I was asked recently to put forward a proposal to an organisation for the implementation of a software system. They had already decided what mid-tier finance system they were going to buy. Now it was time to do a market review of some of the local service providers to select who would do the implementation. The information given on requirements was very sketchy. They really were not considering what they were trying to achieve, what the greater vision was nor what metrics would apply to measure the success of the project.

The number one supplier selection criteria was stated as “price”. This is so wrong on so many levels. It is such a misleading way to assess potential suppliers in any non-commodity market.  And regardless of what some ivory-tower pundits might have you believe, business software implemented to impact your business in the most positive way is anything but a commodity. Massive mistakes are made by people who take the “you know what we need, we’re no different to everyone else, just a standard project, surely you have some templates that we could use” approach. I think SAP learnt that the hard (and expensive) way with their everything-for-every-business approach of SAP Business One, catastrophically poor sales results compared to forecast, for years now.

In my opinion at least 80% of the effort required for the successful implementation of a business system sits with the actual business itself. It’s one of those 80/20 rules. Up front there is all the deep thinking and heavy lifting to define what the problem is.What is the greater vision? What does ’better’ look like? How does that link to our strategic goals?  How do we maximise the return on investment for this project? And that all needs to be documented by someone.

Then there is the implementation itself. There is no getting away from it, the business needs to pull on the overalls and do a lot of hard work itself. Build a motivated project team with an engaged senior sponsor. Workshop with the implementation partner to design the new world. Iteratively work through the design documentation to get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed and everyone’s buy-in and sign off. Scope out the change management plan. Extract and translate the old data to the new. Rehearse the migration and test the implementation output, again and again. Plan, communicate and execute the go-live. Sweep up the important things that got side-lined during the project. It all has to be done. Sure you can farm out lots of it to hired help. But you can’t let go of the reins, you can’t allow someone else to pollute your vision and only you can effectively induce and imbue the change within your people.

I am reminded about the printers’ law when it comes to getting your work done, cheap, good and fast.You can have any two out of the three, your choice. And when people choose “fast and cheap” the thing they always end up complaining about is quality – that’s what is remembered after all else has faded.

Someone will win this project, but it won’t be us. And of course there is always someone who will do it cheaperCaveat emptor, let the buyer beware.


You can read other system selection blog posts here.

You can read more about Professional Advantage and financial management software here.
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