If you’re in the supply chain industry and looking to implement a new cloud-based software system, you’ll want to make sure you get a solution that meets your needs. To help you identify the right product for your operations, Gene Gander, Vice President Business Development, Americas, CargoWise, offers five key questions you should consider when talking to a software vendor.
Cloud-based systems have changed the game for software in the supply chain. The cloud era is well and truly established; and its overwhelming benefits are being applauded at every level of the ‘...as-a-service’ spectrum—from system infrastructure to end-user facing applications.
What it means for supply chain providers is that you can have access to the latest, most up-to-date systems that work across your business operations without the expense and implementation hassles. It puts software development into the hands of technology professionals and out of yours, enabling enterprises of all sizes and from all sectors to concentrate efforts on their core competencies.
But when considering a new cloud-based logistics suite, what questions do you need to ask a potential service provider? How do you confirm that its promised functionality is what you need to future proof your organization? Are they the right partner to match your corporate culture and governance requirements?
Historically, logistics software has largely evolved from the efforts of entrepreneurial freight forwarders and warehouse specialists. Their aim was to build tools that underpinned their relationships with crucial customers. These pieces of software have expanded over time into application suites for the broader marketplace.
It is the influence of this background on current product development and the transparency of vendor/customer relationships that needs to be explored in any tender assessment. So, before you jump on board with a software vendor, find the answers to the following key questions so you can confidently consider your move.
1. Does the software vendor understand your business and meet your needs?
The logistics industry is now a global business. Irrespective of which country, state or town you operate in; any vertical specialization you use as a differentiator; or whatever any customer’s demands you may have to cater to, the steps in the chain remain much the same.
Whether your focus is broad or narrow, your logistics Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) must be flexible to support your business. A trusted software developer must, like you, understand your sector in detail. A good vendor should have the advantage of spending years working closely with thousands of supply chain providers, both big and small, across all sectors of the industry. Ask if they’ve come across your obstacles, your workflow requirements, your challenges and whether they’ve built solutions to these into their product. When considering which vendor to partner with, big isn’t always better but big experience certainly is.
2. Will you be empowered by the software partner or locked in?
Is the software developer reaching to be ahead of the game or playing catch up? Have they simply scrambled to put their on-premises software on the market as a hosted solution? Or, is it a true cloud application where the software and commercial models have been created specifically for industry-wide capabilities and hassle-free operational integration?
True cloud solutions are the way forward. They’re capable of being switched on without months of costly implementation services, intuitive to use for rapid adoption and have a low lifetime cost through being both flexible and scalable. SaaS developers commit thousands of hours to building tools that are tested and proven before you flick the switch for it to operate in your business. You are able to simply tailor it without incurring the cost or delays of development time. You only subscribe for as long as the service is delivering value. It provides tools for self-sufficiency and the agility to meet your timetable to market—and that’s empowerment.
3. Is there any conflict of interest—who owns the software company?
I recommend you review the majority equity owners of the software company and look at the key management staff. Is there any conflict of interest between you and the software developer or the company that’s hosting your data? Do they have co-responsibilities across a forwarder business unit and the software solution provider? Even if it is not structurally blurred, appreciate the impact of the degree of separation between the two operational units. Do you feel comfortable with your service provider and competitor being one and the same?
4. How healthy is the vendor?
No one makes the considerable step to change IT systems lightly. It’s very important that the supplier you choose is going to be with you for the long haul. Drill into the financial strength of the organization, its reputation in the marketplace and its stated directions for product development.
5. Is the vendor looking to future trends?
Ten years ago, who would have thought automated processes and electronic documents would replace the paper pushing of customs compliance? Logistics is constantly evolving: etail, productivity enhancement tools and logistics devices-as-a-service are positioned to become the next game changers across the industry. You want to partner with a provider that proactively creates technology solutions for the future. Quiz solution providers on where they see the industry heading and how their product development plans will deliver new capability ahead of industry trends. Ask them what you don’t know!
Gene Gander is Vice President Business Development Americas for CargoWise®
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