Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail?

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1 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? 2012 Solutions All rights reserved Charles C. Chewning, Jr.

2 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Abstract In spite of all the articles written and expertise available, it seems as though the failure rate of accounting software and ERP selection projects remains distressingly high. What are we doing wrong? It s a simple enough question, but apparently there s no single answer. Maybe that s because there are multiple opportunities to wander off the path to success and having taken a wrong turn (in most cases without recognizing that this has occurred), the project ultimately fails. Rather than once again laying out a plan to achieve success, let s approach the issue from a different perspective. Let s identify the opportunities for failure and possibly avoid taking a wrong turn. Challenge your ability to create a successful ERP selection project To put it somewhat bluntly, there are people who know; those that know they don t know and finally those that don t know they don t know. The process of organizing and driving an ERP selection project to a successful conclusion is difficult at the best of times. If you know what you are doing, then the project should move forward effectively in spite of the fact that glitches will occur (but given your mind set you will be expecting unforeseen issues and will be able to deal with them effectively). If you know you do not have the necessary experience and/or time to pull all of this together, then you will bring in an outside knowledge source (ERP software selection consultant). The most significant danger is an organization whose leaders think they know, but do not. That almost guarantees failure. Where do you fit into this maze? Start slowly I think many ERP selection projects fail simply because there was an arbitrary deadline. Rushing leads to mistakes and mistakes lead to failure. Take your time. Assume the project is going to take much longer than you originally estimated. Make sure each task is completed effectively before you move forward. Set goals, but don t be driven by the clock. Don t ask your CEO for support. I am not suggesting that the approval and active support of the CEO and senior management isn t required. The CEO is driven by ROI so how can you get this person s attention and support if you haven t estimated and justified the ROI. You would certainly want to inform the CEO that you are considering replacing your existing ERP system, but their support is not required in order to launch an ERP selection project. Do your homework. Identify the improvements that should be generated as a direct result of the purchase of a new ERP system. Justify these savings and revenue enhancements. Prove to the CEO that this is a sound project. Then ask for their full support to move forward.

3 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 2 Start from the bottom While the support of the CEO may not be required during the investigative phase of an ERP selection project, you absolutely need the support and active participation of everyone else. Any person who has any relationship with the ERP system needs to be involved from the get go. The nature of their participation might be different depending upon their job responsibilities, but they will make or break the system once it has been fully implemented. Keep in mind the fact that your first task is describing your current system and identifying its strengths and weaknesses. Remember that successful ERP selection projects don t just involve what you see on screen. If you are serious about improvement, you need to figuratively take your organization apart and build a more agile, effective and efficient whole. The ERP system is but once contributor to success (or failure). Since every day users are going to be (or should be) involved in a critique of your current ERP system, they are just as knowledgeable of the organization s strengths and weaknesses as they are the ERP system s strengths and weaknesses. Use this information to create a foundation for success. A lean and mean organization that is utilizing the capabilities of a well chosen ERP system is your goal, not just a new ERP system. Identify what you need to do well This applies to the organization as well as the ERP system. To be honest I am not convinced you should undertake an ERP selection project unless you make organizational improvements as well. In this case let s just discuss the ERP system. Take each significant business process that is carried out by or supported by the ERP system. As an example let s look at the order to shipping process. What do you need to do very well to complete an order? That means putting the right goods in the right condition or configuration in the hands of your customers at the right time and at the right price (ignoring for the moment the fact that the order is not complete until the check is in your hands). What needs to be done at each stage in the order-to-customer process? How can the ERP system help you complete each task? Forget about your current system. That doesn t matter unless it helps you identify weaknesses and therefore opportunities for improvement. Forget about best practices unless they are your best practices. It makes me cringe sometimes when I hear ERP vendors say that they have invested millions in researching best practices and therefore no system customization is required. Father knows best so no discussion is required or permitted. Organizational improvement comes before ERP selection How can you possibly know what role your ERP system should play if you don t know what your organization is going to look like? As I suggested above, you need to create a vision of the future first. Once you have defined where you want to be, you can then define how your ERP system is going to help you get there. Actually you can and should be making organizational improvements as a first step toward selecting an ERP system. Once you have completed your organizational

4 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 3 improvements, then and only then should you implement the new ERP system. You cannot do both simultaneously and you certainly shouldn t implement the ERP system before you have completed your organizational improvements. Why install an expensive machine if the foundation for that machine hasn t been completed? Grab the low hanging fruit first Rather than launching a comprehensive improvement initiative (and with it fear, uncertainty and doubt, the feared FUD), start by making improvements that are easy to achieve and obvious to everyone. Quick strike improvements are small changes affecting a limited number of people, usually an individual workgroup or department. Although you will have to be careful the changes you make don't affect people in other areas, these changes can be made independent of any larger initiatives that may affect the entire organization. In fact, quick strike improvements are important to the success of larger initiatives as they demonstrate to people that progress is being made. One area in particular comes to mind: AR Collections Management. While you might offer payment terms to customers such as Net 30, your actual payment results might be closer to Net 60 or probably more. This is a tough economy and cash flow is being squeezed. The easiest way to manage cash flow is extending the actual payment date. While this works for your customers, it doesn t work for you as the supplier. Since I have posted several articles regarding AR Management, I am not going to go into great detail except to say that changing the way you manage your receivables can generate a significant cash flow. If a $10 million company can reduce their receivables by a very achievable 5% (that s about 3 days sales), it can generate a cash flow of $85,000. That s a very significant low hanging fruit. Every accounting or ERP software product supports an Aging Report by which you can identify every invoice that s past due. Unfortunately the actual process of collecting overdue invoices is for many firms an entirely manual process. By definition that s inefficient and in most instances ineffective. Look instead for an ERP software product that supports the collections process. My preference would be the equivalent of a contact management application that is designed specifically to support the collections process. Since you have to justify the purchase of any accounting or ERP system, implementing a software supported collections process will go a long way toward achieving the ROI you need. Do your homework Before launching an ERP selection project, spend as much time as you can researching possibilities. Search the web for articles regarding software selection. Talk to people in the business. Search trade journals and even see what your competitors are doing. Attend seminars and conferences. You should even talk to potential vendors; not because you are interested in their products specifically, but to gain knowledge. Knowledge acquisition is all about identifying possibilities. How can you create a more competitive organization if you don t know what s possible?

5 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 4 Just because someone else does it doesn t mean you have to do it Researching possibilities is a critical first step, but the knowledge you gain has to be integrated with the type of organization you want to become. This applies to organizational improvements as well as software improvements. As you are creating a picture of the functionality you will need in your new ERP system, please don t forget that there are two types of requirements: mandatory and optional. There are very specific things you need to be doing if you are going to be a successful competitor in your industry. In many cases these requirements are defined by the nature of your industry. In other cases you might not need specific functionality, particularly as it relates to how you choose to compete as an individual firm with a unique set of individuals. Please don t create an organization that is a refection of your competition or software vendors perceptions of what constitutes best practices. Leverage the knowledge and experience of your team. Create your own requirements definition, not one dictated by your competition or software vendors. Define where you want to be, not where you are If you implement a new ERP system that is no more than a mirror image of what you are doing today, then you will have accomplished nothing. At the same time please don t change just because you can change or someone else says you should change. Before you launch your ERP selection project, step back for a moment. Look at your organization. Identify what you do very well. Identify opportunities for improvement. Create a vision of where you want to be. Then identify how a new ERP system should support this future vision. ERP systems don t drive change and they certainly don t generate profits. All they do is process information and help you make more effective business decisions. Only after you have created your vision of the future should you identify the very specific ways by which your new ERP system will help you achieve this future. Don t assume improvements will magically appear If you read the many White Papers published by vendors, it seems as though success can be achieved simply by purchasing their product. 20% improvement in this area. 15% improvement in another area. If you add up the improvements, you should be able to easily double your profitability. While there is no doubt that a well designed ERP system can help you achieve greater success, please keep in mind the fact that these improvements are just potentials until they are realized by the actions of individual people. People make an organization successful, not software. Software plays a supportive role by helping people complete tasks more efficiently, serve customers more effectively or make better business decisions. Measure everything If you assume that inventory turns will be increased by 10% or that receivables will be reduced by 7% and use those targets to justify the purchase of a new ERP system, you had better be prepared to measure your actual results.

6 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 5 Actually you should not make any assumptions. Just because a vendor tells you inventory turns can be increased by 10% or some article in one of your trade publications says so, doesn t mean it s going to happen. If you are going to say that inventory turns are going to be increased by 10%, your analysis must be based on the factors that are going to lead to this increase. Inventory turns are influenced by several factors and you need to identify those underlying factors and describe how they are going to change. Once you have identified the base influencers, then you have to create a system whereby their performance can be monitored. While it would be easier to just measure the overall change in inventory turns (and that certainly can be used to calculate a monetary value that becomes part of your ROI analysis), I will guarantee you that the actual isn t going to conform to your initial estimate. That s why you need to measure the base element, not the resulting value. Improved reporting can be costly While there is no doubt that ERP systems give people the ability to slice and dice data as finely as a Gensu knife, please keep in mind the fact that more detailed data analysis can occur only if more detailed data is input. Virtually all accounting and ERP systems give people the ability to define an infinite number of user defined fields. As an example, you can now track the detailed cost of attending trade shows. I m talking about tracking flights, trade show fees, booth rental, hotel fees, and anything else you want to track. You can also of course define a budget for each of these cost elements. More importantly you can and should track business that is generated as a result of the trade show. If you don t track revenue, why should you track costs to generate that revenue? Tracking costs and revenues is certainly important, but keep in mind the fact that tracking this information requires that the information be input in Accounts Payable and Expense Reports. The revenue associated with the trade show also has to be input in Order Entry or Invoicing. In this one example you might be required to input information into fields. That slows down the AP voucher or Order Entry process. Tracking detailed revenue and cost information is important, but the purchase of a new ERP system could make the AP voucher input process considerably more time consuming and therefore less efficient. The fact that you can slice and dice data doesn t necessarily mean you should do so. If information doesn t help you make a decision, you don t need it I have preached from this soapbox several times in the past, but I think it needs to be stressed as much as possible. Static reports are no more than a snapshot in time. They tell you nothing except what that condition was at the time the picture was taken. As such you cannot and should not make a decision based on a snapshot. You don t know where the condition has been and you certainly cannot predict where it is going. As an example pie charts and bar graphs are pretty to view, but they don t give you the information you need to make a decision. If you cannot make a decision, then you don t need the information.

7 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 6 As you are creating the reporting system for your new accounting or ERP product, eliminate any report or graph that cannot be used to make a decision. Identify the lowest level profit, revenue or cost drivers such as the drivers discussed above for inventory turns. Don t measure inventory turns because they will change over time and you will need to determine why they changed. Measure instead those factors that influence inventory turns. Present them in a time-phased graph that helps you identify where they have been, where they are today and most importantly where they seem to be going. Now you have the picture you need to effect change. Measure how much your customers cost It s very easy to measure the revenue you receive from specific customer and it s just as easy to measure the cost of goods sold for each shipment. It s also just as easy to measure project costs if you are in the service industry. That s all fine and virtually any accounting or ERP system can do that, but does it really give you the complete picture? Obviously I think we need to create a more complete picture of the cost of doing business with each customer. Think about it for a moment. How much revenue are you giving away because you offer preferential pricing? Do you cover shipping costs? Does the customer require support after the sale? How much support? How much time does it take to acquire a customer? How much time does it take to keep a customer? How much time is required to constantly change a customer s order specifications? How long does it take to complete each sale (to many that s get paid)? The non-direct cost of doing business with a customer can be surprisingly high. Demanding customers are costly customers, but do you know what the cost is? Maybe they are a lot more costly and therefore less profitable than other secondary customers that might not order as much, but don t require so much attention. If you don t know the true cost of doing business with your customers, how can you say they are good customers? Incremental improvements are better than massive improvements Large process improvement projects are disruptive by their very nature. Successful firms change to become more effective and profitable. That doesn t necessarily mean that change has to be painful or disruptive. Maybe it s better to change gradually over time. Maybe change can be thought of on a work group level. Take a small group of people in one area and determine what can be done to become more efficient and effective. Since work groups are not silos, some changes might need to be made in how they relate to other work groups. That s fine as long as the changes are agreed upon by the members of both work groups. Incremental change should be driven by the people in the work group. They determine their own fate so to speak. The key to this concept is the fact that change is selfdirected, not imposed from above. Search for a trusted business partner At some point in time firms searching for a new ERP system will have to connect with an unbiased ERP software selection consultant, a local product reseller/implementer or the ERP product vendor. In every case this firm must become a trusted business

8 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 7 partner that is much more interested in your success than they are in selling you a product. Let s use ERP resellers as an example. These firms have developed an expertise in the product itself and can implement it for you. That doesn t mean you should wait until you have completed your requirements document to connect with this firm. Maybe you should make first contact when you are doing your research? Resellers know a lot more about a product s capabilities than you do. If they are a highly professional firm, they will be more interested in helping you understand what s possible, rather than selling you the product. If a reseller is going to become your trusted business partner, they should understand what it takes to compete in your market. They should be able to help you create a vision of your future, a vision that includes business processes as well as software processes and functionality. If they cannot help you achieve your strategic and operational goals, then you need to move on gracefully. You need a business partner, not a salesperson. Don t accept claims blindly. Prove them! You tell a reseller or vendor you need this or that functionality and in most cases they say We can do that. No problem! Well of course they are going to say that! They are after all a salesperson! Reseller or vendor assertions should not be taken at face value. If they say they cannot do something, you can pretty much be assured they cannot, but positive assertions need to be proven. Yes, you would like to assume they are being truthful, but you are going to spend a lot of money and you need to make sure the product does what you need it to do. When you reach a point in the sales cycle where demo evaluations are appropriate, you need to do two things. First, you need to make sure the product supports the functionality as claimed. That s the high level view. Yes, it does do this. Of equal or greater importance, you need to make sure the product operates in a manner that makes sense to you and your users. As the power of ERP systems has grown over the past few years, their complexity has grown as well. You cannot have all of that power and versatility without more comprehensive process flows. To some people this comprehensiveness becomes complexity that inhibits. That s the danger. An ERP product might meet your functional requirements, but the manner by which it does so is seen as counter productive. You might also get a lot of functionality that you just don t need or want. Avoid road blocking customizations Many accounting and ERP products give users the ability to change the way a product operates. Maybe it s just a matter of adding new reporting fields. In other cases the functionality or process flow might need to be changed to meet the needs of individual firms. That s fine, but you have to be very careful. If a product is highly customized, it might be difficult, if not impossible to import normal upgrades. If you feel as though you need to customize a product, take a step back for a moment. If the customization is going to prevent you from accessing the upgrade process, maybe

9 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 8 you don t need that product or maybe you don t need the customization. Maybe you can customize the product, but do so and preserve the upgrade process. Third party solutions are our friends sometimes Virtually all accounting and ERP systems do not contain all of the functionality required by all users. That s why Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) exist. These firms create functionality that is not provided by the primary vendor. In some cases the added functionality is minor and incrementally improves the primary product. In other cases an entirely new application or suite of applications is created, usually to meet the needs of a particular industry. In some cases these applications are written in a different language than the primary accounting or ERP product and sit outside the primary product. In other cases the ISV solution is written in the same environment as the primary product and sits inside the product, making it almost impossible to tell the difference. ISV solutions will supplement the functionality of the primary accounting or ERP system, but you need to be careful. They are not owned by and developed by the primary vendor. They may or may not have been certified by the primary vendor. ISVs might be very small firms that may or may not be around even a year from now. ISV solutions might not support the most recent release of the primary accounting or ERP product. They may not fit exactly within the processing methodology of the primary product and might create process errors. ISV solutions are important additives to an accounting or ERP system, but you need to make sure those solutions are just as acceptable as the primary accounting or ERP solution. Conclusion Given the fact that there are any numbers of stories regarding failed ERP software selection projects, care needs to be taken to maximize the likelihood of success. While it s important to create a road map that specifies each step you should take from first idea to full implementation, you must assume that there are going to be a significant number of opportunities to stray from the best path. Identifying these potential potholes is critical to your success. If you can see the potholes, you can avoid them. Make sure you know what you are doing. Start slowly, making sure you complete each step before moving forward. Try to avoid deadlines that create too much urgency. Prove the ROI for the project before you ask the CEO for support. Start from the bottom as well as the top. Identify what you need to do well. Improve your organization before you define what you need from your ERP system. Identify the low handing fruit first. Do your homework first.

10 Why Do Software Selection Projects Fail? Page 9 Don t do something just because someone else does. Define where you want to be, not where you are. Improvements will occur only if you make them occur. Don t just forecast ROI; measure it. Slicing and dicing data can be costly. If reports and graphs don t help you make a decision, you don t need them. Measure what your customers truly cost. Incremental improvements are better than massive dislocations. Search for a trusted business partner. Don t accept vendor claims blindly. Prove them. Avoid road blocking customizations. Understand the nature of third party enhancements.

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