There comes a point in time for every business regardless of your size when you inevitably outgrow your current business solutions. The reasons for that can be many, but the bottom line is that one day you take stock of things and realize that it just isn’t working as efficiently as it can and should be.
Below are some of the things to look for in your business that might indicate it’s time to choose a new system:
Is your current system of record unstructured spreadsheets or rows of filling cabinets stuffed with folders and pieces of paper?
When you need to answer a question for a customer or supplier do you find yourself having to search all over the place for the answer? Or do you have chase down other people who just “know” the answer?
If you currently have systems in place, has your business come up with lots of work arounds and outside processes to do all the things that the system doesn’t do?
Has your business simply outgrown your current solution just by volume of data? Do reports take forever to load? Is the database too big for the application?
Do you find that technical issues with the current system are preventing you from implementing new things in the business? For example, a customer wishes to automate their placing of orders with you, but your current system has no means to handle something like that.
The developer of your current system has abandoned the product you’re on all together and you are either stuck on an old version or will eventually be stuck on the version you are on now?
Those are obviously just a few indicators that let you know it might be time to look at doing something new.
No matter the size of the business, the change curve is the same. Whether you have 5 or less employees and are going from having a system of spreadsheets and moving to QuickBooks, or you are on something like QuickBooks and need something capable of handling more transactions and more complex business processes, the change management aspect is the same. And the decision to make a change shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Let’s say that one or more of the above bullets ring true and you know that it’s time to start looking for a new/better system(s) for running your business.
What happens next? Who do you call? What should you do? The following steps should be checked off before jumping right into calling software companies and speaking with salespeople:
Contact someone independent to assist with the process. This is important to do up front as they will be able to guide you through the process and ultimately save time, money and headaches.
Review your current business processes and determine what the future state of those business processes should look like. This should be independent of what your current systems can or can’t do. There are two very important reasons for doing this before even beginning your search. a. There’s no point in translating bad or broken processes into a new system. It’s going to be just as broken only faster and shinier. A case can be made that the current systems aren’t efficient because of technical limitations, and a lot of times that’s the case. But now is the time to take a hard and critical look at your processes and whiteboard out what the perfect world state will look like. b. Taking the time and diligence to map all of this out will set you up to have the information you need for the next step (number 3) of the process.
Map out a detailed list of requirements. Many times, companies approach this by getting a bunch of people in the room and making a bullet list of what they think they need. But without the supporting information from step 2, it becomes a guessing game in some cases, and in most cases what you end up with is just a 20,000 foot view of high level needs like “We need to do customer relationship management” or “We need to track inventory” This detailed requirements list should evolve from your future state process maps and should include granular requirements, not just types of software or modules in software. For example, if you need to track inventory do you also need to track serial numbers? Are there specific stocking locations inside of your warehouse that need tracked? Having your processes and requirements detailed out will be paramount in making informed decisions later in the process and will help you internally with streamlining processes and ultimately with implementing your new solutions.
From your requirements sheet, stack rank them by how important they are to your business and create a scoring system that can be used for each point. This come be copied from a template, but it’s also important to make sure that the scoring criteria align with what’s really important to your business. This information can also be utilized for creating a Request for Proposal (RFP), which we will talk more about in Part 2 of our series.
Determine a realistic budget and time frame for the project. The emphasis here is on realistic and is another reason that it’s important early on to engage with an independent person who knows the industry and can help you establish the budget. This is very important because it’s going to impact which solutions you look at in the next phase of the process. It is also going to help to set expectations up front about what can and can’t be done within the constraints of the budget and time frame. There’s nothing worse than deciding you have $30K to allocate implementing a new solution and then seeing a demonstration for a software that everyone falls in love with only to find out that it’s going to cost $250K. That might seam like an extreme scenario, and yes, software companies can and will discount software, but you generally need to start in the same ballpark. Being aware up front of how much you are willing to spend helps to streamline the process and ultimately helps in the back end during implementation.
Once you’ve covered the above 5 steps, you will be ready to begin the search for your new business system. Yes, it can be a long road. But by taking it one step at a time it will be the starting point for transforming your business and optimizing your processes so you can better server your customers and focus on the bigger picture.
Join us next week for part 2 in the series “Building a list of potential solutions and evaluating”.
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