Selection and implementation of business software is a challenge many of our clients face. We use a “Real World Business Needs “approach to rapidly assess software suitability. During implementation, we use client teams to quickly configure the software for actual business needs. The advantage of the client teams is that ownership is transferred into the organization while the product is being tested and configured. In addition to implementation management, we also develop test scripts that allow rapid testing of service packs and software upgrades.
The Selection Process
Assume that all Business Software packages can perform normal business functions. For example, if you are looking at manufacturing software (ERP/MRP), assume that it can place PO’s, issue work orders, prepare kit lists, etc. What is important is to make sure that the package you select can meet your specific needs.
Create an “Unusual Requirements list.” This is the list of requirements that you perceive as being specific to your industry. Evaluate this list. Many companies impose requirements on themselves that are more rigorous than they need. This is a good opportunity to streamline existing processes. Bear in mind that there may be a couple of requirements that are truly necessary but come up extremely infrequently. These may be able to be handled outside of the system.
Ask vendors to demonstrate their systems relative to your unusual requirements list. The Business Software provider can put the system through its paces in terms of demonstrating normal functionality, but this will not address your specific needs. The key is making sure that the system can accommodate your Unusual Requirements.
Request to be referred to a reference company with similar business requirements who has implemented the software. Meet with them and find out what specific issues they ran into during the implementation process. There is no substitute for talking to someone who is actually using the product.
Software providers are more than happy to customize their software during the implementation process. This should be avoided at all costs. Maintaining a customized software package is terribly expensive to an organization. Consider the following:
- Business Software packages are generally designed around best practices.
- It is easier to change people practices than software.
- A modified Business Software cannot be upgraded to newer versions without re-customizing the software.
- A modified Business Software requires a dedicated, specialized support group.
- Many clients choose to upgrade to a more robust system as their business grows or changes. If a system has been customized, it is difficult to move data to the new product.
The key to a successful Business Software implementation is allowing the client to take ownership of the software package without allowing them to try to force existing systems into the software.
To achieve these goals:
- Create a client team
- Establish a steering committee
- Establish a pilot room
Create a client team. The client team must have representatives from each of the key operational areas. These client team members will become the go-to people when the software is implemented, so they should be respected people within their departments.
Establish a steering committee. This should include peripheral areas, like maintenance, that may be effected by the implementation, but will not be primary operational users of the package.
Establish a pilot room. Time must be dedicated to testing the software. Because many tasks have cross functional impact, it is important that that the team work together. Establish time for the team to work. Mornings work best. 2 hours a day will usually be sufficient. Allowing people to pilot the software at their desks is not very effective.
Allow the client team to put the software through its paces. Establish broad objectives, like placing a PO, receiving the material, returning some to the vendor, and then transferring the information to finance. Empower the team to challenge current practices. If their current process includes a step that is not easily accommodated by the software, challenge the step. Allow the team to develop better processes.
Communicate the recommended process changes to the Steering Committee for approval and implementation.