“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” said Abraham Lincoln.
This analogy stands true for implementing any new software: preparation is key to a successful implementation and, ultimately, a profitable outcome.
Following Abe’s advice, and my 14 years experience at Tharstern, I’ve put together 5 key areas of consideration for ensuring you get a positive return on investment from a new management information system (MIS). As you can probably guess, they all revolve around the preparation:
1. Define your desired benefits (both financial and operational) before purchasing the MIS
TIP: Sounds simple, but if all the system is intended to do is provide a better interface than that of the current one, then is it really worth the upheaval?
Make sure due diligence is done prior to purchasing the system:
Include a representative from every user group to assess functionality that affects their department and assess how it could improve/detract their day to day working environment.
Seek feedback from other users of the system as to its capabilities and constraints.
Ask the print MIS provider for demonstrations of your most difficult products.
2. Define costs vs benefits
TIP: Don’t under-estimate the IT infrastructure costs. Upgrading to a new server is a common oversight and should be factored into any project cost.
Does the cost of a new server combined with the price of the software really financially benefit the business compared to the desired outcomes e.g. the added workload it will allow staff to process per annum? Or would adding a new member of staff yield more benefit, even if the productivity isn’t as good with the incumbent system?
TIP: However long you think implementation will take or however long you're told it will take, think again.
Projects drift and scope changes, all this has an impact on the business which needs to be accounted for.
Tip: Accept that things will go wrong during the implementation.
This is the elephant in the room that no-one ever talks about! There will always be someone who does something wrong that can be attributed to the working practices associated with a new MIS. The worst case scenario is that it will cost the business money. How you budget for this is your business decision.
3. Assess risk
TIP: OK, so this is the biggy - if the new MIS churns out figures that shows Big Shot plc is not profitable work, are you really going to turn it away?
You either believe in the system or not and confidence from the users stems from the management team who enforce this!
TIP: Risk isn’t always financial, it can be motivational too.
If the new MIS benefits one team but not the other, how are you going to cope with this? For instance, a quote that was previously done on the back of an envelope by Sales is now key to the production cycle of a job, so it’s taking control away from Sales and putting extra workload on the Estimating department. Can they handle this extra volume? Will Sales really relinquish their ability to give customers a price on the spot?
4. End-to-end scenario test before go-live
TIP: Don’t just replicate historic processes! If an MIS doesn’t work the way you have for 20 years, ask yourselves why.
If your new MIS partner has 500+ customers and all those other customers cope with similarly idiosyncratic enquiries, then there’s something wrong somewhere. Open the dialogue with your new partner to work out what it is!
TIP: Again, another Abraham Lincoln quote “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”
This applies to all of us both personally and professionally, but in this case, when we do measure things like estimate rate of conversion or manufacturing speeds, it’s important not to chastise employees for errors in the past.
To go from a conversion rate of 20% to 10% is not a bad thing if the 10% is now at a more profitable margin. Everything is relative.
If these five points don’t scare you off from purchasing a new MIS then you have the right attitude to implement a new system and will reap the rewards accordingly.