A few weeks ago, Partner Amanda Astrologo and Senior Manager Julie Cheney were featured on Parker Avery’s “Talk Retail to Me” podcast, where they discussed remote software selection projects. The two retail experts provided their perspectives on how software selections have changed since the onset of the pandemic as well as key considerations for companies who are investigating new systems. In this post, we highlight some key points of their discussion.

First, we look what elements have changed with remote software selection projects. We follow with tenets that have become more important now that these initiatives are conducted differently, as well as advice for retailers considering the system selection route.

Remote Software Selection: Changes

Elongation of Timeline

One of the biggest impacts brought about by the new virtual environments is the elongation of the overall project timeline. It is far more difficult to stay on track in a remote environment. This is primarily because there is not a captive audience since people who are still working from home have other priorities and disruptions. These are competing with project tasks like requirements gathering and development of the business case to justify potential multi-million-dollar investments.

Regarding decision-makers in the room, if there’s a topic that may have unanswered questions, in an on-site setting, the team can pull in people much more easily when needed. Being virtual takes that ability almost completely off the table. This adds time, but also adds to the issue of making sure they have the right decision-makers involved where appropriate.

Relationship Building

Consulting is a business of relationships. Being able to establish that trust and that advisory partnership role quickly is challenging even in a normal project environment. But being restricted to remote settings presents different challenges. So, different tactics must be employed to build that relationship and trust quicker, as well as being cognizant of the timeline. In a remote software selection project, as with implementation work, the relationship building effort is something consultants must proactively work at with much more intent and focus.

There is also some risk to the consulting team not having ears and eyes on the ground when the client internally vets certain decisions and project activities. Not being close to stakeholders, influencers, and decision makers makes it more challenging to ensure key project decisions are aligned.

Communications

As a consulting team, it’s also necessary to be more proactive about touching base with each other. When you’re on the ground at a client site, the natural, ad hoc conversations the team has are invaluable to accomplishing the project objectives and ensuring the best outcome for the client. Those conversations now must be scheduled. Especially for projects that cover multiple process areas, there are dependencies, interfaces, and outcomes that must be coordinated and aligned, not only for the system, but also regarding business processes and organizationally. It is often in the project team room that these get discussed, but in a virtual environment, those conversations must be much more deliberate.

During the demos, consultants’ ability to read the room is taken out of play. We can’t see body language, nor is it always evident who is participating on the call or who’s really engaged. As such, some of the actual selection gets more difficult because there is more follow up required. The client may not be comfortable enough to stop the software vendor to ask questions or get clarification during the demo. We’ve seen clients hold their questions until after the demo, which requires follow up and adds to the project timeline. On site, we can handle questions that arise on the spot.

These may seem like minor things, but the goal is to help present all the correct information to the client so they can make the best software decision for the company.

Remote Software Selection: Preparation

A couple years ago, Amanda wrote a point of view, titled, “A Strategic Approach to Package Selection,” and in this publication, she outlined five key tenets to success:

  1. Form the best team of decision makers
  2. Clearly define and prioritize your business requirements
  3. Stick to the facts
  4. Prepare your vendors
  5. Prepare your team to make a decision

During the podcast, Amanda and Julie emphasized that the tenets which involve preparation are even now more important for a remote software selection project to be successful.

Client Team and Vendor Preparation

This sentiment echos one of our last posts, where Marty Anderson and Russ Smith talked about the importance of team structure in a remote system implementation. Forming the best team of decision-makers, preparing the vendors, and preparing the team to decide have become more important. Making sure you have picked people that are dedicated, are ready to be engaged, as well as willing to take the time to focus and get through the process is paramount. You can’t afford to have people who will be multi-tasking or otherwise unengaged during a software vendor demo or any other project activity. This mindset also falls into preparing the team to make a decision. If you start off with a team that is not fully participating or does not understand their role, the rest of these tenets become extremely difficult. This is because they won’t be able to communicate what they truly need from the system. A solid team of decision makers that is prepared and informed to make the final decision is critical to the success of a software selection project.

Preparing the vendor is key to make sure all the work accomplished up to the point of the demos is translated to the vendor so they can perform a good demonstration. Effective demos must be tailored specifically to the client and not so generic that the client walks away with a ton of questions. Appropriately preparing the vendor helps the team make a good decision. This preparation starts with demonstration scripts.

Demonstration Scripts

The preparation of demonstration scripts based on the business requirements is critical to the success of a remote software selection. Parker Avery spends a lot of time working with clients to make sure these scripts reflect actual business needs. We use these scripts to help guide software vendors during their prep, but also during the actual live demonstrations to make sure the presenter stays on script. This pays enormous dividends for the clients to be able to follow through a four- or six-hour demo remotely. With the scripts, the client knows exactly where the vendor is in the agenda and exactly why the vendor is showing a particular feature.

We acknowledge that vendors will go off script and want to show off their “shiny new objects,” which may in some cases add value to a client’s initiative. However, at the end the day, the focus of demonstrations is about how the system supports the client’s “must have” business requirements.

Parker Avery also has the advantage of having relationships with many software vendors. These relationships enable us to have candid conversations with vendors and help coach them about the importance of staying on script, as well as tailoring their system’s existing functionality to the client’s requirements. It’s important to help set all vendors up for success, so they can demonstrate actual features that best align with our clients’ desired future state capabilities. This is critically important so that our clients can make the most informed and accurate apples-to-apples comparisons between software options.

Remote Software Selection: How to begin.

As the world continues to move back to a normal state, and strategic projects are resumed, it’s important to not only have a strong partner, but also understand your purpose. These principles hold true whether your project will be a remote software selection or onsite—or a combination.

Pick a Good Partner

With so many changes in technology and the overall retail landscape, having a good partner to bounce ideas off is key. Some retailers who don’t have internal IT or business process resources typically will lean toward the most well-known software vendors. Without having guidance and objectivity going into those relationships can really make it challenging to select a solution that truly fits their business needs.

Understand Your Purpose

Remember that technology is part of the solution, but it’s not the only element. Understand what business problem you are aiming to solve with a software selection project. With this year of disruption, companies can get hung up on many different exceptions. But making sure leadership and the project team understands the fundamental business problem that needs to be addressed will help bring the project to a successful conclusion.

Software is not a silver bullet. You may think new software will be a panacea to current problems, but you may discover that it’s a business process change that will help you make better decisions or overcome a challenge. Parker Avery has gone through several engagements where we’ve been brought in for a system selection, only to discover that the problem was with the business process, not necessarily the technology.

As companies embark on solving challenges, understanding the broader picture outside of the technology is what will move the needle and help you achieve meaningful business results. If you have any questions about your own initiatives that may be related to new software, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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Published On: June 17, 2021Categories: Amanda Astrologo, Julie Cheney, System Selection, Technology