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The success of a business solution, and specifically an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution, isn’t solely about technology. Experience tells that it is as much about the people and processes as it is about the software. Software is often viewed as the enabler, with the key to success lying in how the solution is implemented and how the implementations are managed. The transformation from the technological solution being the point of emphasis in the early days of the business software era to the solution becoming an enabler for business transformation has only been furthered by the ERP/CRM reports by independent organizations that decry deployment failures in great detail.
What stands out very clearly in these reports is the fact that ERP and CRM solution delivery is characterized by uncertainties and risks. Service providers have to balance time and budget constraints, while delivering the business value of the solution to their customers. Customer organizations need to understand that their involvement and collaboration is critical for the success of the delivery. They will need to invest time, provide relevant and accurate information, and manage the organizational changes to ensure that the solution is delivered as originally envisioned.
The need for seamless implementation and deployment of business software is even more accentuated in the current state of the economy with enterprise software sales going through a prolonged period of negative to stagnant growth over the last several quarters. Sales cycles are taking longer to execute, especially as the customers take advantage of the buyer’s market and force software providers to prove their solution in the sales cycle before signing off on the purchase. In this market, a good solution delivery approach is critical. We have consistently heard words such as in-scope, within-budget, and on-time being tossed around in the industry. Service providers are still facing these demands; however, in the current context, budgets are tighter, timeframes are shorter, and the demand for a quick return on investment is becoming increasingly critical.
Microsoft has always understood that the value of the software is only as good as its implementation and adoption. Accordingly, Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step was developed as the methodology for positioning and deploying the Microsoft Dynamics ERP/CRM suite of products—AX, CRM, GP, NAV, and SL. In the vision of Sure Step, project management is not the prerogative of the project manager only. Sure Step is a partnership of consulting and customer resources, representing a very important triangulation of the collaboration between the software vendor, implementer, and customer, with the implementation methodology becoming a key element of the implemented application.
The business solutions market
The 2010 calendar year began with the global economy trying to crawl out of a recession. Still, businesses continued to invest in solutions, to leverage the power of information technology to drive down redundancy and waste in their internal processes. This was captured in a study by Gartner of the top industry CIOs, published in their annual report titled Gartner Perspective: IT Spending 2010. In spite of the recessionary pressures, organizations continued to list improving business processes, reducing costs, better use of information, and improving workforce effectiveness as their priorities for IT spending.
The Gartner study listed the following top 10 business priorities based on 2009 findings:
- Business process improvement
- Reducing enterprise costs
- Improving enterprise workforce effectiveness
- Attracting and retaining new customers
- Increasing the use of information/analytics
- Creating new products or services (innovation)
- Targeting customers and markets more effectively
- Managing change initiatives
- Expanding current customer relationships
- Expanding into new markets and geographies
The Gartner study listed the following top 10 technology priorities based on 2009 findings:
- Business intelligence
- Enterprise applications (ERP, CRM, and others)
- Servers and storage technologies (virtualization)
- Legacy application modernization
- Collaboration technologies
- Networking, voice, and data communications
- Technical infrastructure
- Security technologies
- Service-oriented applications and architecture
- Document management
The source document for the previous two lists is: Gartner Executive Programs – CIO Agenda 2010.
These are also some of the many reasons that companies, regardless of scale, implement ERP and CRM software, which again is evident from the top 10 technology priorities of the CIOs listed above. These demands, however, happen to be articulated even more strongly by small and medium businesses. For these businesses, an ERP/CRM solution can be a sizable percentage of their overall expense outlay, so they have to be especially vigilant about their spending—they just can’t afford time and cost overruns as are sometimes visible in the Enterprise market. At the same time, the deployment of rich functionality software must realize a significant and clear advantage for their business. These trends are picked up and addressed by the IT vendors, who are constantly seeking and exploring new technological ingredients to address the Small-to-Medium Enterprise market demands.
The importance of a methodology
Having a predictable and reliable methodology is important for both the service provider (the implementer) and the users of the solution (the customer). This is especially true for ERP/CRM solution deployment, which can happen at intervals of anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, and the implementation team often comprises multiple individuals from the service provider and the customer. Therefore, it is very important that all the individuals are working off the same sheet of music, so to speak.
Methodology can be defined as:
The methods, rules, and hypothesis employed by, and the theory behind a given discipline
The systematic study of the methods and processes applied within the discipline over time
Methodology can also be described as a collection of theories, concepts, and processes pertaining to a specific discipline or field. Rather than just a compilation of methods, methodology refers to the scientific method and the rationale behind it, as well as the assumptions underlying the definitions and components of the method.
The definitions we just saw are particularly relevant to the design/architecture of a methodology for ERP/CRM and business solutions. For these solutions, the methodology should not just provide the processes, but it should also provide a connection to the various disciplines and roles that are involved in the execution of the methodology. It should provide detailed guidance and assumptions for each of the components, so that the consumers of the methodology can discern to what extent they will need to employ all or certain aspects of it on a given engagement.
As such, a solid approach provides more than just a set of processes for solution deployment. For the service provider, a viable methodology can provide:
- End-to-end process flows for solution development and deployment, creating a repeatable process leading to excellence in execution
- Ability to link shell and sample templates, reference architecture, and other similar documentation to key activities
- A structure for creating an effective Knowledge Management (KM) system, facilitating easier harvesting, storing, retrieval, and reuse of content created by the field on customer engagements
- Ability to develop a rational structure for training of the consulting team members, including ramp-up of new employees
- Ability to align the quality assurance approach to the deployment process— important in organizations that use an independent QA process as oversight for consulting efforts
- Ability to develop a structured estimation process for solution development and deployment
- Creation of a structure for project scope control and management, and a process for early risk identification and mediation
For the customer, a viable methodology can provide:
- Clear end-to-end process flows for solution development that can be followed by the customer’s key users and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) assigned to the project
- Consistent terminology and taxonomy, especially where the SMEs may not have had prior experience with implementing systems of such magnitude, thus making it easier for everybody to be on the same page
- Ability to develop a good Knowledge Management system to capture lessons learned for future projects/upgrades
- Ability to develop a rational structure and documentation for end-user training and new employee ramp-up
- Creation of a structure for ensuring that the project stays within scope, including a process for early risk identification and mediation
In addition to the points listed here, having a “full lifecycle methodology” provides additional benefits in the sales-to-implementation continuum.
The benefits for the service providers include:
- Better alignment of the consulting teams with the sales teams
- A more scientific deal management and approval process that takes into account the potential risks
- Better processes to facilitate the transfer of customer knowledge, ascertained during the sales cycle, to the solution delivery team
- Ability to show the customer how the service provider has “done it before” and effectively establish trust that they can deliver the envisioned solution
- Clearly illustrating the business value of the solution to the customer
- Ability to integrate multiple software packages into an overall solution for the customer
- Ability to deliver the solution as originally envisioned within scope, on time, and within established budget
The benefits for the customers include:
- Ability to understand and articulate the business value of the solution to all stakeholders in the organization
- Ensuring that there is a clear solution blueprint established
- Ensuring that the solution is delivered as originally envisioned within scope, on time, and within established budget
- Ensuring an overall solution that can integrate multiple software packages
In summary, a good methodology creates a better overall ecosystem for the organizations. The points noted in the earlier lists are an indication of some of the ways that the benefits are manifested; as you leverage methodologies in your own organization, you may realize other benefits as well.