New business software - why not?
“It’s very easy to look at the figures, leave things as they are and say you can carry on meanwhile, but actually the cost of doing nothing suddenly really starts to add up.”
You’d blow us a raspberry if we tried to tell you that the recession is all in the mind – yet many businesses have used economic gloom as an excuse to put off development that would bring them renewed growth.
“A number of businesses have been scared into doing nothing,” says Lisa Miles, Managing Director of Greentree Partner, Amethyst Associates. “They are very worried by signs of red arrows and red lines going downwards in the media; it puts the frighteners on people.”
Lisa knows several companies that are muddling along with computer systems that they have been using for more than 20 years. Bolt-on functions that don’t communicate with each other are commonplace, as is multiple data entry, along with searches for bits of paper – symptoms that a fully integrated system could virtually eliminate.
THE LITTLE THINGS COUNT
“The lack of an all-in-one system is the really weak point,” Lisa explains. “I know one company who is running this massive system on spreadsheets, and goodness knows how they manage, with one piece of information being entered seven or eight times. You only have to miss one entry, so perhaps a customer’s address isn’t updated in one crucial place, and you have a problem.
“It’s the little things that will drive people crazy – one person spending a day and a half every week writing cheques, for instance. And people fall over themselves when they realise they can send out invoices or statements via email; that’s been around for years, but there are still businesses doing it in the old-fashioned way.”
For a business with such outdated systems, seeing a product like Greentree in action can be a revelation.
“Greentree’s Workflow desktops are brilliant,” Lisa enthuses. “It’s the ability to get all that information live that just wows people when we meet them. Suddenly they don’t have to go hunting around; they can see all the conversations they’ve had with customers, all the goods they have in stock, and all their bad debtors are very visible.
“Greentree is so much more of an all-business-encompassing piece of software. Gone are the days of a monolithic Finance Director holding all the financial information – it’s a team effort these days and everyone needs to see that information from last week, last month, last night and just a few minutes ago!.”
LOOK OUT FOR THAT BUS!
Another ticking time bomb in an aging business system is the special little “tweak” that someone wrote years ago that allows a certain amount of communication between a couple of systems, or some other special function, upon which the company has come to rely rather heavily. Nobody else knows how it works, let alone how to fix it if it breaks. Then, one day…
“This is what we call the ‘big red bus theory’,” Lisa says. “If a person on whom you’d come to rely was run over by a bus tomorrow, what would you do?
“One company with whom we’ve been speaking is in a lot of trouble because the person responsible for the system has died. Nobody knows quite what he did to make things work, so now they’re faced with a system that will fall over one day and they will simply have no idea how to fix it.”
If companies put off upgrading and reviewing their systems because of the short-term cost, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best could end up being the worst decision of all.
“It’s very easy to look at the figures, leave things as they are and say you can carry on meanwhile,” Lisa says, “but actually the cost of doing nothing suddenly really starts to add up , because if the system does fall over, you are in real trouble.”
When Lisa and her team engage with a new prospective customer, they spend several days just finding out how their business works. That’s when the improvements that a fully integrated system like Greentree will bring become clear to everyone; not to mention the savings that can be made and genuine return on investment
“Clients today want to see a return on investment in two years or less,” she believes. “We can demonstrate that in quantifiable terms, such as the time that can be saved through having instant access to customer information. If you’re trying to track a single order without a system like Greentree, one of those queries can take 5-10 minutes, and if you’ve got 10-20 of those a week or a day… it soon adds up.”
DEFEATING THE FEAR
But still some businesses dither about making the decision to upgrade – through the fear that it will all go wrong.
“When they’re afraid of failing, you tend to find they haven’t got complete buy-in from the rest of the business,” Lisa says. “Without that buy in from the whole company, projects will fail, whatever the economic climate.”
In his inaugural address in 1933, US President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to a nation in the grips of economic depression. Urging Americans to work together to pull the country out of the mire, he proclaimed that only boldness would succeed.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he famously said.
Lisa believes businesses that overcame fear of change and successfully implemented a new system followed some simple principles: they thought very carefully about what they wanted – and not what they currently do, they put in some proper project planning, they made sure they had buy-in with as many people in the business as possible and continued to make sure they were involved in decisions, and they found all the things that didn’t quite work before they actually went live.
“And of course, they selected the right software and the right company to implement it.”
Read how one business had a dream implementation.
ABOUT LISA MILESLisa did her accountancy training in the Civil Service, and then returned to the private sector to head up a finance department, working in several different industries. In 1991 she set up Amethyst Associates, and now spends her time split between project implementation and wider business consultancy for key clients. Apart from her love of figures, Lisa's other passion is music. Her spare time is spent playing both the piano and organ in churches, as well as regular accompanying engagements.
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