Companies update their systems to replace outdated software and to modernize or streamline supporting IT resources. They also implement new systems in hopes of benefitting from internal efficiencies through added features, better workflow, etc. The problem is most companies that implement a new system do not achieve all of their objectives, and many fail miserably.

“Ultimately, the new system may be better, but if executives listed the top things they wanted to accomplish by implementing the new system, many times they don’t achieve those things,” says Brian Thomas, partner in IT Advisory Services at Weaver.

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about how to buck the trend of frustrating and failed system implementations.

What pitfalls occur with new system implementations?

Most companies don’t do a detailed analysis of day-to-day operations and assess how that translates into new system requirements. Management must ask, ‘What are the requirements we, as a unique organization, have of a system that will make it successful?’

Midsize companies often don’t have the time and/or don’t feel the need to formulate detailed system requirements. Executives may operate off of a high-level understanding about improvements they want to see, while calling on people they know to get perspective on what comparable companies are doing.

Also, almost everyone takes for granted how software users have shaped internal business processes based on the reports they generate. New systems mean new reports. If the new system doesn’t consider reporting, as well as how much old data to bring over, it can create back-end challenges. Then, companies are forced to either reconfigure processes or scramble to build new reports.

What’s the potential cost of these issues?

A lack of attention can drag out a project and lead to cost overruns. Management may run blind for a period of time if reporting requirements are not properly addressed before go-live, which hampers business decisions and company performance. Top management may perceive the software vendor as not delivering as promised. Delays and problems cause system users to have a tarnished view of a system, and could lead to employees building system workarounds, such as spreadsheets or databases on the side.

What steps do you recommend instead?

A new software system can substantially impact your company. So, it’s crucial to do the initial due diligence to determine whether the new system is capable of doing what management needs it to do the day it goes live.

Appoint someone internally or externally to build out detailed system requirements by working with users in each department to understand how their processes work. You can then provide these requirements to prospective vendors in an RFP-type format.

Vendors should demonstrate to decision-makers how their software achieves the requirements as part of the proposal process. If any are not fulfilled, which usually is the case, they should be able to articulate their plan for resolving the gaps. Management needs to analyze, ‘If this software does 75 percent of what we need, are we comfortable with the vendor’s responses or plans for what it doesn’t do? And if we have concerns, do we want to change how we do things or look at a different software product?’

It’s logical to expect this process to take a few months unless the system being replaced is a standalone product used by one department for a specific need. There are multiple vendors for a reason; companies must figure out what works best for them.

What about monitoring risks during implementation?

Once a vendor is selected, don’t turn over the keys. If the vendor made promises about covering gaps, the internal stakeholders need to remain involved throughout the project’s life cycle to ensure those things are actually happening.
An objective third party can work between the company and vendor to ensure everyone is accountable. They can even assess the risks of going live on the new software and let the company know when those risks have been brought down to an acceptable level. This helps the company avoid a failed implementation and protects the vendor from having a dissatisfied client.

Brian Thomas, CISA, CISSP, is a partner in IT Advisory Services at Weaver. Reach him at (713) 800-1050 or brian.thomas@weaver.com.

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