Read Software Trends

Friday, August 10, 2007

Identify new opportunities ... get your staff involved

By Steve Epner, Founder Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group

An easy way to identify new opportunities for your computer systems is to get your staff people involved. They know a whole lot more than most executives are willing to admit. These people keep the company operating in spite of rules, policies, and procedures that were often designed to cover up or eliminate the possibility that some long forgotten mistake might happen a second time.

There are two questions that will bring out enough ideas to keep your IT people busy for a long time. Before we look at the questions, it is important to understand one other aspect of the top 100. They are not afraid of making a mistake. It is OK to be wrong as long as you learn from it and you quickly recognize the problem and correct it.

This means, it is alright for your people to question what they do. Without the ability to safely ask, progress will not occur. People who are afraid will not take the chance because they are afraid of being wrong. No one was ever rewarded for being wrong in school; they were either punished (low grades) or made to feel foolish.

The only way the following questions work is if your team feels confident that their answers will be used to help the company and not to hurt them. In some companies, it takes months (or even years) to purge old feelings. Only when people feel free to be honest will the benefits be realized.

The first question – which can be a lot of fun in the right atmosphere – is: “what is the dumbest thing you have to do?” If you spend much time working with line people in any organization, they always talk about the dumb things they do every day. These are all opportunities for improvement.

The second question is: “what is the most difficult thing you have to do?” What is slow, time consuming, keeps you from getting your work done? Allow your people to play with the questions and answers. You will learn where the opportunities are for improvement.

There are many possibilities waiting for you. Not all will require automation to be changed or added. If you find easy fixes by eliminating an operation no one can remember why you started to do it, go for it. Every saving in processing time is an opportunity to do something else; something more important; something that can give you competitive advantage in your markets.

Go ahead, imitate the best. You can learn what they already know – there are many ways to improve operations. Many of them are easy to do and obvious once you open your eyes to the possibilities. Then make change part of your culture – and watch the returns.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Computer system implementations are a continuing process, not a one time project

By Steve Epner – Founder, BSW Consulting, Inc.

A key element in the best companies is an attitude that computer system implementations are a continuing process, not a one time project. It is one of the often repeated complaints about IT departments: “they never get anything done!” Well, that is true. Your business never stops changing, evolving, even morphing into something new. If the systems do not keep up, they will not support the organization in moving forward.

There are some departments that do seem to have a problem finishing projects. Often, they are the ones that are kept out of the important discussions until the last minute. Then, they are forced to drop everything to complete an emergency project. Of course, everyone only remembers the work that was not completed and forgets about the unplanned work that got done and worked to keep the organization operational.

I do not even encourage my clients to consider automation as an “investment.” That suggests a one time expenditure after which, one can measure the return. Computers are more like hiring employees. They require constant care, training (updating), and even succession planning (what will be next). We can measure effectiveness and productivity. Those are more important measures of the successful IT operation.

The successful companies are always looking for more ways to use the resources they have. In a general survey, it was reported that the average distributor used less than 25% of the functions and features of their computer systems. These are capabilities that have already been paid for and are just waiting to be used.

Many of these unused functions were enhancements that some other company wanted to save them processing time, increase accuracy, or solve some other business problem. Each company should be in touch with their software vendor’s support people on a regular basis and ask: “What is the next best feature we could start to use?”

If you are not sure which new features and functions to try, go to the User Meeting sponsored by all major software vendors. Talk to other executives and find out what they are using. Ask key executives: “what are the breakthrough items that have made a difference in their operations?”

The answers should lead you to a gold mine of opportunities. Not all of the functionality will fit your needs, but adding a single function or feature every month will improve your operations and, if you need to use the investment allegory, increase you return on the computer systems.
Add to Technorati Favorites