I wrote this blog post for Arena Software and it was originally posted on Arena Software’s website earlier this month. I wanted to make it available here as well.
That Was Then, This Is Now
When cars replaced the horse and buggy, the functions that were inherent to having a horse as the “engine” were not brought over when people switched to driving cars. Without a horse, you don’t need blinders, a horse whip, or apples to feed the horse — although thoughtful automobile drivers might consider the apples for hungry passengers.
The same concept holds true when implementing an enterprise system. Manual or paper-based processes or activities that were in place (even using something like Excel) are no longer necessary, nor do they fit well into a technological solution.
For example, a system that provides automated approval routing eliminates printing and routing documents for signature, and you no longer have to wonder who is holding up a document or whether it is buried under a pile of papers on someone’s desk.
Other manual checks can be eliminated if the process is managed by the system, which can, for example, force completion of certain fields or approvals before moving to the next step. Some reporting can be replaced with queries, notifications, or automated KPIs displayed on a dashboard, based on data captured within the system.
Getting back to our buggy-to-car example, in creating a new type of vehicle, car designers were able to take advantage of new technology to create new functionality and rethink the way people and things could be moved from one place to another.
Once again, the same concept holds true with an enterprise system. Not only do you get to let go of practices that are no longer necessary, but you get to adopt new practices that inherently add more value to the users and the organization, essentially leveraging technology to optimize business processes and leave more room for innovation.
Square Peg, Round Hole
One would think these would be basic concepts, but even now, I still see project teams and users trying to implement their manual processes or force their previous processes into the new system. For many, rethinking what they’ve always done is often incredibly difficult.
Leveraging Best Practices
One of the major benefits of implementing a new system is the opportunity to take advantage of best practices designed into the system by the software creators. Most likely, the system was designed by people who saw a gap between what was available, and what could or should be available.
They surveyed what users and companies needed, analyzed what makes a company successful, and then considered industry best practices and compliance requirements to build new software. Typically, one of the major goals is to provide software (as a system) that makes it easier for potential customers to do what they need or want to do. There were most likely some major pain points that they wanted to alleviate for a specific customer population.
How does one best take advantage of functionality designed to optimize business processes?
· Define your requirements: Before selecting the system, understand what you are really trying to accomplish both in the short term (one to two years) and the long term(three to five years). Looking beyond five years doesn’t make as much sense these days because technology and business structures are changing so rapidly.
· System selection: Choose a system that meets those short-term and long-term needs and requirements; it’s important to choose based on where you are going and not where you have been.
· Implementation: When implementing the system (very few are truly plug and play), first understand how it was intended to be used; then seek to understand how it is being best utilized by other companies through conversations with a few reference customers. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, because most companies are more alike than not.
· Best practices: Leverage as many of the best practices built into the system as you can; if you find yourself trying to make significant changes, step back and ask why.
o Are you trying to put legacy, manual processes into a system?
o Is your company really that different from other companies similar to yours? The answer is probably no, and setting aside fear and arrogance at this point will serve you well.
o Are you or others in your company resisting change?
Brave New World
Implementing a new system is the perfect time to take advantage of the best practices built into a software system, and make changes to processes that are most likely no longer serving the business and potentially holding the company back. Use the new system as justification for the changes when you encounter resistance. Change is hard, but holding on to something that no longer works will be more painful and costly in the long run. Sometimes you just need to let go, gleefully, and look toward a brave new world.