Avoid ‘costware’

Many small to mid-sized companies underestimate the commitment it takes to properly evaluate, select and implement an enterprise software product to run their business.
As a business leader, how do you ensure your company’s software doesn’t turn into "costware?"
Here are three strategies that will help to ensure your success in evaluating and selecting the proper enterprise software for your company:
1. Develop a three-year business plan.
2. Select a knowledge partner from outside your organization.
3. Select a business leader from within your organization.
Developing a business plan
Being clear about your business strategy while having a concrete understanding of what your next three years will produce in terms of revenue, earnings and tactics is the first step in the process of selecting an enterprise software product for your business.
Without a solid business plan in place, it is virtually impossible to select an enterprise software product that will appropriately match the needs of your organization today as well as into the future.
The business plan should identify the company’s current state, as well as its future plans. The plan should contain competitive insights, customer needs and directions as well as vendor management and purchasing issues. Does your plan include an e-commerce strategy? If it does, you certainly would not want to select an enterprise software product that doesn’t have e-commerce capabilities.
Acquire a "knowledge partner"
When implementing enterprise software within an organization, it can quickly turn into enterprise "costware" if not done properly. Small to mid-sized companies need to come to the realization that many if not most of them do not have the expertise to analyze, assess and implement an enterprise software product.
Affiliate with an organization so they can lead you through the development of your requirements document, software and vendor evaluations, and implementation process.
Outside partners have an in-depth practical knowledge of what it takes to realize success with an enterprise software implementation. They also know what works and what does not work with regards to specific packages and vendors. A knowledge partner is in a perfect position to assist you in evaluating products and vendors to determine who and what will best fit the requirements of your company.
A knowledge partner can also assist you with vendor negotiations. Since they have worked with and represented many clients before, they have a very clear understanding of the implementation process, deliverables, performance expectations, and pricing.
Select a business leader
By selecting a business leader from within the organization you are:
* Leveraging the knowledge resident within your organization.
* Maintaining control of the process.
* Bringing accountability to the project.
Over the years, we have seen several companies invest a significant amount of money into implementing an enterprise software solution only to find that the solution they selected did not live up to the performance expectations they felt they were acquiring. There are times when over-zealous vendors overstate the capabilities of the software. There are times when the client misunderstands or inadvertently overlooks critical functional software omissions needed to properly support their operational needs.
It’s important that companies identify a business leader within their organization to take ownership and be held accountable for the project’s success. This is someone who understands the business intimately. This individual will ultimately be responsible for selecting and leading the project team, as well as partnering with vendors. The buck stops with this individual.
When properly done, the project leader will be given ample amount of time to manage the project. Having one person dedicated to the success of the project is vitally important. Accountability is key. A business leader must be in place and dedicated to this effort in order to ensure the overall success of the project.
Often times implementing an enterprise software system can be a "bet your business" proposition. If you make the wrong decision in selecting the software product, it can cripple an organization. If you follow the above guidelines, you will be well on your way to success.
Philip Mydlach is the owner of Mydlach Management Advisors, a corporate planning and performance improvement practice in New Berlin. He can be reached at (262) 785-5552 or pmydlach@aol.com.
November 12, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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