Small business, small steps

When small and medium businesses are considering a new or replacement system too often it turns into an expensive exercise. The business needs certain functionality, IT needs to ensure the product chosen fits with the current infrastructure and then there is the question of existing systems, to replace or not to replace. A new or replacement system is not only important to an organisation but does not have to be a an expensive program of work. Disparate systems can accumulate easily overtime. The business starts and gets a financial system to send invoices, it works and is cost effective. Then time sheets get added, another system because the financial system doesn’t do it. Product sales and inventory management requires an ERP or similar system, but then the sales team is complaining they have no-where to track their sales pipeline so a CRM is added. Finally when servicing the customers we need case management so another system is added. Pretty quickly we find ourselves with five or six different systems, no view of who our customers really are and no idea how we go here. Why do we do this to ourselves and our companies. Why do we do this to our staff? More importantly why do we do this to our customers? When we run our businesses with disparate systems and data we find that we are constantly tripping over ourselves. The left arm doesn’t know what the right is doing. Sales doesn’t know that Service has a backlog of cases for a customer when they do a visit to get them to make another purchase. Finance faces the same problem when they are chasing unpaid invoices. It is embarrassing! Then what happens, the organisation goes to market for a whole of system replacement. They release a massive document of requirements that will solve all of their problems and then are surprised when the quotes start coming back, and it is going to take how long? Businesses need to be pragmatic and ease into these scenarios, whats most important, what is my end goal and how does all of this align to the companies vision? The key is to break it into logical phases that you as a business can handle. Why you say? Many reasons.

Walk before you can run – replacing too many systems at once is disruptive, and while yes disruption is the latest buzz word it has business impacts. Limit the disruption by taking baby system steps. Your staff have day jobs – asking them to take time out of their day to get involved in a project, while important to the business adds stress. Doing a smaller piece of the puzzle limits the scope of the exercise and the time needed by busy staff. Budget and Time – things always tend to take longer and cost more than you originally thought. Limiting the scope allows you to control the budget spend. Maybe having Sales and Service talking efficiently is enough for this quarter and the financial element can wait until some other key initiatives get off the ground. Even though you want to be more efficient, if you are profitable you can wait a little longer for more improvement. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You become tied up – if you undertake a whole of system replacement you become tied up. Tied to the outcome and tied to the people, that includes the people you have engaged to deliver. I have seen it time and time again, Company A signs Company B to deliver their shiny new toy. One month into the project and Company A realises that Company B was not the right partner for them. Break it up into chunks and you are not married to the delivery partner for ever. Give yourself options, make the partner prove themselves time and time again. Additionally Company B might be great for the first phase but Company Z is the expert in what you need for phase two. Finally, ROI, ROI, ROI – make sure you are getting the return on the new system put in place. If you phase the rollout of a system across the business each phases ROI can pay for the next phase. Don’t fall into the same traps as big business. Bite off what you can chew and digest it before talking another bite and you will find that your systems will be successful, integrated, adopted and will help you grow your business.