10 Things That Cause System Selection Insanity

Though few like to admit it, the systems status quo for a lot of multichannel merchants is in a state of some disarray. Plagued by poor or late implementations (from which some systems never really recover), dysfunctional functions, and a thicket of work-arounds, to say nothing of multichannel silos that function independently of one another, there is often little scalability or flexibility. And training and documentation are often afterthoughts or handled haphazardly, if at all.

In many ways, these woes are the result of troubling sets of issues related to the system selection and acquisition process, which I will address in classic “Top 10” fashion.

10. Failure to get key executive sponsorship
Virtually every system a company uses needs to be approved by an executive or management committee. And indeed, some one key individual needs to become the “sponsor” of each system—from the time the company starts looking for such a solution to the time when it is implemented and “goes live,” and probably beyond.

Without such approval and sponsorship, systems are likely to become “orphans”—and unloved, unwanted orphans at that!

9. Not forming a Change Team with representatives from all departments
There are two admonitions here: First, any new system involves change, and the company needs to be ready to accept the changes that the system will bring. If done right, these changes will be for the better (i.e., they will be true improvements).

Second, leave no one out of the specification and selection process. Even if you think a particular group is irrelevant, include them anyway. It will help them to accept and understand the changes that are coming, and to prepare for them more effectively.

8. Not fully assessing the capabilities of your current system
(can it be upgraded, improved, salvaged?)

If a current solution is salvageable, undertaking the necessary upgrading and/or reconfiguration is far preferable to going through the time-consuming and somewhat risky (to say nothing of expensive) process of replacing it. Of course, many systems have outlived their usefulness—but just be sure that’s the case before you start down the road to replacement.

7. Failure to do a thorough and systematic needs analysis
There is an art to this, as well as a science. You don’t want to overspecify or underspecify, and you want to focus on the truly critical requirements. Get input from all relevant departments, sort/rank/winnow requirements carefully and judiciously, and allow enough time for all this (two to three months, typically).

6. Not placing enough emphasis on channel integration
Surprisingly, this is too often seen as someone else’s problem in the organization. But that common attitude leads to a perpetuation of a dysfunctional environment. Get over it!

5. Failure to leverage change, and/or not having a Change Strategy
See Number 9, above.

4. Not getting enough input from key users, taking every complaint too seriously, not getting context for issues
See Number 7, above. As for gripes and complaints, these are not specifications, although they are certainly relevant to Number 8. When someone says they need a better way to handle a particular issue, the important thing is to understand how frequently this issue/problem occurs.

It makes little sense to spend thousands of dollars resolving an issue that affects only 2% of your business and costs only hundreds of dollars to fix. It should certainly be dealt with, but with some perspective on its true impact.

3. Not creating a formal, written Request for Proposal (RFP)
This is a vital document, based on your Needs Analysis, that you will send to vendors who have solutions like the one you are looking for. The RFP helps the solution providers focus on how they can meet your needs, rather than simply on what their solution does in the abstract.

2. Sending the RFP to too many, or too few, vendors
Six to 10 is about right. That gives you a good spectrum of choices without burying you or leaving stones unturned.

1. Not leaving enough time for: system customization, data migration, implementation, integration, debugging and training
System selection and implementation is a 16- to 18-month process (or longer), and trying to do it in nine to 12 months (as is so often the case), is going to result in giving something short-shrift, and it’s often the points itemized here.

Which leads to the chaos described at the beginning of this article. Enough said!

Ernie Schell is director of Marketing Systems Analysis.