“System Implementation.”

This brief phrase can instill fear and anxiety into even into the most seasoned executives. While there are many success stories associated with large and small system implementations, there are just as many horror stories at which even Stephen King would likely bristle with trepidation. There are a variety of reasons for implementation failure and hoards of documentation about “lessons learned” during implementation adventures, but the first step in achieving a successful implementation begins long before the system is even identified and contracts are signed.

It starts with selecting the right system.

System selection is not an activity that should be taken lightly – the subsequent time, resources and investment needed to successfully bring the new solution online and reap the expected benefits is substantial.

In our experience with numerous retailers in system selection and implementation activities, Parker Avery has seen a number of mistakes during the software selection phase that should be avoided:

Incomplete requirements

Without detailed user requirements, review of systems for functional best-fit rarely succeeds. The requirements must go into sufficient detail for complex processes, or processes that may be unique to a particular business. It is also important to include industry best practices into solution requirements – if a company is going through all the expense and time to select and implement a new system, this is an ideal opportunity to transform the business and adopt leading practices. Many new systems have best practice functionality already built in. While incorporating best practices may represent a significant change, too often “the way we’ve always done it” may not be the best for the business in the future. Retailers embarking on system selection activities need to thoroughly think through how their business should operate vs. how they are currently operating, and they must clearly document these for the new system.

Too much reliance on vendor demos

Vendor demonstrations tend to focus on very simplistic processes. A typical demonstration shows an “ideal” process and many vendors will focus on their “best” system capabilities while glazing over system deficiencies. The reality is that most retailers have varying and more complex processes. Vendor demonstrations should be thoroughly planned and precisely scripted to match the company’s requirements. This helps avoid being “wowed” by functionality that is not relevant or does not solve the targeted business issues.

Exclusion of key solution cost considerations

Total cost of ownership must be a part of the decision-making criteria. While the software and hardware are two large components, other components of cost must be evaluated such as: technology/infrastructure fit with current systems; integration requirements; ongoing maintenance cost structures; the vendor’s partnership structure; how well the system and vendor aligns to a company’s future capabilities; skills and training needs; and change management considerations.

Selection bias

Too many times a single executive or business unit drives the decision-making process, and this may not accurately reflect the needs of the cross-functional teams impacted by the solution. With retailers’ increased focus on channel integration and improved collaboration across lines of business, most systems will touch or integrate with a variety of business units. As such, input into software decisions should include all impacted stakeholders and user representatives.

Inability to understand vendor’s offering

Too often the vendor simply confuses the customer with technical language or jargon. Companies need to identify and involve resources that not only understand their own existing systems and future technology direction but can also understand if the vendor systems’ technologies and strategic direction are a solid fit.

Failure to use objective professional services

One of the main reasons for failure in system selection is the understandable lack of knowledge within the company. It is important to find and use an unbiased professional services team to facilitate the process. Many companies think that nobody understands their business better than they do internally. They may be right…to an extent. However, bringing in outside professionals who can provide objective opinions, offer different perspectives, have familiarity with vendor solutions, and can inject industry best practices and experiences into the project will better prepare the company to select a system that will most optimally meet their business objectives.

We hope this post has provided you insights into mistakes to avoid during critical software selection activities that you may be undertaking or planning. We invite you to read Parker Avery’s case studies related to software selection projects by visiting Parker Avery’s Insights page. For additional related thought leadership, please see:

The State of Retail ERP 2014: Project Drivers, Priorities and Implementation Considerations
Retail Solution Implementations: Fact vs. Fiction
Parker Avery Insights from NRF 2014

Shop on.
– Josh Pollack and Tricia Garrett