Systems Project Planning
If you have outgrown your current order management and fulfillment system and/or you are planning to implement a new eCommerce platform, you typically need at least 17 months to undertake this process.

Preparation
Month 1 -- Most companies, no matter how small, don't wake up one day and suddenly decide to start looking for a major new enterprise system. There are as many scenarios as there are multi-channel merchants. But essentially, one or more managers will share their frustration with the current systems they are using, and jointly come to the conclusion that the company should at least explore what's available, what the costs of a new system are likely to be, and what the likely ROI is, based on some assumptions about improved efficiencies, better marketing tools, more flexible fulfillment, more dynamic customer database management, and so on. I am assigning this activity to the month of June. Included in this pre-project month is some initial consideration of who should be involved on a "Project Team" to shepherd the systems project through to completion. (Don't forget, the team members already have "full-time" jobs!)

Needs Analysis
Month 2 -- You should allow one month for a thorough Needs Analysis. The actual work will take less than a full person-month, but the Project Team will need to schedule half-day meetings with representatives from each major department: the call center, customer service, inventory management, fulfillment, purchasing, accounting, marketing, merchandising, and other relevant entities (like the Board of Directors). The notes from these meetings will need to be shared, revised, shared again, and finalized. While this can be done much more quickly than a month, if you are undertaking this project entirely on your own in-house, a month is a realistic period of time.

This is partly because you don't know starting out what ground you will have to cover. You many want to consider a battery of optimized solutions for:

"    order entry/customer service
"    eCommerce/mCommerce/fCommerce
"    affiliate management
"    shopping site feeds/integration
"    payment processing
"    demand forecasting
"    purchasing/procurement
"    inventory management
"    item personalization
"    fulfillment
"    back-order management
"    drop-shipping
"    customer database analysis

Producing a Request for Proposal (RFP)
Month 3 -- Once you have sign-offs on all the requirements you have determined from all of the managers or departments involved, you will need to produce a formal, written Request for Proposal (RFP) that defines in detail what you would like the new system(s) to be able to do (see the Services page in this Website). Again, this is something that can be done in a couple of weeks, but most companies don't do RFPs very often, so allowing a month for this is realistic. This includes getting input from everyone who participated in the Needs Analysis, making revisions, and finalizing the document.

Vendor Identification
Month 4 -- Once you know what type of system or systems you are looking for, you can undertake a thorough search for vendors who are likely to have solutions that will address or meet your needs and requirements. Please contact us at ernie@schell.com if you need help finding the types of software vendors you are looking for. (This assumes you are not going to program the system yourself in-house, which is a two- to three-year project -- minimum!)  Five to ten candidates for each type of system is a good number (more than that and you are just "fishing").

RFP to Vendors
Month 5 -- You should give the vendors/solution providers a month to submit a formal proposal based on your RFP.

Evaluate Proposals
Months 6-7 -- You will need a month to evaluate vendor proposals, check on references, eliminate the clearly unqualified candidates, and get Web demos from the vendors on your "short list." That will take a full month, at least. After the Web demos, you should develop a final list of just two or three of the best qualified candidate vendors, and have them come on site for day-long demos and discussions. Allow a month for this, as well.

Contract Negotiations
Month 8 -- Once you have selected the vendor(s) you will be working with, allow at least a month (and December is a "short" month, with the last week basically written off...) for contract negotiations. This is something that your CFO and your legal team will be working on along with your CEO and maybe your COO. Give the lawyers at least two weeks to finalize everything (and the vendors' lawyers may need at least that much time, if not more).

System Implementation
Months 9 - 14 -- You need to allow AT LEAST six months for this phase. I've seen it take 9 - 12 months or even 18 months, so this is definitely the minimum time required to do data conversion, make any necessary modifications in the systems you will be implementing, and set up the configuration you need to support your business.

Testing
Month 15 -- Once everything is set to "go," you need to spend at least a month in very rigorous testing to find any bugs or problems with the new system(s) you will be moving to in the near future. The testing should be done using detailed business case scenario scripts which you can be producing during the implementation phase.

Debugging/Training
Month 16 -- Allow a month to have the vendor(s) debug and correct problems that you discover during the testing phase. There can be dozens, if not hundreds, of such issues, and your Project Manager needs to monitor the correction of each one of them.

This is also the time when you will do your training of everyone who will be using the new system. Some of this training will take place at your site, and typically some of it will take place at the vendor's site, depending on the type of user and the type of training (even if you use a "train the trainers" approach).

Go Live!
Month 17 -- One word of advice: Schedule it for mid-week, so users have a chance for last-minute training to become better adept at using the new system(s).

And there you have it! Marketing Systems Analysis would be happy to work with you on any or all of these phases (probably saving you a lot of time and trail-and-error in the process). Specifically, turn to us for:

"    a systems audit and evaluation of resources currently in place
"    strategic planning for improving your presence in each sales channel
"    assisting in the Needs Analysis and producing the RFP (we've done over 240 of them!)
"    streamlining order management
"    warehouse facilities and fulfillment assessment
"    optimizing of inventory management practices
"    user training evaluation and refresher training
"    on-site and consultative optimization of all operations and systems for order management, inventory management, eCommerce, and mCommerce

Short-Term... or Long-Term
We are available for a short-term or long-term commitment to help you specify, select, and implement new multi-channel solutions. We also believe "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" We will help you identify what you are doing right as well as what needs fine-tuning and what could benefit from a more comprehensive overhaul. But don't delay-- the biggest mistake you can make is complacency, followed by procrastination (or denial).