In the previous Green Geek, I outlined how we came the decision to move all of our software into a single solution, namely jCurve NetSuite. This month, I delve a little more deeply into how to plan the implementation, once the decision was made.
Once the decision was made to go to the cloud with jCurve, our work moved from deciding to take a risk on this entirely new way of running our business, to minimizing the risks of that move. Implementing any new software, especially software that runs the business is inherently risky. In addition to the costs of the project itself, there are very real concerns that if the software project goes askew, business activities will also go askew.
The hardest part of minimizing risk in any business is to first identify the risks. Indeed, the biggest risks are always those that you don’t see. While large enterprises have the people, budgets and high-flying consultants to manage risk, small businesses don’t.
The good news here is that many organisations have implemented the exact same sort of solution we wanted. Therefore, there were plenty of case studies on the internet (mostly vendor sponsored) plus plenty of business books on the subject. From a little desk research, we identified three likely areas of risk for us:
Complexity of the solution
Matching business processes to the solution
The human element
Each of these areas of risk are universal: every organisation, large and small looking to deploy an enterprise-grade solution faces them. Armed with this set of risks, we set about creating guiding principles and tangible actions to address each.
Complexity of the solution
jCurve is a subset of the large,enterprise NetSuite solution, and to some extent already simplified for small business use. However, it still has features far in excess of TyTags’ needs. When a system does ‘too much’ it can become difficult to implement and confusing for users, resulting in lost productivity. This can eventually result in rejection of the solution by the business users, leading to a complete failure of the project.
At the same time, the solution has features we had never even considered in the past: for example, being able to identify which products our customers were viewing online and tailor promotional campaigns just for them, performing cost of stock analysis, or having profitability dashboards by product types. With such powerful capabilities, there was also a risk of not taking advantage of the new features.
To address the risk of solution complexity, TyTags created a principle - a guiding approach - to the problem, and then created a set of actions over time.
Principle: “Master one thing at a time.”
In the beginning, jCurve will perform only the functions that are already being executed by the software is replacing: order management, invoicing and financial reporting from MYOB and customer activity recording from Sage ACT! Other features of the jCurve software will be hidden from users.
Once users are familiar with how jCurve replaces the previous software, new capabilities will be made available to users. A schedule of new capabilities was created to give us something to work towards, and although deadlines were not set, it was expected that all services would be running within 12 months.
daily activities / order and production management
email & telemarketing campaign management
trade show / event / sales roadtrip campaign management
budgeting and financial health dashboards
stock and inventory management
web-site / e-commerce
manufacturing control and real-time profitability
integration with external solutions
The order of the above schedule was important, because it allowed us to master each new capability before moving to new features that required previous knowledge or skills. For example, getting email and telemarketing campaign management right would provide useful skills for creating ‘real-world’ campaigns involving face-to-face interactions with our clients. Mastering inventory and stock control would be beneficial for online ordering, so that customers could see if we were out of stock.
Get training on how to configure the jCurve interface to ‘hide’ capabilities until we were ready to use them. Rather than being distracted by the many features of the software, it was decided that only those that we were ready to adopt would be displayed. At the most simple level, this involved simple configuration of jCurves’ menus and dashboards. At a deeper level, it involved thinking about the content of various lists, and even the structure of our chart of accounts. The important thing here was to give ourselves enough knowledge so we could turn on the features we needed as and when we felt comfortable.
Matching business processes the solution
Most people within a business think that the way they do things is the way they should always be done. Thus, these folks demand that any new solution should allow for work to be conducted in exactly the same way as it has always been done. In reality, that is a recipe for disaster! Flip the idea on its head: the reason for putting in place new enterprise solution is to improve or completely replace existing business processes. Indeed, a common cause of large enterprise solution project failing is when they insist that the software be modified to ‘work the way they do.’
Principle: “Defer to the wisdom of the masses.”
Identify and ‘map’ the key processes within your business. Mapping these processes does not have to be highly detailed - you can simply draw flowcharts showing the important steps to get each bit or work done. Critical processes include:
Handling inquiries from prospects or customers
Stocktaking and inventory control
Accounting, bank reconciliation & statements
Armed with these processes, examine how the new solution assists with each. However, the goal is not to match the new solution to your processes, but look for ways in which each and every work process can be improved by the new software.
When you have a process that does not perfectly match the new solution keep in mind that many solutions such as jCurve can be configured in different ways. Consider if there are better ways of doing the job.
The Human Element
People are naturally resistant to change. This is why up to 30% of the budget for enterprise solutions projects in large business is allocated to ‘change management’. Change management involves not only training, but also ensures that key staff are fully involved in decision-making for the project. For a small business, the secret is to get everyone involved in the change. The best way to do this is to show people how the systems could work, show them the benefits to the business and show them that their ideas and input are valuable.
Principle: “Show, don’t tell.”
The worse thing you can do is tell people how wonderful all the change is going to be. Because change ain’t that fun. The result of change may be, but change itself is painful and annoying.
Instead, focus on constantly showing people the potential for the new solution and get them involved in setting it up. At TyTags, everyone sat in the initial demonstration of the product and were encouraged to ask questions about how the software would help them with their work. Of course, prior to this demonstration, the vendor got a briefing about the nature of our business, so they could prepare. This meant that the demonstration was able to show each person exactly how they would use the software, and how it could help them do their job easier, faster or simply better.
Once implementation of the new software begins, it is important to constantly demonstrate the solution as data is brought in. It also means involving people in the configuration of the solution: from letting them identify which information is displayed on customer screens to having them determine the information on reports.
Of course, there are other risks to consider, such as vendor management and technical details to get right. However, the above three risks were the most important ones to get right because they were based on people’s support. Without the support of the staff who will use it, no complex enterprise solution, no matter how technically brilliant, will survive.