Mind the gap when buying IT

Painted sign: "Mind the Gap" at a railway stationGood information and communication technology (IT), when deployed in a well-managed organisation, with appropriate business processes can be a key enabler.  In fact, technology has become somewhat of a second nature to us, and it’s hard to imagine how modern businesses could survive without IT.  Quite naturally, organisations strive to use technology in the best possible way and ensure that their team members have the best tools at their disposal.

 

As businesses evolve, they look for new and innovative solutions to their problems.   New technology may play a part of this. As I’ve written in a previous article, it’s crucial that change is considered holistically and not just from an IT perspective.  In this article, I’m going to discuss some of the steps an organisation should take before purchasing new IT, and discuss some pitfalls that are best avoided.  These points are relevant to businesses of all sizes, but particularly those mid-size businesses that are growing.  By implementing the right type of flexible IT, and avoiding the so-called “legacy” issues that many large organisations have inherited, can be a way of staying nimble and sustaining competitive advantage.

 

Off-the-shelf: The dangerous gap for the unprepared

Rather than build bespoke software applications from scratch, organisations will often buy ‘off-the-shelf’ software solutions.  This might be a Customer Relationship Management package, a Business Analytics package, or something entirely different.  It might be hosted on premise or even in the cloud.  Buying off-the-shelf has several advantages:  There’s no need to develop the software from the ground-up, you can capitalise on innovation and development that has taken place before you bought the software, and you don’t need to have hoards of software development expertise in-house.

 

However, there’s a trap waiting for the unprepared.  Buying “off-the-shelf” sounds easy and appealing doesn’t it?  It sounds like we just drop a system out into the production environment, and it’ll do everything we want it to, immediately.  Almost like buying shrink-wrapped software from the mall – pop the CD in the drive, install, and you’re ready to go…..  Sadly this isn’t likely to be the case.

 

The best off-the-shelf solutions are designed to be extremely configurable and are designed to work in all sorts of business contexts.  This is a strength, as it means they are extremely flexible.   However, before an organisation can use them to their best effect, the organisation needs to consider and decide how to configure them!  Or put another way, it needs to know what features, functions and requirements need to be met by the system.     It may well be that no package completely meets the organisation’s requirements, in which case it’s important to know the size of the gap.  Buying a package which fits your need 90% is fine, providing you know this in advance and have a plan in place to plug the remaining 10%.  It’s only a problem if the 10% isn’t considered.

 

Sizing and plugging the gap

It really helps to understand the business and stakeholder requirements before committing IT spend.  There are a number of items which are worth particular attention, five of which are briefly described below:

 

Requirements & Package Selection:  Before buying any kind of solution, it is worth reflecting on what you need the software to do.  Work with a business analyst and your business teams to establish what features you need, then speak to some vendors.  The Request For Information / Request for Proposal process can be useful here.   A PDF Paper about the RFI/RFP process can be downloaded from this link.  If a gap exists you can size it, and understand whether the software can be ‘bespoked’ to plug the gap.

 

Processes:  It’s also essential to consider how the new package will work with your existing business processes.    Will the new software streamline the processes, and if not, do the processes need to be ‘tweaked’ so things work as effectively as possible? Or does the software package need to be tweaked or configured to fit with the processes?

 

People & Organisation:  Do you need to train your staff/end-users to use the new software?  This is often forgotten. I once heard a horror-story about an organisation that implemented a major new IT system, and the first the users knew about it was when it appeared on their desktop first thing on a Monday morning!  Communication is paramount.   Equally, does the organisational structure support using the IT in the right way?  For example, if you are implementing a capability to analyse ‘big data’, do you have the relevant people to really utilise the software? If not, how will you recruit them?

 

Cut-over:  If you are switching between one solution and another, it’s worth considering how the cut-over will work.  For example, if you implement a brand new accounting and invoicing system, what will this mean that you need to run both systems until year end?  Or will you migrate the data from one to another and have a ‘big bang’ implementation? If so, what is your contingency plan if things take longer than anticipated?  This can be a tricky area and is worth early thought.

 

Interfaces:  Let’s face it, few systems exist in a bubble.  How will the new system interface with your existing IT architecture?  Which system will store the ‘master data’ and will there be any reconciliation needed?

 

These are just five of many possible points I could have mentioned, but they are four of the most important.   The crucial point is to truly reflect and understand the organisational drivers for implementing new IT and to look at the problem holistically.  This will ensure that you move forward quickly, productively and that the change you implement achieves the business objectives that you are aiming for.

 

 


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Roland Hesz

Very useful advices there Adrian.

I especially find the People & Organisation part very important. It’s not only unwise to surprise the users with a completely new system because they will be upset – I have met cases where the reason to replace an existing system was that the employees REFUSED to use it.
Yes, they simply didn’t use the software. Talk about money wasted. In another case they used it, but they didn’t trust the results, so they used another system and pen & paper and phone calls to double check and verify.
Again, money wasted.

Cut over: again it can be very costly if there are no plans in place for this. Migration in itself can be an almost separate project, and then starting to use the new system is not as simple as “turn off the old, turn on the new”.

And sorry for shamelessly stealing the “mind the gap” from your title – but I like that saying too much. Even have it on the door to my apartment.

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