It’s a big and sometimes scary decision choosing system(s), and no one wants to get it wrong.
It’s expensive, it’s a lot of effort and it’s hopefully going to last you for a while. If you stuff it up, you are either going to be forced to admit to a costly error and start all over again or live with the mistake every day using a system that just doesn’t fit your business.
It’s not possible to know everything about all systems across all industries. There is just too much to know and things are changing quickly. However, the following guidelines are what we look for when assisting people in assessing their systems, and they can these can be applied to most businesses and most industries.
To help you navigate the selection process (which is an effort all of it’s own), we ask, can you give it a tick? T.I.C.K
T is for Transactional
This means the lowest possible level of information is captured. Transaction level data is important; it’s important to have ALL the detail and for this detail to rollup to a level that makes decision making meaningful. Examples of transaction detail are;
- Bank reconciliations; without having every transaction there is nothing that can be done to find an exception.
- Sales; without knowing what item, size, colour and dimension was purchased at what time and location by which customer you have nothing to analyze.
- Timesheets and hours logged on different projects. The way this is grouped and reported guides the way time is used.
There will be different transactional data that is imperative to your business but the point is the same, if you don’t have all the information stored somewhere you are operating in the dark.
It can sound and feel like too much at the beginning but as a business grows this detail shows where to look to capitalize on the growth.
I is for Integration (a fancy word for connected)
The key here is to understand that there is a great RANGE of what integrated can mean, and that when software people say something is integrated it can mean anything in this range.
Integration is how different business systems pass information from one to another (example customer places an order on the webstore, how does this order get passed to the system where the fulfillment is managed, or the order is tracked?) Integration of systems is one of the most important pieces in improving information flow in an organization.
When done well it:
- Gives visibility of information through the whole process to whoever needs it. *Note – visibility doesn’t mean edit-ability.
- Improves the speed and flow of information between people – the right information at the right time can make a big difference to timely decision making.
For example, a retailer bought a ‘fully integrated’ Merchandise management system where 6R supported the implementation. It took 18 months to roll out the system; it took about 3 weeks for us to figure out that ‘integrated’ didn’t necessarily mean that if a piece of information was available in one part of the system it was available in another…
Or that it was called the same thing…
Or that the data and calculations were consistent…
Or that it was immediately available.
In fact, for this project a great deal of time was spent piecing together different bits of information from one part of the system to another and explaining to people who needed to use it just how this all hung together. It made the training effort bigger than estimated.
This doesn’t mean that everything has to be connected and available in real time for everyone. It’s up to each business to decide what’s going to work best for them. For some, end of day sales is enough, for others hourly or even down to the minute is more important.
The key is to understand that there is a great RANGE of what integrated can mean, and that when software people say something is integrated they can mean any number of options on this range. Your job is to dig deeper, to understand what is meant by integrated and how much information is available immediately.
As someone recently pointed out to me in a fit of frustration “they might well have mapped 5 out of 500 fields and are telling me it’s integrated.”
You have been warned. Integration is not always what it seems… get more information.
C is for Configurability and Control
These two things are really opposing forces, one is about flexibility and being able to change and adapt, the other is focused on tightening up the process by which you create information or manage it.
Finding the balance between these two things in your business systems is really a bit of art and a bit of science and will most probably require some trying things out and tweaking.
From a system perspective what you need to know is CAN you enforce some controls?
Every system needs some control points; not everyone should be able to…
- Create a new accounting class
- Authorise a purchase order
- Process a refund
- Speak to a customer
- Write off inventory
These are examples and they are not the same in each business, but it’s important to consider what the control points are / should be in your business to ensure that information is presented at a level and in a way that makes ‘good sense.’
User access is a control point; can you adjust security only at the screen / menu level or can you go down to the field level?
The configurability bit is usually a bit harder; it’s hard to know exactly what’s coming. One thing we can be sure of is that things are getting more and more complex and enmeshed and that businesses needs to adapt often at speed. So to be able to configure a system one way today and then change direction in the future if that’s what’s needed is important.
Again both of these items come down to doing a bit more digging with the software provider of choice. What are their plans for future development? What do they see as critical?
K is for KPI’s (or reporting and performance)
Key performance indicators; we are referring to how we gather and report information.
Not related to systems selection, but when putting in a new system it’s a good opportunity to review if you have reporting on the right things in place. Reporting is a good way to establish what information needs to go IN to the system. If you need to look at information by category and product type then these elements need to be part of the system set up.
Having watched organizations disappear into inaction in the face of over analysis it is my firm belief that no one needs more than a handful of reports (there will be 3-5 reports that tell you almost everything you need to know). It can take some effort to streamline this.
If you are running more than one department or a larger business this might expand to closer to two handfuls. They just need to be the RIGHT reports, and clearly the right system for you should have some of these already built in.
P.S. one more thing… the relationship is important too
Not only are you choosing something that is supposed to work with the functional areas of the business but you are also choosing a business partner; people who you will need to work with initially to get the system(s) in but also ongoing as business changes.
In theory 80 percent of a business’s functional needs should be met by more than one provider. The remaining 20 really has to come down to how much do I want to be in business with these people?
How easy are they to deal with? How helpful are they?
The attitude to future development and support is something that I encourage businesses to consider; sometimes attitude can make all the difference to solving a problem and you want to work with a partner who ‘gets it’.
To be able to make these choices really clearly you need to be in a place of clarity about where your business is right now, and where you want to take it to in the next 3-5 (or more) years.