A few years back, I was talking to an old friend and we were discussing how our careers and lives were progressing. He was functioning as a CFO for a boutique gym company, operating mainly out of London and having some challenges with the deployment of a Finance and HR system they’d chosen..
The story unfolded in much the same way I believe many companies would feel empathy for, a Request for Information (RFI) was sent out to prospective vendors, questions were asked, demos provided, commitments, pricing and negotiation followed by a selection. Assumptions, as always, are made on both sides of the partnership followed by the configuration and deployment. Here’s where things started to go awry – systems, data, process, and people were not as expected and costs to deliver specifics were considered out of scope and required more budget.
My friend was frustrated with what appeared to be the lack of honesty and integrity by the vendor on not foreseeing the issues that were coming up, or the specific differences in feature/functionality they were expecting. Buyer remorse is not uncommon with any purchase – it can be of more consequence though when the cost is substantial to get things right.
Trade Promotion Management software, as we’ve explored a little in our other blogs and Exceedra Byte episodes, has to cope with a fair amount of complexity. Software is vastly different when we look at the applications it’s used for, the user community it’s aimed at, and the size of the company that’s creating it. Take Microsoft Office, a solution that can be used by anyone around the world and has a research & development (R&D) budget to support the hundreds of developers evolving the solution. In comparison, TPM solutions are for a very niche area in global industry and software in general. They are there to solve some complex challenges primarily for the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) sector, and in my opinion often end up being deployed to solve many more challenges than they were perhaps designed for.
Planning systems can rarely be boxed into hard constraints that keep a solution standard, and simple – however that’s a key way to build a system that takes little to no effort to configure. The emergence of Software as a Service (SaaS) certainly aims to provide a better platform to manage that flexibility in a more standard way and, where a business can afford to, change business process to fit standardization of software there is a win-win. When business process cannot be changed, something else must give – and typically that means bending the software. This is not the same as MS Office – where there are no implementation costs and nothing really allowing you to bend how it works.
Everything we interact with is designed to function in a specific way. I always like to use cars as an example. We all have a reasonably good understanding of how to use a car’s functionality, whether that’s the door handle, climate controls, sound system or most importantly the accelerator pedal! Imagine though if you’ve only ever driven an electric car, and someone then sells you a vintage British sports car. There will be a myriad of different mechanical and functional features that are missing or changed, not least a gear stick and clutch pedal.
Before acquiring said vintage car, we could have asked the buyer several questions to give us confidence we’d be able to use the car as expected. The answers we hope are not making assumptions about our current experience owning a car, however the chances are we are going to find out many things that are different to what we’ve also assumed.
With all large software purchases there is a tendering process involving RFI’s. These give a vendor and purchaser the opportunity to qualify as much understanding of the needs and the capabilities to fulfil those needs. This process can take many months, or even longer to complete, and I guess it’s here where the industry could do with a bit of a shake-up. Software purchase decisions involve multiple levels of commercial approval and require a significant level of investment both in funds and internal resources, so it’s understandable that the vetting process must ascertain which vendor and solution will fit.
To help ensure that the process is successful in its objective, there is certainly benefit if it is possible to do some up-front work to ensure the right people are driving the initiative, the right questions and understanding of where the business maturity is currently at, and a realistic scope along with (probably most importantly) a realistic expectation both on the timeline it will take to select a product, and the time it will take to deliver. On the ‘time’ point – from a vendor’s perspective, being asked to respond to a 40-page, 500-line questionnaire in under a week can sometimes, well, most of the time, not necessarily warrant the best way to get a steer on how that organization could help. Provide enough time to allow a vendor to respond and the answers will hopefully be more thoughtful and concise.
I’ll go back to my car analogy to close things out. When we choose a car, hopefully we have in mind exactly what we want to use it for – for instance we would not use ‘vintage sports car’ to haul a family of 6 to school or on holidays. Likewise, the daily run around would not be expected to provide some cornering thrills (unless you’re REALLY late for school!!). Focus on the functional aspects of the solution that is most likely going to move your organization forward (crawl, walk, run). It’s great that our industry presents some of the most advanced features such as Calendar / Program Optimization but will that be the focal point of the main people using a TPM solution? – in my experience – most likely not.
No doubt, the process to select software and in particular, TPM software is difficult. Think hard about what matters most, who it should matter to, and bring in a strong team of Subject Matter Experts that have open minds and the authority to influence significant business change within your organization.