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Why Projects Fail: Part Four, Wrong Software

Why Projects Fail: Part Four, Wrong Software

The wrong software is not a significant destroyer of value &#8212 <I>provided</I> the software is designed for the use planned

Some years ago we were evaluating payroll packages with a client. We'd generated a short list, and now were scoring scripted presentations. The first vendor got up and started presenting how they met our scripted processes. They lasted 10 minutes before we stopped their presentation. Although their software was an effective payroll system, it was not designed for our client's type of organization.

Every package is built from a fundamental perspective that impacts its operation and ability to meet your needs. For example, some Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are designed from the perspective of sales force automation, others from the call centre and others from account management. These are three fundamentally different starting points. If you're selecting CRM software for a call centre and you select an account management-based CRM you'll be very frustrated and will lose much of the potential value you were hoping for.

Vendors will, on the whole, under-play this aspect of software selection (unless their software exactly matches your perspective). However, if you select software that is not designed for the business environment you are to implement it in, then in most cases it will work inadequately.

Although there are Web sites where you can compare software in terms of their functions and features, this is the worst approach to software selection. Think about trying to make a sensible distinction between different cars using only functions and features!

So, the first question with any software selection is, "Where did this software originate from?"

If you're in the food manufacturing industry, manufacturing software built for the car industry is unlikely to meet your requirements. Your manufacturing dynamics are quite different.

This is where the blind "We're a SAP/Oracle shop" approach to software selection is so dangerous. Their financial management software may be ideal for you, but that does not mean their distribution management software is suitable for your industry. A beautifully integrated wrong solution is of little value to anyone except the Application Architect!

Even if a Rolls Royce is the best car in the world, it would be of little value to a farmer on his back paddocks. There he'd be better off with a Ute or four-wheel drive — something designed to meet his particular needs.

Software selection therefore has two main dimensions — fundamental suitability (as discussed above) and process compatibility (discussed below).

Although there are a number of Web sites where you can compare software in terms of their functions and features, this is the worst approach to software selection. Think about trying to make a sensible distinction between different cars using only functions and features!

Systems are automated processes. You therefore need to see how closely their automated processes track to your process definitions (from your future focused process-based, simplified requirements). Vendors should be sent process scenarios and asked to demonstrate their software performing your scenarios. (While you cannot expect a full configuration match, you should be able to see what is and isn't configurable, and how easily.)

What you'll then see are:

  • Areas where there is an exact match between your needs and the software. Great.

  • Areas where the software does the process better than your design. Great.

  • Areas where the software doesn't do it as well as your design, but the difference is not significant. Okay.

  • Areas where the software doesn't do what you want at all. Oops.
Only in this last area do you have to make some decisions. If there are many (>20) areas of total mismatch, the software is not for you. For the rest it is a cost/value trade-off — how much will it cost to get the software to meet your requirements, and how much is it worth to you as a result?

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