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Avoiding a System Conversion Gone Bad….

June 19th, 2009 Comments off

                We all have our horror stories about system conversions gone bad.  I’ve worked under a CFO who had to deal with an absolute nightmare, and I’m hearing from colleagues about the completely botched conversion currently happening with a previous employer.  The one commonality among all the poor conversions I have seen is that the conversion, if gone bad, can mean a serious blow to the momentum of a career, or worse, the loss of a position.  It’s a rhetorical statement to say how critical the systems are to the decision-making process, reporting process, and every other lifeline for the company, but it never seems that it’s taken in that serious a tone when being planned for. The approach is usually like any other project, with the underlying and maybe unstated belief, that any shortfalls can be addressed once we go live. I’ve seen it in $35 million companies and I’m seeing it in a $6 billion multi-national organization.

                At my current company, we are in the planning stages for a system conversion and anticipate finalizing the bid inside of the next 2-3 weeks.  We plan on going live at the beginning of Q4-09. The primary drivers for us is to replace a system that has been “customized” to the level that it can’t appropriately support the company, as well as put a new system in place that can accommodate multiple currencies.  Funny enough, an absent feature for a company that does 30% of it’s business internationally. Is this a Finance-driven project as far as the management, coordination of demos, bid submissions, and defining the scope of services –Yes. Will the final decision on what platform is chosen by made by Finance – NO!

                From my perspective, working in a smaller entity, I can work with any of the platforms that are on the table for consideration. They all have the tools for me to conduct my monthly reporting, develop detailed forecasts, and be able to maintain a platform that will be approved for any audit or review. What I am ensuring in the beginning of this process is that our Sales and Logistics groups fully endorse the product that we are considering.  That we have a platform that will track all the necessary data for our customers, can drill down into the data at a region or customer type level, and that we can plan marketing strategies based on easily polled information. I want to ensure that we have full visibility on incoming product, standard costs and the ability to track all variances, ease of entry/change for purchase orders…the list goes on and on. If we don’t have a platform that sufficiently supports the Sales and Inventory Logistic functions then I have nothing to report on.

                The key in the process is to ensure that all the necessary parties are brought to the table, have a forum to hear their concerns about current functionality, and that the majority of their concerns will be addressed in the upgrade. It’s not about finding the latest and greatest Finance bells & whistles and making everything else accommodate…it’s about having a full endorsement by the team and choosing a platform that all parties embrace. A platform where the team sees a quantum change in the functionality, embraces the change, and actually uses the functionality on a day:day basis. If you want a system conversion to go bad, work the process in a silo, exclude key users from the process, and then announce to everyone what they will be using after Date X. Worse yet, keep the silo effect in play during the needs assessment, ignore the major processes in your business, and worse yet, the needs of your customer. To simple an overview?  No. Go with the latter and you’ll have a whole new project – Career Transition.

Thanks for Reading . . . .

Jeffrey Ishmael