Through many conversations with Parker Avery clients and technology partners, as well as in industry articles about the latest innovations and technologies, the words solution, system, and software are used interchangeably. Despite what most technology vendors proclaim, neither software nor a system alone will solve your business challenges. However, solutions will. We believe it’s important to clarify the very distinct differences between the three—as well as the implications.
Software vs. System vs. Solution
A basic definition of software is “the programs, routines, and symbolic languages that control the functioning of the hardware and direct its operation.” Whereas a system is defined as “a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole.” So logically, software is one component of a system (or possibly several components). By contrast, a definition of solution is merely, “a method or process of dealing with a problem.” While seemingly simple, this definition includes two notable terms: process and problem. Neither definition of software or system includes these key words.
We are firm believers that no software or technology is a panacea to business problems. Indeed, technology is often a key component to enabling capabilities that solve business problems. However, all technology must be integrated into well-designed business processes that capitalize on the functionality. Technology must also support people in performing those processes properly and consistently, as well as enable them to understand the outcomes and consequences. When aligned with strategy, this combination is the truest definition of a solution that solves business problems. Further, the latter part of this definition includes the critical element of change management.
Capabilities and Business Value
Which brings us to the term “capability.” Some of the bolder technology vendors tout their offerings as providing capabilities when they actually provide mere functionality. A capability is similar to the solution definition: software + business process + people. But true capabilities include the necessary component of proficiency driven by a solid change management strategy that includes thorough training, communications, and sustained learning.
Further, Parker Avery’s clients are very interested in understanding business value and ROI from their technology investments. Software doesn’t deliver that, but solutions and capabilities do. Clients routinely ask us to solve business problems with the premise that they need new software. Many times, however, we discover that their existing technology is not a hinderance. The issue quite often is that the company’s business processes and organization were never changed to take advantage of the software’s functionality. Or, if some process and organization work was performed during the implementation, it was not supported by a change management strategy to help the organization embrace and solidify new ways of operating.
It’s important to understand that despite how well you feel they meet your business needs, implementing the latest technology innovations will not solve your business problems. Nor will this approach help your company adopt desired capabilities, leapfrog your competition, or achieve objectives. All initiatives, with or without the deployment of technology, must strategically infuse business process design and change management to realize meaningful business value.
The Parker Avery Group is a leading retail and consumer goods consulting firm that transforms organizations and optimizes operational execution through development of competitive strategies, business process design, deep analytics expertise, change management leadership, and implementation of solutions that enable key capabilities.