Some Thoughts on Software Selection

Those looking for advice on how best to execute a major ECM or ERP implementation, a digital transformation involving workflow and document sharing, or indeed a major software acquisition of any kind, will find no shortage on the web of white papers, checklists, blog posts, videos, and podcasts laying out the top ‘n’ tips (we’ve seen numbers ranging from three to 16) on how to do this with maximum efficiency and minimum pain and expense. Based on our more than 20 years’ experience helping clients with such projects, ZCom Solutions views the following as crucial to the success of such projects.

Vision

Defining the business goals to be achieved by the project is critical. Often this involves identifying existing problems (cost overruns through lack of real-time project reporting, for example) and ways to gain a competitive advantage by optimizing existing processes in terms of quality (better), time (faster), and expense (cheaper). It is the promise of solving these problems and leveraging these opportunities through the intelligent application of technology that provides the business case for the project and the justification for its budget. The project’s goals must be documented in advance and must be measurable, otherwise at the end of the project it will be impossible to determine ROI or indeed whether the effort was worth expending at all.

Partners

The failure rate of major technology initiatives is notoriously high, in large part because defining needs, soliciting vendors, choosing the right products and services, and getting everything into production within time and budget constraints is difficult, demanding work. We know this because many of ZCom’s key people have backgrounds in operations (accounting, procurement, etc.) and know the pain and pressure of having to lead a team through changing times while still delivering on day-to-day business commitments. We have done it before both in prior lives and for scores of clients who have come to regard our executives, project managers, and technicians as trusted partners who understand the issues and who can help deliver solutions quickly and efficiently. Capabilities, experience, competence, integrity: the right partner will help reduce risk and save you time and money. Choose wisely.

Requirements
Any major vendor with thousands of clients can be guaranteed to have solutions that cover the fundamentals of the business functions addressed (HR, Procurement, Finance, etc.), so it is not hugely productive to spend time documenting basic requirements (for example, any reputable General Ledger system will permit authorized users to add accounts to a chart of accounts, so elaboration on this need is unnecessary). A high degree of specificity is desirable, however, when documenting mandatory requirements that may be unique to the business (not, “the new system must be able to send and receive electronic invoices,” but, “invoice processing in the new system must be EDIFACT compliant”). Being able to compare clear, specific requirements with the capabilities of potential solutions greatly simplifies and accelerates vendor selection.

Business process workflow mapping and requirements definition are essential to understanding current operations and the ways they can be improved. To encourage new ways of thinking about opportunities to improve existing processes, the focus should be more on what is done today rather than how it is done. The employees who perform the work are often the source of insights as to how processes can be improved, so make sure that the team tasked with defining requirements is composed of people selected based on their knowledge and work responsibilities rather than title or position in the corporate hierarchy.

Implementation
From a project management standpoint, there is likely no more complex and demanding IT-related activity than the implementation of a new software system. The requirements have been defined, the proffered solutions have been compared, the vendor has been chosen, the contracts have been signed, and now it is time to put the beast into production and extract value from it. Implementation involves an intimidating number of discrete technical and administrative activities, all of which must be coordinated and performed on the living body of a working organization going about its day-to-day business.

It is a mistake to view “implementation” as equivalent in meaning to “going live,” which is an intermediate step between initial user training and ongoing post-production support. Training is a continuous activity triggered by the arrival of new hires or the release of new features in the software. Ongoing post-production support of users includes giving them access to a help desk and a robust fault-reporting capability. Ongoing post-production support of the solution includes at a minimum the definition of rigorous change management procedures and authorizations.

For many organizations, it is perhaps during implementation that having an experienced partner like ZCom will be most valuable. We’ve done this hard implementation stuff before, often, and we have the methodology and the tools to help you pull off a smooth and quick transition from the old to the new. Our clients will testify to our commitment to their long-term success. If you are planning a software acquisition, call us today to see how we can help.

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