Navigating the software minefield

By Rob McKie - June 29, 2018

It’s common for businesses to encounter an inflection point as they grow, whereby existing systems begin to groan under the strain of increased complexity and scale.

Read: Contact Magazine Winter 2018

Invariably, this gives rise to the need for more sophisticated systems that assist a business to realise efficiencies through automation, improved communication, process standardisation, data led insights and more.

Whether implementing a logistics and supply-chain management system, integrated website platform, client relationship manager (CRM), marketing automation or even an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, the systems capable of delivering the sophistication required are often complex and resource intensive to integrate - particularly while maintaining the day-to-day requirements of the business.

Below is an overview of the key steps to implementing new business systems.

Understanding value

Owners of growing small to medium businesses are often shocked at the cost of enterprise business systems.

Coming from standalone and less robust software packages, smaller businesses typically apply a cost for cost comparison. However, this approach fails to consider the cost of ineffective processes, lost opportunity costs and the benefits of software synergies that can reduce the cost base and improve profitability and revenue growth in other areas.

When accounting for these factors the costs aren’t as different as they first appear.

Defining business needs

Before commencing discussions with vendors it’s prudent to prepare a business case to understand a businesses’ needs, the functionality and capability required by a system, the challenges and issues of the business, and how a system would improve outcomes aligned with business objectives.

During this process, consider the factors that make the organisation unique, help differentiate the business, and which are central to how the company creates value. When implementing new or upgraded software solutions, focus on the areas that add value rather than attempting to solve every business problem.

This enables the evaluation of vendors on criteria that is relevant to business needs, avoiding being enamoured by non-core functionality that may sway decisions from the primary objective. Remember, functionality is only of any use if a business can realise a benefit.

By evaluating the right criteria, the chosen solution is more likely to drive real value for the business.

Selecting the right vendor

It’s common to commence a project by shortlisting well-known or recommended vendors and systems. While there often seems like an overwhelming number of choices, opting for vendors with proven capability, including support and long-term commitment to the market, helps narrow the list.

Note, when short-listing vendors remember they are selling a product, so it’s important to recognise the advice provided may not be independent. Assessing each vendor against the core requirements determined in the planning stage will assist in comparing software solutions and vendor organisations.

Implementing the solution

Once the vendor is selected the process is just commencing, with the success of the project now more dependent on the business and implementation partner than on the software.

Among the biggest pitfalls to systems implementation is the DIY approach. When projects fail, it’s easy to blame the software. However, in most cases the problem results from inadequate commitment to resourcing the project implementation. Utilising experienced professionals that apply a holistic approach incorporating change management results in greater likelihood of successful implementation and ongoing benefit to the organisation.

Prior to commencing implementation, it’s wise to invest in a detailed design plan, incorporating research and user testing, timelines, costs, resourcing requirements and more. The project should also incorporate key performance metrics at regular intervals throughout the project to manage and measure project implementation and ensure goals are understood by both parties.

Managing the change

It’s not uncommon for businesses to implement new systems, only to have them fail due to low staff adoption.

This typically results when staff have not been consulted during the planning process, and hence the solution does not cater to the unique and diverse needs of their role, and sometimes simply due to lack of communications and training enabling staff to understand the functionality and benefits of the system.

To reduce the occurrence of low staff adoption that could derail a project in the final hour, engage with key system users throughout the project, from initial planning to implementation, incorporating relevant feedback along the way. This typically leads to both higher staff involvement and a superior outcome for systems users.

When implementing new systems, the wrong choice of software, implementation partner or both can spell disaster. Investing the time upfront to identify a business’ unique requirements and the value new systems and functionality deliver will result in superior outcomes.

Pitcher Partners assists growing organisations to implement systems and processes that drive value, with a tailored approach that assists businesses to understand their unique requirements and facilitate vendor selection, while overseeing implementation, change management and more.

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