The Fulfillment Doctor Pays a Visit to…Order Management Systems

Apr 04, 2007 6:43 PM  By

Question: Our company installed a new order management system (OMS) lst month. While we spent considerable time educating our users and completing the conversion, I’m concerned that we are learning how to manage our business with the new system too slowly. What should our plan of action be?

We often see that even a year after purchasing and installing a comprehensive system, companies use maybe only 25%-35% of its potential functionality. Obviously you’d hope that you’d get much higher use, giving the expense involved. But management often doesn’t look at how to increase the use of installed systems.

Having implemented order management and warehouse systems dozens of times, we have found that it often takes two to six months for the entire organization to make that cultural change to the new system. In the beginning weeks, they act as if they’re in slow motion.

Conducting an audit
Your plan of action should be to conduct a post-implementation audit of all aspects of the conversion and system use. Then you can confer with the vendor and your employees about how to get more out of the system. The audit also helps you ensure that users have a complete understanding of the system, especially in areas that have high personnel turnover.

A consultant, an auditor, or a management member can perform the audit objectively, which is important, as there will be some sensitive issues if training or conversion didn’t go as planned.

This audit should include all departments using the system, company management, your IT department, and the vendors. What is the open list of items left from the conversion? What problems is the company having with the new system? Which people need to be retrained? What doesn’t appear to be working? What don’t you understand in the new system? Is management getting all the reports and analysis you expected? (This is generally one of the major shortcomings.) Are there some problems left from the file conversion—data being converted is often not very clean data? Are there any customer service functions that need to be fast-tracked (order processing, returns/credit processing, abandonment rate, pick error rates, etc.)?

Even with a large amount of training, it takes the practical experience of performing daily work for the users to really understand all aspects of how the system is set up and needs to be managed. So you need to get through the month-end and seasonal processes before you have mastered some systems.

What program problems are there? From the IT perspective, if it’s is a radical change in platform or functionality, how well is IT providing system availability? Is the help desk up to speed? Are printers and terminals in the right locations and in sufficient numbers? Are all the interfaces ready for nondaily activities?

Did the vendors perform their duties in line with the written and verbal agreements? Did the conversion come off accurately? Are there still cleanup problems? In retrospect, how well did they manage the conversion with you? Did you get what you were promised?

In setting up systems today there are hundreds to thousands of software switches that determine the “system personality” and the functionality. Are all of these set right? Are there some that need to be reconsidered?

From an integration or interface perspective, these data exchanges are often the most difficult to implement and debug. Are all these interdepartmental systems working correctly?

Order management and warehouse management systems have data feeds to accounting and general ledger. Are all the financial aspects of these systems working accurately?

Are there additional operations functions or processes that are needed or should be investigated to gain more productivity and to improve throughput?

What program modifications have been delayed and will now be scheduled as a subsequent phase? From your experience with the system, are these modifications and enhancements really necessary, or are there functions in the system that you can use in their place?

From the perspective of your company’s standard operating procedures, are the procedures completed? What still needs to be done, changed, or updated so that you have a way to educate future employees?

While you’re doing this assessment, go back to your original objectives or feasibility study. Realistically, have you achieved (or will you achieve) the tangible dollar savings promised (personnel savings, inventory turnover)? Has the company gained the intangible benefits expected (customer service levels, ability to plan and analyze the business better)?

Developing an action plan
Once you have completed this survey, you need to circulate the results to all involved parties and get their concurrence that this audit is in fact a complete list and that all the points are valid. Showing the list to everyone often means that the list gets smaller because people will help each other answer things by saying, “Here’s how you can do that” or “I didn’t find that to be true.”

From this point you should develop an action plan to improve, reeducate, complete conversions, and take full advantage of additional reporting and options that you decided to delay. You should also determine a realistic schedule for further modifications and reports.

Remember that you’re often treading on sensitive territory when you’re talking about individuals and how well they are doing their job with the new system. Obviously there may be a need for changes in personnel or retraining that you won’t want to communicate to the entire group.

The next step is to assign priorities, responsibilities, and due dates to be able to follow up with everyone. Follow up with each management member each week about his assigned areas in order to whittle down the list and get this conversion totally behind you.

After you feel you’ve mastered the basic system, many vendors offer more-advanced education in certain specialized topics. Use the post-implementation audit tool to get a considerably higher use of the system in which you have invested. Achieve the savings and benefits originally projected.

Curt Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Co. (www.FCBCO.com), a Richmond, VA-based consultancy specializing in call centers, order fulfillment, inventory management, benchmarking. and systems.