’ve likely still got questions. How do you prepare for such a sweeping organizational transformation?

What steps do you need to take before the implementation begins?

And how will you ensure you pick the right platform for your company?

We’ll first dive into the prudent change management measures that you should undertake as the journey gets underway. There are critical assessments your leadership team will need to make to ensure that your top priorities are addressed and the process is carried out in alignment with your high-level goals.

Finally, we’ll discuss the all-important request for proposal (RFP)—what makes it so crucial and how to best use it to gauge the fit between your food and beverage business and the solutions you’re considering.

Define the Purpose

Why have you chosen to deploy a food and beverage ERP system for your business? What’s the impetus behind this transformation?

These are questions that you must answer for your business at the outset of your preparations and long before you’re comparing the available options. There are plenty of excellent reasons to implement food ERP software of this nature, but you should spell out the specifics in your case so that everyone in the organization is informed and then invite them to provide their honest feedback.

Perhaps you’re still relying on outdated manual methods of data capture and are finally ready to modernize and maintain your facts and figures digitally. Maybe your operational effectiveness has been held back by inefficient procedures. Maybe you want greater insight into the issues that are preventing the company from reaching peak performance.

Whatever you determine to be the single most important driver for this change, put it down in clear language and make it highly visible to your entire staff. It will remind everyone of the “why” behind all their work on the implementation and motivate them to push for progress toward a better future.

Assess Critical Processes

Every food and beverage organization has certain processes that are absolutely vital to their everyday operations. These could include things you are doing well—such as the production and sales of your most popular items—as well as those that have been a persistent pain point, like quality readings that are consistently falling below your standards.

The in-depth discussions and evaluations you make during this step will be invaluable when it comes to searching for the ERP solution that best suits your needs. After all, without having your top needs salient in your mind, how will you be able to judge the fit of a particular platform with your company?

In an ideal situation, you’ll be able to find a system that lets you capitalize on your strengths and maintain or even improve the processes that are running smoothly while also shoring up your weaknesses and enabling you to address the root causes of your most problematic challenges.

Forming an Internal Team and Creating the Roadmap  

For such a demanding and involved project as an ERP selection and eventual implementation, you’ll need a dedicated internal team to steer the ship. Your business might choose to have only a subset of these individuals take part in the selection process while others are dedicated to the practical side; this is a valid approach, but do make sure that everyone is aware of their responsibilities from the start.

It’s a good idea to include your organization’s top minds in this group, but it shouldn’t be comprised solely of executives. Involve leaders from all parts of the company so that they can share their different perspectives on your strategy and champion the process within their own teams.

One of this team’s first tasks should be to create a roadmap for the journey you’re about to embark on. The individuals involved may or may not be familiar with technological deployments of this scale, so it may be necessary to ask for advice from solution providers, consultants or peers in the industry that have undergone an ERP selection and implementation in the past.

The timeline that’s created will serve to not only provide a schedule and set expectations for progress—it will also set out milestones that can be celebrated to add fuel to the fire. Keep motivation high by marking these occasions and demonstrating the value of the work already done, as well as how much closer the business is to completing its transformation.

Narrowing Down Your Choices and the Keys to a Good RFP

With your purpose, critical processes and ERP selection team set, you’re ready to start shopping around for the right solution. A simple first step in this process is to weed out generic ERP systems—you need something that is designed specifically for the food and beverage industry and comes with built-in tools that make your unique challenges more manageable.

Next, you’ll want to determine how many of the vendor candidates you want to send your RFP to. Some organizations prefer to send to a larger number of providers—10 to 12—and then narrow down their list to 3 to 5 frontrunners for customized demos. Others will trim down the solutions they’re considering to a shortlist before even sending the RFP.

Both of these strategies are sound. What’s important is that you get a sense for how long each of the vendors have worked with food and beverage clients, the best practices, capabilities and expertise they provide and their approaches for executing and guiding the implementation. Ideally, they will dedicate a team of their own to your project and can act as a partner during the process.

Next, you’ll need to lay out your RFP, aiming to make it as thorough as possible—or, you can leverage our comprehensive RFP template for food and beverage ERPs. If you decide to go about it on your own, keep in mind that it should be as detailed as possible while also indicating your must-have, non-negotiable features.

You’ll find the following requirements in our RFP template, and you’ll want to make sure they’re covered in yours if you choose to create your own:

  • Food and beverage-specific functionalities. This was mentioned before, but make sure that you include functionalities that are important for your sector as well. For bakeries, that could be excellent allergen control features; for meat, poultry and seafood companies, that might be catch weight management tools.

  • Mobile capabilities. Today’s business world requires flexibility and agility. Your employees need to be able to access the system from anywhere, given a stable internet connection.

  • Robust reporting and analytics. The best food and beverage ERP solutions take all of the rich information in your integrated database and generate real, actionable insights from the raw numbers. Visualizations and projections are also important capabilities to have at your disposal.

  • Integration and automation. You likely already have other software suites that you use, as well as advanced equipment, scanners and sensors. The ERP system you select should “play nice” with what you’re using now, enabling integration with your devices and machinery and automation of common procedures.

  • Cloud deployment. Installing new physical hardware for your solution is not ideal—it represents a larger up-front cost for you, as well as the burden of maintenance down the road. Your vendor should support cloud deployments that place the responsibility of maintaining and updating the system on their IT teams, while also providing redundant servers to maximize system uptime.

Once you have the completed RFPs back in hand, you may want to use a vendor matrix to assist in evaluating your options, as comparing the proposals themselves could become cumbersome. Then, with your choices down to a top 2 or 3, you should seek out customer references to hear your industry peers’ honest opinions, as well as customized demos from the vendor candidates, to give you a better understanding of the solutions’ functionality in practice.

Finally, keep in mind the importance of a culture fit between your organization and that of the vendor. This will be a judgment you make based on your interactions with the various providers, as well as their track record of past implementations. You’ll likely be working with this company for a number of years going forward, and only you can know if there’s a match, so don’t neglect this crucial step.

Making Your Selection and Setting the Process in Motion

After many hard hours of deliberation, your team will come to a conclusion and make the optimal choice given your circumstances. Then, you’ll be off on your journey, laying down the important groundwork for the digital foundation of the future.

Make sure that the implementation entails plenty of communication between your leadership team and the entire staff. Keeping everyone informed and letting them know that questions are welcome is key to getting their buy-in and encouraging them to do their part to the best of their abilities.

Training must be a priority as the system gets up and running—you don’t want your staff to feel intimidated, so make sure everyone knows what functions they need to complete their responsibilities and that they feel comfortable carrying them out.

Set your sights on the end goal, but don’t forget to mark those milestones that show just how far you’ve come.

If you’d like to hear more about Aptean Food & Beverage ERP and how it can serve your food and beverage business, contact us today. We also offer a robust RFP template for food ERP and can help guide you in your digital transformation, so don’t hesitate to reach out and get the ball rolling.

Tell us about yourself and an Aptean specialist will be in touch.