ANALYSIS: Implementing a Sophisticated Solution

By Chris Gloede

In the late 1990s software solutions have become increasingly complicated in both architecture and implementation. All due to efforts to improve processes and quality, and to better meet the needs of the end user.

These goals have tremendous merit, but the cost of meeting the goals must be considered. The implementation process is daunting to say the least. When you acquire a solution of significance, there will be triumphs and tribulations, the highest peaks and lowest valleys and everything in between. You will need to partner with vendors, truly partner, not dump, run and pay.

As you go through an implementation a number of issues will arise. Some of them will be related directly to the solution you purchased. Some of these issues will be political where people will be vying for a position that will enhance their power or reduce someone else's. Some issues will be the result of the sheer laziness of people unwilling to put in the extra effort needed to be successful. These people find it much easier to ignore everything, except when it comes time to point the ugly finger of blame. There will be hardware and operating systems issues (there are almost always hardware and operating systems issues).

Most importantly, there will always be business issues. These are the issues where there are subtle differences in the solution from what you originally expected. These differences are usually no more than the inability of anyone to see all of the functions, features and operations of the solution you purchased during the sales cycle. These differences stem from the inability of the implementation team to think out of the box and try to do steps differently or more effectively. As all these issues are being unmasked--political, user, system--and senior management will be looking for a status update.

Beware those “issue” people. Often times when an issue arises, rather than working on the problem with an eye on resolution, people work on the issue. When they begin working on the issue rather than the problem the issue grows larger. Once this happens, what should be a fairly simple issue, gets blown out of proportion. Things begin to escalate, then the finger pointing begins. The company that you partnered with suddenly becomes the target and the "partnership", that all-important spirit of cooperation, goes out with the proverbial bath water. By the way, so do your chances for a highly successful implementation.

Letting small, but non-trivial, issues escalate can be disastrous. It’s bad for the vendor, but chances are it will be worse for you. There are no benefits to assigning blame on small daily issues. Obviously if you are three years into a six-month implementation all bets are off, but keep things in perspective.

The only way that you can ensure that the purchase you make will be a perfect fit is to perform due diligence up front. I am here to tell you that over 15 years of experience show this is almost never done. Demonstrations are dull. People can’t make time in their schedule to make the site visit. The boss will leave the analysis up to you. Believe me, I have heard them all. Want to be absolutely, positively, sure you are buying the perfect fit? Invest the time and resources on the front-end and find what makes the most sense for your industry and business. Even with this effort, be aware that, without customization, there is no such thing as a perfect fit.

When an implementation begins, everyone is excited and happy to be a part of the team. After you go live, everyone is excited and happy to be part of the team. Most of the stuff in the middle is an emotional and physical roller coaster ride. Be prepared. As it is in a successful marriage, it is in a successful partnership. You need to keep things in perspective, take the time to do it correctly, and above all, do not be in a hurry to assign blame! Work on the problem, not the issue.

Listen to each other. Listen to your vendors, they will listen to you. Do not back them into a corner by demanding an unrealistic time table or estimate. They know what it takes to implement their solution. Don't take risks with shortcuts and cut corners on implementation costs.

With all of this in mind, your chances of success, and avoiding an ulcer, increase substantially. Isn't that what we all want anyway?

A veteran of the IBM midrange arena since 1983, Chris Gloede is executive VP for Business Solutions Group in Wayne, Pa.