About the only thing you can’t get online today is a haircut. Technology is changing faster than mutating flu viruses with more choices than car models in America. As the playing field changes, so does the way you do business or go the way of the dinosaur. It’s now essential to develop a sound back-office infrastructure on which to base e-commerce applications. If a growing tree didn’t establish a firm root network, it would blow away with the first wind. Likewise, you will need a dynamic, efficient and powerful software system that is flexible enough to do business in your unique way yet can evolve with your company and new technology. You must have reliable financial numbers and complete information about your operations, customers and vendors. It should integrate multiple business operations and functions so that the left hand knows what the right is doing. It must be Internet-ready. It needs to be stable and fast. Enter the world of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software. In navigating the shopping process, there are a few basic questions you need to answer for yourself: what are your specific needs, time frame, budgetary constraints, resources? Carefully assessing your needs will be a great time saver. Come up with a wish list, what areas you are trying to improve or automate, and determine what information you need from your system to help with key decisions. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you should prioritize your needs in terms of what is absolutely vital, what is desirable, and what you could wait to implement later. It’s vital to know when you need your system to be completely up and running. Include time for demonstrations, proposals, negotiation, purchase, system design, and training. There is no longer a need for a 6-12 month implementation unless you want a very custom system. Take a good look at the package being represented as there are currently systems that take only 6-12 weeks to deploy at great savings, not to mention what you will save on professional services. Determining your budget and method of payment up front will also ensure you obtain the right business solution on time. You should also know what resources are available for maintaining and modifying your system internally versus utilizing outside support. Now that you know your own mind, it’s time to tackle the market. There are a variety of resources available in the form of friends, consultants, trade shows, the Internet, and trade publications. But by this time, you should be able to quickly narrow the playing field to a handful of viable solutions that fit your unique requirements. Being armed with a little knowledge can make choosing the right business application software a little less daunting and ensure your continued success into the 21st Century. Darren Atkins is the VP Business Development for SCS, Inc. in Woodland Hills, a provider of Navision financial and business application software.