Modern Approach to System Selection (Part 1 of 2)

We live in a time where we can order groceries from Alexa, get directions from Siri and use Google to make hotel reservations. With so much available at the sound of our voice, one would love to simply say “Alexa, select the best IT solution to meet my business needs.”

While we aren’t quite there yet, we can still take a modern approach to system selection that takes into account best practices, begins the change management process, and helps your company select the best possible solution to set your company up for success.

This is the first post in a two-part series on system selection. The first part of any system selection focuses internally on what the business needs and how it wants to approach selecting a solution to satisfy those needs. This post focuses on these foundational elements:

· Defining business need

· Creating the selection team

· Performing the criticality and risk assessment

· Determining the system selection process and assessment criteria

· Defining the business requirements

The second post will focus on looking outside the business to find the best solution.

Define business need being addressed by the system

I often see functional managers or users say that they want to put in a certain system before defining the actual business need to be addressed by the system. They may have used the system at a previous company or have spoken with a colleague at another company and decided that they need or want the system. There is usually a specific pain point they are trying to solve but they are also often trying to shortcut a formal selection process to simply get something into place quickly and without much effort. This often results in only partially solving the problem and not fully addressing the organizational needs. And, really, how can you know if you’ve hit your target if you don’t set it?

Identify stakeholders and create selection team

Most systems are designed to be cross-functional and meet needs across the organization. This means that the selection shouldn’t be done by one department or one person acting on behalf of only their own departmental or personal needs. This requires taking a step back to look at who is involved in the business processes around the new system as well as who creates and uses the data in the system. Including them in the selection process, whether in defining need or in the selection itself, you will be setting up for better success in terms of adoption and use of the new system.

Assess system criticality and compliance risk for system

Not all systems require the same level of rigor around the selection process. Some are going to have broader business impact or higher level of risk if the wrong system is selected or the implementation is not successful. This is where the selection team should be asking the following questions:

· How important/critical is this system to the operation or growth of the business?

· How many people within the company are impacted by the introduction of this system?

· If this system fails, how will the business operations be affected? What risks will be introduced?

· If this system fails, what will be the impact on revenue or ability to support customers?

· If this system fails, what are the regulatory or compliance risks?

· If the implementation fails, how will the organization be impacted?

Defining this at the beginning will help to drive the appropriate level of effort and potentially drive specific business requirements.

Determine selection approach and assessment criteria

Once you have identified the actual business need, the selection team, risk and criticality level for the system, the next step is to determine the selection approach and assessment criteria. During this step, I recommend asking a series of questions including the following to determine the appropriate approach.

· What is the desired timeline for selection?

· Will a request for proposal (RFP) be used?

· How many vendors are going to be included in the process?

· Who will be involved in each part of the selection process?

· What sort of demos are going to be conducted?

· Who will make the final decision?

As for the assessment criteria, I recommend determining what is most important to the organization in deciding on the best solution. Having this defined at the beginning means that the team won’t be easily swayed during the selection process, either from internal or external pressures. Some of the things to consider are:

· Budget

· Satisfaction of requirements

· Technical deployment model

· Experience in your specific industry or with companies of similar size and growth trajectory

· Ability to meet your company’s timeline

Define your requirements and desired technical model

This is one of the most critical parts of the selection process. If you don’t effectively define what it is that your company needs in a new system, how will you be able to select the best possible solution and implement to meet the actual business needs? For a lot of selection teams, this is also one of the toughest parts of the selection process.

Many team members aren’t familiar with what is possible in a system and therefore can’t define the requirements for the new system. In some cases, where team members do have experience, they generate requirements based on what they saw in a previous system which could lead to bias in the requirements. If your selection team doesn’t have a lot of experience, I recommend bringing in someone who has experience with multiple systems to educate the selection team on what is possible (this also helps with the change management process) and develop the requirements for the business. If that is not possible, the selection team members can watch demos of multiple systems to begin to see what is possible to then decide on their specific requirements for the business.

What’s next

This first blog post covered the internal, foundational work. In the second post on system selection, I will provide the remaining steps in a modern approach to system selection.

You may still be asking why you would go through this process when there are solutions out there can you can start using with a free trial, or when you think you already know the system you want to implement based on past use or what your friend is using.

If the system you are selecting is an app for your phone and helps you get from point A to point B, then a formal process is probably not necessary. But if the system you need to select is cross-functional or contains critical data, what level of risk are you willing to assume in potentially selecting a system that either doesn’t meet the broader business need or has the potential to bring the company to a screeching halt? The better question is, how lucky do you feel?

Need help?

If your company is budgeting a new system and/or beginning the selection process, feel free to reach out to me and we can discuss the best way to avoid additional costs, mitigate risks and increase the rate of success for your company’s system project. To learn more, visit my website or email me at