Software Alone Is Not Enough: Factoring People into Successful Implementations
By Gerry Daalhuisen
“Digital transformation” typically refers to a technological upgrade. Yet, the new technology is just a tool to get at the heart of what’s really driving the initiative: a desire to change and optimize processes. While a tool can have powerful capabilities, its strength and success will inevitably depend on the people implementing and executing it.
There are many real-world instances of excellent supply chain software that failed to implement. That’s because software alone is not enough; the team you work with is integral to digital transformation success.
Here are five of the most common challenges businesses face in driving a seamless and successful upgrade, and how the right team and approach – as well as some critical software features – enable a fast and effective implementation.
1. Use Iterative Business Releases
Flexible and configurable software offers agility and resilience in a competitive and disruptive supply chain landscape. During implementation, however, those same terms are associated with expensive and lengthy projects. The idea that you can configure anything and change everything invites uncertainty, disorder, and delay.
At the same time, you want to avoid an approach that models the entire implementation after your current business requirements, where configuration takes months and you risk being displeased with the finished product. Moreover, every tweak thereafter takes a long time to implement, so when your business or supply chain changes, you’re left with a platform that cannot easily adapt.
A templated approach to a flexible platform allows businesses to hit the ground running with fast, iterative business releases, which, depending on the scope of the project, could be as quick as every few weeks. Should anything change in your business, supply chain, or the greater world, you can seamlessly adapt to the new model in your next iteration.
Ideally, you begin by first defining your minimum valuable product (for example, simple order management capabilities, like being able to enter an order and add events to it). Next, build on that model by increasing capabilities in each new release (such as calculating rates, invoicing, and finally introducing EDI).
2. Put Your Best People on the Job
Naturally, the right people for the job are needed elsewhere with limited to no availability. As a result, businesses will put forward teams that are too small or lack the authority or experience to achieve the kind of focus needed to get the job done right the first time.
Indeed, implementation is practically a full-time job, but its importance cannot be overstated. Remember, a digital transformation is a business transformation. Allocate top management to prioritize and monitor the timely development of your “must have,” “should have,” “could have,” and “would have features.”
The software provider’s team matters too. Implementation requires a great deal of energy; you really want to have a talented mix of people who know the product and the business, who are eager, ambitious, and proud of their product, and who are always on the front line, ready to extend their customer’s capabilities.
3. Manage Expectations, Communicating Often, & Create a Feedback Loop
If you don’t communicate, misunderstandings will crop up; better to catch and correct them early. For example, what you and your software provider call an ‘order’ may differ, and what a user will expect of the product may not align with the manager’s vision when they chose it. If both sides are open and transparent about expectations and feel comfortable communicating and asking questions, they establish an excellent foundation to build from.
A successful implementation is also about connecting different worlds. Because no solution exists in a vacuum, a good software provider will use scoping sessions and workshops to better understand what it means to connect to the multi-party ecosystem. What are all the business requirements and processes involved?
Once an approach is established, collaborating often and in an iterative way ensures a constant focus on priorities that are doable. With each iterative release, businesses experience the platform live, in their own environment, and report back what works and what doesn’t. With timely feedback teams can realign, work through problems, adjust requirements, maintain a steady pace, and demonstrate achievements to boost morale.
4. Invest in Training
When purchasing supply chain technology, consider whether software providers offer training and how they offer support. If you don’t get access to proper training and have a customer support team that is only reachable during inconvenient hours, you’ll be stuck with state-of-the-art software that is frustratingly inaccessible and limited in usability and value.
In today’s fast-paced and demanding market, great software is simply not enough. To reap the benefits of an ongoing and dynamic training and learning process, find out:
- How quickly can the platform be learned?
- How fast can you onboard new users?
- When something like a Brexit or COVID strike, how quickly will you be able to adapt and will you have a knowledgeable and easily accessible team to assist you?
- When you need support, how well are you going to be served?
- How are new releases being deployed and implemented to you? (You don’t want to be left with cumbersome software upgrades that can only be managed once every three years or so.)
These aspects are frequently overlooked but are extremely important to both short-term and long-term success. Training should be multi-level and multi-purpose:
- Foundational training for users to get experience with the system
- In-depth training for practitioners to learn the system’s capabilities and how to configure them.
- Business development training for logistics service providers that covers the power and potential of the platform, so they can better sell supply chain services to their customers.
5. Plan for the Future
Most projects focus on the immediate implementation: What is needed and when. But how ready is your solution for change? No one could have foreseen the pandemic’s impact on their business and supply chains. What if in the near future your organization acquires another company with varying business models. How agile will you be to respond to change?
An effective digital transformation doesn’t just look at what is needed tomorrow, but what may be needed next year or a several years on.
Whether you’re a brand expanding sales channels or a logistics service provider who has or hopes to acquire customers with multiple diverse requirements, a flexible, scalable system enables greater business growth. Fast and seamless implementation allows brands to stay competitive and LSPs realize greater ROI for new services delivered on short-term customer contracts.
In addition to a flexible and configurable platform, a strong and accessible customer support team that will show you how to best leverage the platform, will boost agility and resilience. With proper training, your team grows from being mere users of the platform to owners of the platform owners capable of making strategic and timely adjustments.
VP Solution Implementations, MPO
As a supply chain SaaS company, MPO’s goal is to empower brands and logistics service providers to consistently deliver on the perfect order (on-time and in-full at the lowest possible cost). Our philosophy is that businesses shouldn’t have to compromise on
customer service to control costs, or vice versa. MPO’s flexible and optimizing cloud platform makes it possible to innovate and consistently deliver an outstanding customer experience while maximizing operational excellence, which is no easy feat in today’s climate.