Imagine the best employee ever! …Superfast, tireless, dependable, utterly loyal, plus a photographic memory!
Such humans are impossible to find.
Software does have exactly these qualities, BUT there is one problem ….
Choose the wrong software system and none of these great attributes will surface.
As a worst case, money and time will be poured into an installation which will fail - like so many failed software projects, costing tens of billions annually worldwide!
“Gently does it”
There is a simple way to cut the risk of unsuccessful software projects.
Instead of trying to find the perfect final system, introduce software into your business incrementally. Extending it to new areas and functionalities step by step - sometimes “horizontally” and other times “vertically”.
Horizontally means to add a new module, supporting a new area or department.
Vertically is adding automation to existing functions, or giving new functionality in an area already served by the system.
It is necessary to tolerate trial and error - because there’ll inevitably be unforeseeable obstacles. But even if you cannot avoid a bumpy ride, you will reach the journey’s end!
We call this approach the Incremental Software Strategy.
Ready, steady … where?
Every company is unique and begins improving or extending software from a different starting point. In some companies it feels like there’s a running start and others are at an absolute standstill. Whichever way, the principles are the same although how to go forward incrementally does vary.
A company's usual starting point is one of these three -
No software system to speak of
Standalone systems around the company
Already have an integrated ERP
No software system to speak of?
If you do currently use almost no software at all, at least you don’t have to worry about changing your software source between “software houses”.
Using an Incremental Software Strategy, the company has two basic options.
The first choice is that you pick one individual department that could gain a lot by using software. Then install a simple system. The goal should not be to “solve” everything in that department in one fell swoop. The better goal would be to get staff accustomed to using a system every day or every week.
The alternative is to pick a key topic used by several departments, where a central information hub would be very useful. Here also, the goal should not be to “solve” everything with that topic, but to get staff used to having a system, with many of them using it daily or weekly to obtain information or provide it.
Once you have a system in place in the company, its scope can grow in further steps to come.
Note! The Incremental Software Strategy is easier to apply if you select a software house with considerable flexibility: see below.
Standalone systems around the company?
Standalone systems (including spreadsheets) are so called because they are islands: they don't easily communicate or connect with any other system. Even though standalone solutions prefer to be called best-in-their-field solutions (a challengeable claim!), they fragment the company, creating communication gaps between departments.
The gaps make it difficult to transfer information between departments. Fragmentation also inhibits managers from getting a detailed view of company performance.
In this article we are NOT talking about highly specialised, extremely task-specific software like architect or stock market programs affecting the lives of only specific jobs - we are talking about company-wide systems, aiming to be the lifeblood of data highways inside the company.
Incremental Software Strategy again has two basic options.
The “horizontal” choice is to install an integrated system covering the basic functions of multiple standalone solutions. The realistic goal should be a single straightforward system with integration in focus. This facilitates a common “language”, common software culture, and shared data between departments.
Warning! Individual departments naturally will not be happy with a less sophisticated, intermediate system and may not see the long-term benefits immediately.
With the “vertical” choice, only one or two standalone island systems are replaced with one new flexible system. Being less disruptive for the company, this choice can give equal or sometimes better functionality than was available before. The long-term purpose and benefit of the “vertical” route is to later extend the system to other areas, incrementally building a wide-reaching integrated solution.
Already have an integrated ERP?
Changing an integrated system is extremely difficult but you may want to do so for reasons of cost, or because the existing system doesn’t fit the company’s real needs.
Once more, there are two basic choices suggested by the Incremental Software Strategy.
You can change to a new system with a different structure and operational culture. However, you better make sure this promises you a better fit for your needs, because the shock and work will be stupendous.
Alternatively, you can choose a very flexible system that will first mimic the key operational points of the existing one. In other words, you buy freedom (which doesn’t come cheap!), while not upsetting current operations too much. Only then, you start reforming operations, but now at least you don’t also have to install a new system at the same time.
Grow, don’t leap …
Software can ultimately mean the difference between success, mediocrity and failure. Crucially, software must fit the company’s changing needs well.
From the first little system to a company-wide solution, there will be compromises and mistakes. These will have to be corrected at some point, but Incremental Software Strategy is a good way to make the journey cheaper and more effective. Short sharp shocks can be avoided and the chances of safe success are greatly increased.
Software’s power can only be unleashed by the software house you choose, so finding the right software partner is very important.
The selection process may start being steered by luck, but time, experience and a careful Incremental Software Strategy are much more likely to help you find the right partner.