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Unit 2, 10 Kam Close
Morisset Industrial Park NSW 2264,
Australia

49705842

All-weather labels, tags and signage. 
Water-proof. Long-lasting.

Turbulence on the cloud journey

Green Geek

Dr Joseph Sweeney has a long history in horticultural labelling, barcode and supply chain management.  He has worked extensively with both public and private sector organisations on a broad range of technology initiatives, including electronic document interchange (EDI), the Greater China region’s adoption of EAN barcodes and product identification numbers, e-commerce, software design and project management.

Since working on the development of TyTags’ initial labelling solutions more than 30 years ago, Joseph has been actively involved in supply chain management issues throughout the Asia Pacific and Australasian region.  Most recently, he spearheaded the development of Australia’s first just-in-time colour digital labelling solution for horticulture and environmental uses.

Better known in horticultural circles as the Green Geek, Joseph writes a monthly article published in Hort Journal Australia  identifying and demystifying  IT from the perspective of growers and nursery managers.

In addition to his role within the family business, Joseph is also an advisor with Intelligent Business Research Services, the largest independent Australian technology advisory and research firm. At IBRS, he guides clients in the planning, selection and deployment of new technologies.

 

Turbulence on the cloud journey

Kascha Sweeney

Early this year, we discussed Grandma’s and Grandpa’s plans to migrate all of their business functions to the cloud.  After careful selection, a product called jCurve Netsuite was selected. This product was chosen because it was one of the few that combined both customer relationship management (CRM) with sales, marketing and accounting.  Like many folks in the nursery industry, our customers’ purchasing patterns are highly cyclic, so being able to know who buys what, and why is hugely important. 

So the deal was made: we invested in both software subscriptions and additional support services to help make sure the migration of all of our existing customer, sales and accounting records into the new system would run smoothly. In fact, the support services cost more than the subscription to the software.   The plan was to be fully migrated by the end of June, so dropping the other disparate solutions (MYOB and Sage ACT) would coincide with the end of the financial year.

"As it turns out, things did not go as smoothly as planned."

Things got delayed. Tears were shed. Tempers frayed. But we got there in the end. And along the way we gained a heap of additional benefits we had not expected.  All of this has lead to some valuable learnings for others planning a similar journey.

Lesson 1:  Your implementation support specialist must be business-focused, not product focused.

When TyTags began its migration from disparate solutions to jCurve NetSuite, we were allocated a support specialist who immediately began to ask all manner of questions about our business. How did we quote?  Did we invoice before or after fulfillment? How was stock managed? How were bank reconciliations done?  Did we buy from overseas?  And so forth. Only then did he start to look at our current business records and data, and help us plan how this could best be imported and then used in the new software. Despite some technical challenges with extracting historical activities and records from our existing customer records system, working together with a business-focused view enabled us to migrate off the old Sage ACT software in just 2 ½ months.  And that included connecting customers to their historical sales records going back years… something we’d never been able to do easily in the past.
However, this bright young man then left jCurve for greener pastures and a replacement support specialist was allocated to us. Unfortunately, this specialist viewed everything from the perspective of the software. Instead of asking what our business needed to do, we were constantly told what the software “could” do.  This meant that we had to constantly unpack the technical capabilities and figure out which applied to our business, and which were superfluous.  At one point, the relationship completely broke down and it looked very much like the entire project would fail.
We had a hard choice to make: would we throw away the existing investment in time and money, plus miss out on a truly awesome customer relationship management tool, or change out tactics?  We chose the latter by deciding to drop our original plans to migrate the previous 3 years of MYOB accounting records into jCurve. New plan was to cut off the old MYOB accounts at the end of the financial year (June) and have jCurve take over at that time.  What we lost in doing this was the ability to perform sophisticated financial analysis on margins and on matching sales to spending over the previous years.  But the really important information - the customer sales data - was already imported, so we had at least that much.
Once that decision was made, we then had to put in a lot more work ourselves to translate what our support specialist was telling us, into information we could use. While the new support specialist knew the software like nobody’s business, she knew nobody’s business.  

Lesson 2: Your business processes are probably not what you think.

Early in our planning for the move to the cloud, we wrote down our key business processes. At least, we wrote down what we thought our processes were. As we began to implement the new software - especially in the areas of payments, bank deposits, and accounting, we discovered that there were many small ‘workarounds’ we were using in conjunction with MYOB.  Many of these became problematic when moving to the new solution, not because they could not be done, but because they would need to be done in different ways. In some cases the workarounds were simply not needed anymore. Often, the challenge was as much trying to explain to the support specialist why we had done something a particular way in the past, and trying to find the most effective way to do the same thing in the new software. Examples included handling foreign exchange rates on inbound product: we use a forex service, but jCurve NetSuite does a fully automated lookup of forex rates for any date.

We quickly realised that undocumented workarounds would continue to pop up over time, and it was easier to try and address them as they occurred, rather than pretending we could figure them out in advance.  This had a big impact on how we addressed the migration and training. We brought our training back to focus solely on the critical and common business functions, and left all the little stuff to be learned by doing.

Lesson 3:  You don’t know what you can do until you try.

Once we subscribed to the cloud service, we set a time to ‘play’ with the solution.  We discovered that it had additional services we had not initially examined during the sales evaluation. For example, jCurve Netsuite has a comprehensive ‘case management’ solution for customer inquiries and technical support requests. After trying this feature, we quickly realised it could replace the solution we were using, with the added benefit unifying all customer interactions. After a little more experimentation, we realised that we could use this very same system to issue software serial numbers, create bug reports, track common problems and prioritise them for the tech team, etc.  Within just two months, we made the decision to kill off two other tech support solutions and move all the customer services processes to new cloud solution, saving several thousands of dollars a year. Without taking some time just to ‘play’ with the new cloud solution, we’d not have that extra win.

Lesson 4: User (dis)satisfaction is contagious.  

Once we had migrated over the old customer records and sales data, we had our office staff begin to run MYOB and jCurve Netsuite side by side, to see if the new system would do what we wanted, while still maintaining our existing systems in case there was a problem.  In hindsight, that was a bad move for a company of our size. That effectively doubled the entry of all business transactions, placing our key staff under a lot of stress. And of course when the new system does not approach the workarounds, nor is backed by a business-minded support specialist, dissatisfaction grew very quickly.  And that lead to everyone - myself included - constantly viewing the new solution as a problem rather than simply as a tool.  The problems were, of course, our workload and familiarity with the new solution.
After missing the cut-over deadline from MYOB to jCurve Netsuite on 1st July, there was a serious debate about continuing or dropping the new solution. We decided to continue, BUT we decided to stop all double entry by Oct. Any new business activity would no longer go into MYOB.  That would reduce the labor stress.  However, this came at a cost:  since were were still updating customer payments in the Netsuite solution (which already existed in MYOB) we’d have to postpone sending out statements until after the backlog of data entry was cleared.  In the end, that was a very good trade off.  Less pressure in the office meant people felt more open to ‘trying things’ with the new solution. Soon, people’s view of the software began to change as they saw how it would make things easier in the long run.
Our biggest win came when Charles - not exactly the most computer tollerant sort of guy - was able to process half a dozen orders single-handedly in one morning (with no extra training) and then request a report to see how different products were tracking against each other over the month.  When he was able to see that as a graph, the smile on his face let us all know we’d overcome the worst of this turbulent journey

In conclusion

We are still a little way off from being completely in the cloud, but it’s not too far. Since our journey started, jCurve Netsuite has added new features and even deployed a smartphone client that will be a huge help when we are on the road and at trade days. If I could do this migration over, I would have spent a lot more time personally working with the office staff as they worked through their issues, acting as a translator between JCurve’s product-focused folks and the language that our business spoke.  And I would have had our accountant involved in the discussions earlier too.

The benefits are already becoming evidence. We’ve gained a lot more clarity on our margins (or lack thereof in some cases!) and identified new ways to engage more closely with our customers. Most importantly, we are finally able to bring all our business together in ways not possible in the past.  And that’s made all the turbulence worthwhile.