Volume 2, Number 7 - July 13, 2004

INC.com is featuring the expertise of Rebecca A. Morgan in a weekly column. The site is INC. magazine’s on-line version, visited over 2,000,000 times each month. Articles will address strategies and tools for improving productivity throughout the office and operations. The series began July 8. Topic suggestions are welcome.

Thousands of companies have invested heavily in computer software, with the hope of better, faster, and more efficient information availability. Many are disappointed with the results. The hope of a profitable software investment is unfortunately often not supported by an effective plan. I don’t mean a systems-driven implementation plan; most organizations use that. I mean by a plan for how the system will actually be used to help improve the business.

Do you want your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to support your inventory reduction efforts? Then you better figure out exactly how you expect it to do that. Just putting your current ordering and transaction processes in a new software package will not give you different results. Define the process and procedural changes needed before you worry about screen training on the new software. Yet, sadly, most companies focus on screen training and forget about the most important part – enabling employees to actually understand and improve the business.

We give our employees word processing software, which is now much more practical than a typewriter. But does it make them right any better? Oops, make that “write”; my word processor editor isn’t fool-proof, now is it. Without teaching them (yes, what they should have learned in school) grammar and composition, their writing is not likely to improve. Without providing the business process that supports it, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is unlikely to lead to more satisfied customers or sales growth.

Before you invest more money in software, take a hard look at your business policies, metrics, processes, and procedures. Design them to support your business goals. Then, if the software can help you plan and execute better, consider buying it.

You’ve designed your processes. You bought and implemented the software and it supports your goals. But then you make a change in your distribution system. Or you change your policies. Don’t forget to plan for the impact these changes may have on how you use your software. The integration of numerous software capabilities within your four walls, with your supplier and customer base, and with the world through your website is incredibly powerful, but also extremely complicated.

For example when converting to lean manufacturing, you may need to review ERP system current transactions, bill of material structures, and much of the planning data. And those changes could impact accounting in ways the operations folk might not anticipate. When putting in new customer EDI connections, operational changes should be considered. Many business changes will require systems changes.

Your organization is an organic being, continuously changing. While certainly only a part of the challenge, don’t forget to assess the implications of those changes on how your software should be used. You cannot implement it and forget it, and expect it to be worth the money.

Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, Inc. All rights reserved.
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