The battle lines have been drawn: MillerCoors sued HCL for $100 million after a catastrophic Systems, Applications and Products implementation. A few years back, Oracle and Montclair State University ended up in a two-year legal battle over a $20 million cost overrun for a proposed software implementation. In the annals of enterprise software, these are just a few of the horror stories. In the past decade, there have been countless failures, including Nike’s woes of $100 million in sales lost due to unforeseen complications with its supply chain software. Another was the U.S. Air Force pulling the plug on an enterprise software project after spending $1 billion.
According to McKinsey, on average, large IT projects are 45 percent over budget. In addition, 17 percent of IT projects are executed so poorly that they threaten the very existence of the company. The results are decidedly mixed. Let’s face facts: Enterprise software is complex — and expensive. Every company, no matter how large or small, grapples with finding the most effective operational systems for their company. It is one of the most critical decisions top management has to make.
We know these platforms will enable our businesses to complete jobs, manage inventory, plan for production, keep track of manufacturing processes, staff management, accounting and other routine but critical tasks.
Software will solve everything like a magic bullet, or so we think. Enterprise software requires time and effort – as well as human and financial capital – to adopt. There is no such thing as “plug and play.” In addition, it is not a panacea for operational or deeper management issues that may exist in our companies.
Look at the Problem First
What exactly is wrong here? Companies want a quick fix. After all, with an enterprise system, companies are supposedly creating an automatic workflow and efficiencies by adding technology into their processes.
However, technology integration requires people. Leaders forget that companies consist of three legs: people, process and technology. Just because leadership selects technology solutions doesn’t guarantee success. When a company implements a new system, leadership assumes that they can take existing processes and “map” them onto the new system. However, this implementation may not always solve problems.
In addition, companies may purchase the wrong system, spending tens of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. Witness the beginning of finger pointing between companies and vendors. More wasted resources.
How can this be avoided? Examine the problem from day one. More importantly, begin with the end in mind. What should the workflow look like? What is the optimal customer technology journey – are there external or internal vendors, customers, employees? Clients?
For example, Joe in human resources should be using an applicant tracking system to log progress on new hires. Sarah in the marketing department shouldn’t be using 15 different tools to do her job. Jim in operations should be using a dashboard to track his KPIs as opposed to disparate spreadsheets.
One Size Does Not Fit All
When companies map the customer’s technology journey, they can use that to inform their decisions on technology purchases. Which platform is appropriate? This prevents what I have observed in the past – seeing managers who say, “All my competitors are using ERP solution X, so it must be the right one.”
This is lazy thinking. I can tell you that I have seen many six, seven and even nine-figure business system implementations that go awry. Once I saw a health care company spend $100 million on a solution that was not implemented correctly — and employees did not use it. Management didn’t consider the human aspect of managing change when deploying a new system.
Do You Really Need That Ferrari?
That red Ferrari is sexy, shiny and goes to 0-to-60 mph in under three seconds. But do you need to go that fast and do you want to pay that much just to get somewhere?
The same can be said for your technology decisions. Know what your company and customers’ real needs are. Problems arise when the optimal customer journey is not mapped and the wrong technology system is chosen – then implementation goes poorly. At best, companies lose time and money. At worst, they lose customers, revenue and reputation – and end up filing lawsuits.
Have a Champion to Advocate
An absolute must: putting the right advocacy inside your company. A CTO provides this, especially from a business and technology perspective. On the tech side, you need an informed advocate who understands how the integration process works. Both the business and technology leadership needs to drive change management – or risk failure.
Here’s the second issue at hand: employee use. Remember, I said there is no magic bullet. People are creatures of habit. We must educate, inform and let employees know that the benefits of the new system will allow them to do their jobs more efficiently. We need to manage their uptake of the system. Are we always checking in? It’s not enough to “do it right” and then flip the switch, hoping the lights stay on. Are we bringing our employees along on the journey?
The Journey Never Ends
Just when management thought it was done (integration complete) they learn they cannot simply pass it on and hope the system works. Ongoing support is critical – what works today may not work tomorrow. Not being happy with the status quo is a huge part of this. As the system grows, processes need to evolve. What is working, and what isn’t?
In short, the key is to constantly poll, prioritize and implement as the process moves forward. Successful implementation is not the result of chance, but of a well laid out, systematic approach. Remember the famous quote by the world’s greatest inventor and innovator Benjamin Franklin: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” The choice is yours.
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