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Monday, April 12, 2010

What’s the point of the software demo?

Written by Jeff Gusdorf, CPA: Jeff is a Principal in the Brown Smith Wallace’s Consulting Group. He is the managing consultant and is responsible for IT strategic consulting, software research and evaluation. Jeff has more than 20 years’ experience as a financial manager and technology consultant in the manufacturing, distribution and service sectors.

I attended a program presented by a local Microsoft partner this week. The partner did a very nice job of hosting this presentation; rented a very nice meeting room at a local restaurant, spent a ton on food, had Microsoft representation, gave away a nice door prize. Attendance wasn’t quite what they wanted but it was still a nicely attended event. But I think they missed an opportunity to make the needed impact on the attendees to move them forward in their software selection process.

Microsoft sells four ERP packages under the Dynamics brand and each product occupies a certain niche as explained by this partner: AX is the high end package, NV is a mid-tier product that is easily customized, GP is another product for mid-sized companies that have both distribution and manufacturing requirements and SL is for companies with project management needs.

Each product was demonstrated for 30 minutes. Each demonstration focused on the role-based model that Microsoft has incorporated into their software. Users are assigned a profile based upon their role in the organization and each role has a set of tasks already configured so that the user can be more productive more quickly every day. Each user can customize their start up screen with menu options, alerts, fact boxes and fast tabs. Great – but did I have to see the same thing 4 times? Did 75% of the time have to be devoted to showing the same functionality again and again?

This brings me to my point – what’s the point? What do you need to see in order to decide that this software package could/should be considered by your company as a potential solution? Is it replenishment? Order processing? e-Commerce? Make a list of the business processes that are critical to your business and communicate that to the software vendor. Reporting, Dashboards and Business Intelligence are the whip cream and cherries of software demos. It’s sweet and looks appealing but not very filling. Make sure you know what the point of the software demo is before you invest your time and the software vendors time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Part 2 - Successful Software Selection "Getting It Right The First Time Is All About People"

This Whitepaper will be broken into two sections. To read it in its entirety visit our Media Center for the Getting It Right the First Time Is All About People PDF.

Yesterday People Factor One (Who Makes The Selection?) and People Factor Two (Creating "Buy-In" For Change) was presented.

People Factor Three: Did you ensure the converted data is accurate and complete?
The third area relates to moving data from the old system to the new one. Don’t create an opportunity to fail by failing to follow-through with the conversion.

We’ve found the best thing to do is have a small group of employees and support personnel from the vendors do and test the conversion. Make sure the team has procedures in place to ensure that all of the data has been converted – check the simple things – compare the number of vendors, customers, outstanding invoices from one system to another.

Make sure everything is accurate. Develop checks and “hash” totals (total outstanding receivables, total open payables, etc. Audit the data before going live and you minimize problems. Find the problems before an existing customer cannot be found, or data is obviously wrong.

People Factor Four: Was there sufficient training and test time?
Finally, there is training and testing; more systems fail because companies underestimate the need to train their employees.

It does not matter how much the employees say they want the solution or how computer literate the staff may be, without a dedicated effort to train and test the system, you will fail.

The first two weeks with any new system are critical. If all of the time is spent fighting educational problems, you risk creating the perception that the new application is error prone, hard to learn, hard to use, not user friendly and probably the wrong choice.

Once that happens, it can be a fast death spiral into the ground. Users lose faith, and then they start to doubt the system, its capability and their ability to get any of the advantages promised by the sales people.

Here are a few hints to make sure you keep the training at a sufficient level.

First, if budgets are really an issue, try to negotiate a reduction in the total cost of training. Keep the courses and support that the vendor suggests but explore using CD or Web-based training instead of instructor-based training. This is much less expensive. Or have your best employees get trained and have them train other users. It is in your and the vendor’s best interest to make sure the implementation is smooth and successful. They want you to be a showcase site. That means, they will often work with you on the approach to and cost of training if you let them know how serious you are to do it right – the first time.

Second, set up a test environment. We call it a sandbox. Let everyone play on the system as they get trained. The positive effects of training are reduced by the square of the time in hours between the end of training and when they get to next use the system. That means that if after training a week goes by with no system use, about 50 percent of the training is lost. Make sure that there is not only a place to play on the system, but that there is time as well. Get temps to help with the everyday work so your best people can be trying out the new systems.

Run full days of activity against a subset of all accounts and inventory. Print out all of the reports and make sure you and your staff understand where and how the numbers show up. Test everything to make sure it is right for the way you want to use it before it is mission critical.

Looking For Help?
Successfully implementing a system is a big challenge. It is important that your team and the vendors’ consulting organization work together to achieve this goal. The important thing to remember is you are not alone – there are experts, like the members of our team, who have successfully done this before and who are willing to guide you through the process.

When it comes to the technology choices themselves, consider using a resource like our Distribution Software Guide at

Also compare software packages side-by-side at
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