Yesterday, in Part 1, we discussed the implementation of process automation software and some of the benefits automation can offer. We shared a handful of examples of failed implementations which are often a result of violations of 4 key qualities that interested organizations should be aware of when evaluating vendors, which we will now delve into.
Adaptability – A good business solution is like a good kid: It plays well with others. What we are actually saying when we talk about a solution having a high level of adaptability is that it is platform agnostic. It will mesh well and be fully functional in any legacy hardware or software environment that you already have installed. In theory, you had good reasons for making sizeable investments in your current technology stack, not just the operating system you selected but also web servers, app servers, data sources, browsers, mobile platforms and so on. Perhaps the database you selected works best for your line of business, or the network administrator you use is specific to your operating system. And, you’ve hired people and built infrastructures around those strategic decisions. When shopping for business solutions, don’t settle for anything less than a company that can – and is willing to – adapt to the environment where you are already strategically committed. The solution should adapt to you, and not the other way around.
Configurability – When we discuss configurability, we don’t mean solutions that are re-coded to suit your needs. Rather, we mean the ability to change settings within a solution so that it fits your organization like a good suit. That includes being able to define the user interface – what the screen looks like – and how information is displayed. You can change what data is populated in certain scenarios. You can make the solution adopt your company’s terminology – do you call organizational units “departments” or “cost centers,” for example. Configurability includes areas like support for foreign languages and currency conversions. A good solution also takes into account your workflow: Who must sign off on expense reports? Who has access to what data? And finally, it allows you to create unlimited business rules: When do the red flags go up on business expenses? What’s the spending limit for purchases by a certain individual? Whatever the case, the application should be responsive to your rules. Again, it’s a case of the app bending to your organization and not the other way around.
An under-appreciated value of configurability: It helps protect your corporate culture. Whether your organization is buttoned-down, freewheeling or something in between, its culture is manifested in business processes that are proprietary to you. In some cases, your culture may constitute your competitive advantage and what makes you unique. The solution you select should reflect that culture – with all of your workflows, terminology and business rules. Beyond protecting your culture, it also promotes adoption. We’ve all had inflexible, generic solutions forced on us in a work environment at one time or another. What’s the result? Painful training. Slow adoption. Probably some significant code writing to adapt. In the end many workers will simply opt out, and what good is your solution then?
Integration – The idea here is that your business solution should be very good at integrating with other required applications, both on the front and back ends. Whether it’s PeopleSoft, Infor, SAP or Oracle you use, your business processes solution will not provide the all-important, real-time transparency you seek unless it is seamlessly integrated. Look for a solution with a sophisticated integration engine that makes it easy to feed downstream systems that, for example, pay expense reports and invoices. It also needs to integrate with upstream applications, most commonly human resource information systems. For example, you want your solution automatically updated with HR data so an employee won’t be able to keep purchasing laptops on your dime after he has been fired.
Cost-effective migration – This is a huge problem area for traditional ERP systems. As we’ve already shown, those monolithic systems come as they are out of the box, and you’re expected to turn your organization into a pretzel conforming to how they work. Companies therefore spend great sums of money and long implementation cycles to, finally, get the ERP working the way they need and get staff trained to use it. Lo and behold, about that time the ERP provider inevitably withdraws support for the version they bought, and they’re faced with yet another migration to the latest version. It’s an endless cycle, and there are plenty of horror stories about companies caught in the vortex. The secret to avoiding this problem is to adopt a solution that doesn’t require a complete reboot with each release. Your solution should require only a one-time data configuration, including all the business and workflow rules mentioned above. Then, when a new version is available, the solution should allow the quick and seamless upgrade, so you always enjoy state-of-the-art technology without the recurring expense of continual onboarding. That factor alone – the ability to configure once and migrate forever – drives down the cost of ownership dramatically.
The bottom line, unfortunately, is that the world can be a dangerous place for companies seeking to streamline and optimize their business processes. The big legacy players in ERP – insert your favorite name here – have for too long had the upper hand on companies, demanding a price of compliance, conformity and endless, expensive upgrades. That rigid, one-size-fits-all approach has left many companies in the ditch and hurt the concept of enterprise resource planning. But by adhering to some simple software design philosophies – lessons learned through years of experience with failed ERPs – and insisting on new standards for adaptability, configurability, integration and migration, companies can finally reap the benefits of automation.