There are many different technologies that can transform a business. But knowing which can truly deliver benefits, and then realising those benefits, is not always easy, says Ben Collins Lead Consultant at Collins Technology Consulting
There is much to be gained by making simple technology and workflow changes to a business, and most will already have the basic tools in the form of common office products from Microsoft and Google. A lack of training on these basic tools can result in an organisation failing to realise the benefits from the technologies they already have. Organisations vary greatly in their maturity when it comes to the use of technology, some have very little beyond email, some have tried in the past, but the systems haven’t moved along with their business and can now be more of a hindrance than an advantage. Once people lose faith in the processes, they can revert to old practices, ignoring the technology, or working around it.
Companies can get stuck, you may have started to use technology many years ago, and can make the mistake of thinking about change based on your current technology, closing your mind to a new way of working. At Collins Technology Consulting, we would recommend staying focussed on what you are trying to achieve and to try not to be influenced by what you think is or isn’t possible based on the technology you have now.
An example that comes up quite often in a requirements document is that the new system must use folders. Folders have been a good way to organise files on a simple shared drive, but really have no place in a modern information management system. A system should let you look at your information grouped in a far more flexible manner; rather than having the rigid organisation folders provide, you should be able to view your data in an infinite number of ways. Technology evolves, and basic concepts such as a folder evolve as well, don’t be afraid to leave old ideas behind.
Also, ask yourself, what are you trying to achieve? And be realistic about how you intend to measure any benefits. If you can’t demonstrate the benefit of your project, you may find it harder to get buy-in from other users that it’s worth their effort making the change. You need to look at your current processes and be honest about how well they work, however much time and effort you might have put into putting it in place originally. This can be difficult as people can be very protective of a process that they feel they own, even if that process is obviously not working very well. Managing change is as much about managing the people in your organisation as it is about the technology.
Putting the pieces together
Your first challenge will be identifying the processes in your business that will really benefit from making the investment of time any money worthwhile, then you must find the technology that will support you and, equally as important, a supplier you can trust to take time to really understand what it is you are trying to achieve. This is a challenge, and some organisations try a simple tick-box evaluation and filter down potential suppliers based purely on a score based on the results, or worse, people try to procure based on what they would like to have on their own CV. Many poor decisions are made because of this. If you’re looking for a system in a very competitive field of potential suppliers, this can help create a shortlist, but often these lists get into too much detail and too many answers aren’t the simple yes/no the author thinks they are going to get. A key area often completely missing from these questionnaires is any sort of competency-based questions aimed at the potential supplier. We would recommend keeping your business requirements very high level, let the potential suppliers respond in terms of what you’re trying to achieve overall. This will give the supplier a chance to demonstrate an understanding of your business processes and what you are trying to achieve, and not just a simple checklist of features of the technology they’re offering. This is often the difference between someone selling technology and someone selling solutions.
Once you have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve you must make sure you are fully engaged with the delivery of the project. Clients can often sit back, thinking that they have done the hard bit, but then don’t provide the resources needed to keep a project and its objectives on track.
Implementing new processes, and systems to support it, is not a business-as-usual task, but that business-as-usual work doesn’t go away. You must be sure you have resources to support both the project and the business. Even organisations that do recognise this resourcing issue can make the mistake of hiring a contractor to manage the project while leaving their own staff managing the business. We think this is the wrong way around. If you hire temporary staff, it may be better that they manage business-as-usual activities and your own staff are fully engaged on the project, this ensures they can bring their business specific knowledge to the process, and maintains that knowledge within your organisation as the project ends and it transitions into day-to-day use.
Take responsibility for the quality of the system, ensuring it delivers what you set out to achieve. Don’t trust your implementer to mark their own homework. This is another task that will take some time and resources to do well but is often ignored completely, or not taken very seriously. In some industry sectors this process may be quite alien, but we help clients decide the level of acceptance testing and help devise processes to help formalise the process. But ultimately, you really are the only person who will know for sure if the new process is working as you intended.
Finally, the system will be ready to go, and this stage will require careful planning, good training for all the potential users and buy-in from everyone effected. This is where involving your own staff throughout the process will pay dividends. Don’t forget that this may completely replace an older solution, so you must plan to migrate any existing data over to the new system. The benefits will be diminished if you are left having to run both systems in parallel as moving existing data over had not been considered.
I have deliberately tried to avoid jargon, or our own industry’s specific acronyms. Many clients are in completely different sectors to our own business of selling software solutions, and may not have much experience of software/technology projects, so it is very important to keep language as unambiguous as possible. Working on assumptions is a rapid path to failure.
At Collins Technology we believe our knowledge around managing a business process project from procurement to delivery will help your company take the next steps on your digital transformation.
ABOUT COLLINS TECHNOLOGY CONSULTING
Collins Technology Consulting was founded in 2010 initially concentrating on working with large corporations helping project manage IT infrastructure and cloud-based software deployments. It now focuses mainly on the design and implementation of business process systems hosted in the cloud, specialising in Contract Management systems. Collins manages its client projects remotely, with all its staff working from home, a mode of working the firm successfully used even before the pandemic.