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The process is not complicated, but will take time and resources. Other projects may have to be tabled. Experience has proved that this project will require
your company to expend a great amount of energy, but there are numerous ancillary benefits from a project of this type.
You will gain better documentation of your business than ever before. You will develop a clear and current understanding of how all aspects of the business integrate with each other. You will find new ways to improve interfaces and integration with all of your business partners. You will discover new answers to old questions that may have gone unanswered for too long.
If you are unwilling or unable to complete this process yourself, get help. There are many advisors that are willing to become part of your team. The tradeoff is time (get it done faster with less learning curve) against cost (outside advisors can be expensive).
There is an old adage about completing a project that says there are three components: time, money, and quality. You can pick any two!
Getting StartedIt is easy to ignore your computer system - until something goes wrong. For most, the computers just chug away in a back room, and we get information on our screens. It has become very much like turning on a light switch. We do not think about, or perhaps understand, what it takes to deliver electricity or cause a light bulb to glow; we just expect it and use it.
Maybe your company has stretched your computer investments beyond the limit because the memories of pain and suffering surrounding the purchase and implementation were so great that everyone thought the software would last forever. A business system is a decision about your future, and the future is not static. Business software decisions are an ongoing project, not a one-time event.
Step back and see where you are. Find out what your competitors are doing and learn what is available. Surprisingly, the answer may not always be to purchase a new system. In a process review, you can identify and eliminate nonessential activities from the work being done. After that you can create a "gap report." This report identifies where the current system is not supporting critical business processes. Once problems are identified, it is usually easy to develop a plan for closing the gaps. This is often significantly less expensive than implementing a completely new system.
Many of the gaps may be closed by using more of what is available in your current system. Maybe you just need a little more training. Or perhaps it may be necessary to upgrade to a newer, more advanced version of what you already have. The key is to understand your options so the best business decisions can be made.
Keys To SuccessThere are a few keys in setting up the project that will provide the greatest assurance of success. Most of the recommendations listed below are based on common sense, but some steps are left out so often that we have listed them here for planning purposes.
Implementation PhaseWhen you move to the implementation phase, no matter what the excuse might be, do not shortchange education or training. Without sufficient knowledge of the software, it may be impossible to have a successful implementation. Second, there is no such thing as an easy conversion. This process will challenge your project team and your software partner. Make sure your people are given time to learn and practice; it will have the most positive effect on the outcome. Work together and the project will come together.
Every trip begins by identifying two points on a map. The first is always where we are. The second is where we want to be. Without a starting point, it is impossible to plan a route. In defining where we are, the most important issue is documenting what is really happening in the organization.
Many times, managers remember what used to occur in the past. A manager might be making decisions based on events that happened five or even 25 years ago.
Make sure to take the time to validate the company's current procedures. Do not accept what is written in policy or procedure manuals. If you are lucky enough to have one, use it as a starting point, but make sure to check all instructions with the people who actually are assigned to do the work.
The documentation of the company's processes can be divided into four sections.
1. Technology - What equipment and applications do you have?
2. Processes - How do you do the work, and what forms do you use?
3. Interviews - How well do things work, what does not work, what needs to be improved, where are the gaps in the current procedures?
4. Activity - How much is done and when?
The end result is an accurate picture of how the business operates today. This becomes the foundation for determining what is needed going forward, what if anything can be done to improve operations in the short term, and what functions are no longer necessary for the enterprise.
How To Get ThereThe first step will be to screen the vendors. You are looking for a small group of viable alternatives from which you can select a software partner. While you may be tempted to select the first software package that meets your basic requirements, be patient. Try reviewing five to eight software packages to make sure you have a choice without confusing the issue.
Reference checking is a task that can be easily spread throughout your operation. It gives many people the ability to see their impact on the process and to create ownership in the solution.
Planning for and reviewing demonstrations can be a very re-warding experience if done right. If not, they are often a waste of time. Sometimes, they can lead you to poor decisions based on subjective rather than objective measures.
Part of completing this process requires planning for the conversion and implementation. There is no better time to do this than while negotiations are ongoing. By integrating these tasks, your organization will be able to get the best deal consistent with giving the vendor a fair deal as well.
At the end of this process you will know you have selected a viable software solution for your organization. You will have "buy in" from your management team and your staff, and the selected vendor will know you have done your homework and laid the groundwork for a successful implementation.
Now it is time to make it work. Be prepared to be flexible. In software implementation projects, like nowhere else, there are always little surprises. If you expect surprises along the way, they will not seem like obstacles to the team, just part of the process to overcome. Be willing to work with your team (including the vendor) to fix anything that comes along.
Do not shortchange training or "playtime" on your new system. It will take time for everything to sort itself out. Give yourself the time. This is too important to rush.
Experience shows that during the actual implementation, there will be a great deal of anxiety. Everyone is fearful of change, no matter how prepared they are. Let people grumble. Listen to their concerns. Just do not panic.
In a very short period of time, problems should become fewer and occur further apart. Soon, the complaints should die down. And, before you know it, everyone will begin to wonder how your company ever got along with the old system. As people become comfortable, the operations will run more smoothly, productivity gains will be realized, and the pain of conversion will be but a dim memory.
This article is excerpted from the introduction to Software Selection by Steve Epner, published by the Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group, St. Louis. For more information on the handbook, visit http://software4distributors.com (Distribution Software Guide) or http://bswllc.com (Brown Smith Wallace).
Publication date: 05/31/2004