By Rowan Kelly, Runway switched-on group
I’ve been involved in hundreds of software implementations over the past 25 years, with the most recent decade focussed on the property industry. Tens of thousands of hours in software implementation has given my team and I a unique perspective as to the most common pitfalls when selecting a software vendor and implementing a new solution.
It doesn’t really matter what type of software program or industry, but for the sake of this article, let’s assume a tier two property developer.
There are many drivers or factors that motivate companies to consider new systems. New people come on board with experiences of better practices elsewhere; your competitors are doing things more efficiently; or you may have a culture of continuous improvement, always looking out for the next big innovation.
Not that long ago, there really wasn't any software built specifically for the property development industry . Builders and developers were forced to either adapt a solution not fit for purpose or build software themselves. Given that’s no longer the case, let’s look at a few tips that will make your selection, implementation and adoption process run more smoothly.
1. When a potential software supplier asks questions about what you do or how you do it, run away.
Honestly, the horse has bolted here. If you engage a vendor who is not a property industry vertical black belt - you will get burnt. There are two reasons for this:
2. Most custom software projects fail before they are completed or ultimately fail over time
Unless a software’s DNA is tested and proven over many companies over many years, it will lack the strengthening that comes from the evolution of multiple instances. Going it alone creates an instant threatened species.
But perhaps you’re thinking, “I want to develop my own IP. And I don’t want my competitors to have it.”
3. The truth is, however amazing the software innovation is, it will only provide a very short term competitive differentiation.
Amazing becomes normal within a year. Whether it be a productivity gain or market advantage. At best you might get a short term advantage from being first to market. For example, Virtual Reality is super hot right now but the foundation technology is relatively cheap and available to everyone. Any advantage from investment in VR will be quickly equalized. So you can pay heavily to develop the technology alone for a relatively short term advantage or benefit from a vendor who perfects the technology at a fraction of the cost.
4. So how can you use software to create IP to deliver a permanent market advantage?
It’s all about your business culture.
The culture of an organisation is directly reflected in the success of its software implementation. It’s not the software that gives the advantage, it’s the application of the software that solidifies a company’s tech IP. And the companies that embrace an information and technology culture are more successful because they take best advantage of the software and information they generate.
If you’re not measuring and responding, you won’t win.
Imagine a professional athlete not having accurate feedback on their performance in training? Do I need to push harder, refine my technique etc. Worse still, imagine the only time they can test themselves is in a race?A company with an information culture will hold the advantage because they use the information to improve all of their business - all of the time. The companies that just grudgingly gather data and never analyse it will never beat a company that embraces an information culture.
I’ll skip the software selection process and touch on a few elements covering the software implementation process and ongoing management.
What was then, what was planned and what actually is.
This is a famous saying amongst software project managers. In short, your planning will never anticipate everything. What you thought was the true situation of business processes and data in requirements gathering is often not the case when the rubber hits the road. There are many reasons for this:
• Implementing new software pretty much always generates significant changes. Many staff find it threatening. “Why tell these guys my secrets so they can make my job redundant?”
• Changes in process can reveal unanticipated consequences. What you planned might not be totally practical when implemented. Or there may be an advantage not thought of that improves the original plan. Either way, plan a phase of adjustment while the system settles down.
Someone senior needs to be responsible in the long term.
One of the biggest mistakes is not to appoint a heavyweight with the ultimate responsibility for the software’s long term success. Many companies bury the responsibility lower down in the organisation with senior management reviewing it infrequently. Software is evolving so rapidly and it's important for a heavyweight to see and take advantage of those changes. Being “techfit” should not just be the domain of the IT department.
There will always be parts of a job or operation that are, frankly boring. Beware of the whinge factor.
Often the boring bits are working with software, entering data, following up on stuff, implementing processes. It’s important to tease out the real reasons behind any issue. Some staff may be swimming in the drama pool!
Implement mandatory compliance rules.
Never try to convince staff to use the software - make it mandatory, no ifs, no buts. Sure, it’s got to be an easy-to-use solution, and it’s gotta work, but if they don’t use the software as designed, then it’s time they got another job. Sorry to be so blunt folks, but these guys belong to a bygone era, and they need to go before the attitude spreads.
I hope this article has provided some insights into the pitfalls and the opportunities when selecting and implementing software.
Rowan Kelly is the founder of switched-on group and leads the innovation team developing the next generation of Runway and Pipeline software.