A new enterprise system for your business: Dos and Don’ts – Part 1 

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The world is changing, at times much faster than we want to admit.

 In the past, it was possible to close off your business systems from the rest of the world.

 The internet has put an end to that reality; the days of a business working within a closed system are long gone.

 We now have a plethora of innovative systems, development methods and system vendors to choose from for your enterprise system needs.

 The question for business leaders is this: When the time comes for you to transition your business systems will you be comfortable with your decisions? (1) One of most common oversights is that even though a business may recognize the need to upgrade their systems, their approach is stuck in the past.

 Many times leaders, while understanding that the environment has changed, cling to outmoded approaches based upon a poor set of assumptions.

 The evolution of enterprise systems (2) has been driven by the recognition for improved data-driven decision making based on the capture of data to support information access and knowledge development.

 Information, like other company assets, has immense value when used properly and it needs to be safeguarded and maintained.

 There are three critical common components needed by businesses as they move to upgrade their current systems that allow them to take advantage of increased functionality and access to information.

 These are: 1) Planning for business needs in the future, e.g. tying business strategy with systems strategy; 2) Designing the new system to support the new systems strategy; and 3) Working with your team to take advantage of your new system strategy.

 In this three part series we discuss those components, review a cautionary example of how not to do them, and look at solutions so you can avoid the potential of wasting time and money in a system transition.

 Requirements “Always do what you have always done, and you will always get what you have always got.”  

Caution: Avoid defining system needs based upon the past and overlooking the future.

 Your new system(s) will support your future strategy, so if the business capabilities required to support your strategy are not clear, the chances are your future systems will be inadequate.

 This is a case where form should follow function, what your system delivers follows what the business needs for future success.

 That means focusing on what will happen in the future as opposed to what happens now.

 When working with team members to gather their valuable insights, the focus needs to be on what will happen in the future as outlined in your business strategy.

 Getting to a place where you are prepared for the future comes from quality requirements* that guide system selection/development and later, configuration and implementation.

 Of course, that future business strategy needs to come from leadership’s intentions about, and vision for, the business.

 *Requirements in a systems sense is the explicit statement of those things or states of being (specifications) essential to the successful existence of a useful enterprise system, they are quality standards.

 If the end state is not defined, or is out of date, the requirements will not deliver a system acceptable for its intended use.

 Example: I once accepted an invitation by a system development team to review their new customer service system slated to be implemented soon.

 The development of the system had unfortunately been postponed multiple times and was now many years beyond its planned deployment.

 The results of their efforts would have been a great system – if it had been available a decade earlier.

 The reality was that the recognition of needing a new system had happened too late and half the target user group interviewed many years prior to develop system requirements were retired by the time the new system was implemented.

 The new generation of users would unfortunately soon find out that what had been built was now both foreign in appearance, and hopelessly lacking in functionality.

 While the original requirements were assuredly based upon the best of intentions, at no time in the delayed development process were the requirements reexamined for validity, nor were the risks associated with the original approach and its delayed delivery discussed.

 Without a thoughtful review of the business strategy, business capabilities, systems strategy and solution requirements in light of changing conditions, the team could not deliver what the current circumstances required.

 Solution: Well defined system requirements address your future business capabilities prioritized by their value.

 A capability is an outcome required to sustain the business.

 Capabilities are the ‘what’ of the business and represent outcomes needed to attain your goals.

 Core capabilities are those activities, approaches, and methods that differentiate your business in the market.

 Unfortunately, the identification of core capabilities is too often overlooked in relation to new systems.

 By focusing on those core capabilities required for the future and ensuring they are represented in system selection/development requirements you set your team up for success.

 Those well-developed requirements help team members think in terms of what the business needs in the future.

 At each step the team can review their progress against what they understand is needed.

 If there are delays they have an explicit foundation on which to review their choices and make changes as needed.

 That way your new system will be something better suited for 2030 instead of 2010! Countermeasure – Create and Maintain Good Requirements.

 Countermeasure – Create and Maintain Good Requirements.

 Take the time to create a business strategy, translate it into an enterprise systems strategy and develop your system requirements.

Go ahead and gather information from customers, suppliers and team members in light of your business strategy so you can outline a set of core capabilities that your new system will support.

Using those identified and prioritized core capabilities, develop system requirements on which to base your selection/development criteria.

An explicit system strategy pays many dividends in the long run as you avoid unnecessary wasted time and money addressing obstacles that should not have existed to begin with.

 Explicit requirements allow you to avoid ending up with an outmoded system that fails to support your future business needs.

 (1) See “Does Your Business Need an Enterprise Systems Strategy?”, in the January 2020 issue of the Southern Oregon Business Journal, https://southernoregonbusiness.com/does-your-business-need-an-enterprise-systems-strategy/ 

(2) Enterprise System: Application of complex software that encompasses and integrates business functions.

Typically an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System includes modules designed to address unique business functionality (i.e., reporting, sales management, accounting, inventory, production, human resources, materials planning, purchasing, customer service, etc.).

 Most systems comprise standard modules (“core functionality”) and optional modules to allow flexibility in addressing enterprise specific requirements.

 Modern systems allow for system configuration (not software coding) at the record, module and system level through the use of user defined data fields and field behavior, data tables and table relationships, user and group level security and access rules, interface management, and audit tracking capabilities.

 © 2023 Praxis Analytics, All Rights Reserved 

Jim Myers is the principal of Praxis Analytics, Incorporated and a trusted advisor to business leaders in their quest to transform intentions into results.

  With experience spanning over two decades, Jim worked in manufacturing, supply chain, customer service and maintenance management roles within markets ranging from capital equipment to aerospace and defense.

 As Associate Dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University Jim led projects that doubled capacity, automated planning/scheduling systems and integrated best practices into school operations.

 He has taught graduate courses in Operations and Information Technology, Strategy Alignment, and Project Management.

A former Marine, Jim credits the USMC with teaching him the value of leadership, quality people, good systems, and mission accomplishment.

Jim can be reached at praxis@wvi.com .

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