Software selection – human considerations

October 3rd, 2015 by Stephen Jones Leave a reply »

To Organise and to manage a software selection project is not so easy. If you cannot get a critical mass of people deeply involved in the accounting software selection project, then think twice before starting. Change management is often given only superficial consideration. A new tool is of little use if no one uses it. It does little good for a company to spend $500,000 on anew accounting software, or ERP software when the people who will be using the accounting software systems cannot, or will not operate it effectively.

Is your company organized for success (culture, leadership style, business processes and finally business management . If not then you need to consider more carefully the role of the implementation partner and not blame the software.

In addition to the usual questions of :
• Can the software systems do what you the businesses needs?
• What operating and hardware configuration do I require?
Also ask
Do your employees have the ability to utilize these software or ERP solutions effectively?
Hoc an I change that?
Does my implementation partner offer industry and business knowledge and track record of enabling that change process in a company like mine?

Businesses try to work to policies- which are based on predetermined assumptions, conditions, processes, statutory and other constraints, and if effect embody pre-defined decisions. decisions.

The real world is full of exceptions. Companies use information to control day to day operations relating to the production of goods and services. This information is used to control budgets and cash flows and the best utiisation of assets. . Managers combine the latest information with their managerial experience to make sound business decisions within the policy guidelines..

The negative side is that this information is of little use when the data is not updated correctly on time, and or is not integrated. Thus all functions need to participate and collaborate- if one drops out and relies on manual or Excel systems alone then the integration loop is broken and “system” does not operate effectively. The key to the effective utilization of accounting software systems is the effective production of and access to timely a, accurate meaningful information to ensure timely informed decision making at all levels of the organisation. “Knowledge is power.”

Managers can make faster and better or worse decisions based on the available information ,but they may not even be aware they need to take a decision without information whether in an inquiry screen or a report, a bI dashboard, an alert or a kpi.

Advanced software can be sued to auto decide some decisions, or to make recommendations e.g mrp. or forecasting tools. genrall software systems do not make decisions. People do. When people are not provided with the tools they require to make these critical decisions, it’s very likely mistakes will be made. Some of these decision taking responsibilities are imposed upon by the market in which the company competes. Some are imposed by the owners or managers interpretation of how the business should be operated. However, the methods by which these decisions are made can only be formulated by each individual person, and that is why the software/human relationship is so importsnt.

Each person in any company is unique. So when defining just what software systems consider the unique needs of each person with whom the accounting software systems will “integrate” or how you will select those unique people who will be comfortable with the system

Each person who will be processing transactions (e.g. customer orders) must be given the opportunity to express their personal needs, for it is these people who will be required to operate the system. Further, each manager who will be making decisions based in part upon the information produced by the accounting software systems must express their reporting needs as well (e.g. Business Intelligence, Performance Metrics, and Exception Management ). It is only after these needs are identified and understood recognized that the broader corporate strategic needs should be defined.

At the core of these considerations is a clearly understood definition of what the company is to do strategic objectives , and it must do well in order to succeed- tactical excellence. The way a company organizes itself and controls the flow of information into and out of the accounting software systems, determines to a large degree how successful the accounting software systems will become.

As individual people define their needs, do not limit their responses to factors relating only to the software systems. Let them express their needs with respect to how they fit into the overall business, what information they require when, in what format, from other people, where potential bottlenecks may occur, and in general how the manual side of the business management processes should be controlled.

Selection of a new software systems does not eliminate the need for business process control procedures, and it is those procedures impact on the effectiveness of the new accounting software systems. Some people swear will champion software systems or ERP solutions, while others will believe those are seriously flawed and will cling to old, manual systems. Some will be reluctant to share knowledge- the basis of their experience and seniority. Some may fear new technology. others may worry more about social change – reporting to a new boss, working in a different office. Most people adopt new technology is every day life a new phone, car, tv etc, but don’t so easily change their personal relationships.-

One person sees the software systems as a friend, while the other as a threat. You cannot compare your new wife to your old girlfriend fi you want a long and happy marriage. All people, whether they have had computer experience or not, have developed some personal definition of what they consider to be “good” software systems. If the software systems you purchase meets these pre conceived notions, the task of learning and operating the system will be relatively easy. If the system does not make sense to people, then they will resist entering data, and undergoing training and errors will be made. Evaluate the degree of fit between your employees and the accounting software systems you are examining during your software selection project. The cultural fit with the consultants is equally important.

Tyr not to impose a new software systems on people. Consider whether they feel their opinion is as important as others, and that that the accounting software systems will assist them personally. WIFIM “What’s in it for me?”

While you might argue that first impressions can be changed over time, andc omputer system can seem quite a daunting challenge to . The operator, whether it is accountant, bookkeeper, or clerk can be suffering silence. This suffering might reach the point where the person is willing to consider another job.

No amount of patience, encouragement, or training will reduce this suffering. Mistakes will begin to occur more frequently as well. If the person does not leave, you may have to face the grim decision that their mistakes can be corrected only by removing them from the job. Has this achieved anything positive? Certainly not! If too many critical people in the organization resist the software systems, you can consider the selection project a complete failure. That’s why this evaluation of personal needs is so very important.

Any multi-user accounting system or ERP solutions will be operated by a number of different people with different job functions and different skill levels. The larger the system becomes, the more diverse these individual abilities become, and the more critical an evaluation of their relationship to the accounting system becomes.

Perhaps the least skilled person who might be called upon to operate the accounting software systems is a warehouse manager or even a shipping or receiving clerk.
Does the system meet their needs?
Does the menu structure segregate their input screens into one logical area?
Does the language used, particularly Help Screens, talk to them on their skill level?
Will the processing methodology make sense to someone with their relative skills and educational background?
Do they have to work in multiple systems?

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of training. If you want to remove fear, then you have to build confidence.
You need to reduce errors, not only for the business to avoid fear of personal embarrassment. These result from a lack of experience I.e training and practise with the new software systems.
Invest the time in practical training – understanding a demo does not make you fluent in transaction entry or in report analysis. Reading the highway code is not enough for you to drive – you also need 40 hours on the road experience. You also need an instructor by your side for sometime and to be formally tested and certified. If the investment in training appears formidable, then beware. The major lesson that those who implement cite is that they unde-rbudgetted time for training. Don’t be fooled by those who calm they can configure and get you live in a month or so with an accelerator, or a blueprint . Configuration is a relatively simple, job. Defining the right configuration need user interaction and the testing, To make that work needs their training and practice time. Transforming a an install into a working implementation is another matter. It is not enough to buy a tool you have to understand the many different ways to use it and build up skill.

Depending upon the vendor or product reseller you have selected to provide your accounting software systems, you will probably have several options open to you. If your system is a large multi-user installation, you might want to consider sending several people to a regional or national training seminar lasting several days. While expensive on the surface, this intensive class room oriented environment will enable these people to develop a detailed knowledge which can be passed on to others. Train the trainer really works.

Demonstration accounting software systems are excellent training tools. An even better one is a training company with your own Chart of Accounts, vendors, customers, and employees. This provides people the opportunity to experience a “real” data processing environment without running the risk that errors will lead to catastrophes.

One last point should be discussed with respect to training. Some people will find it difficult, if not impossible, to make the transition to new accounting software systems, or from one accounting software system to another, perhaps more powerful ERP solution.

While you might wish the accounting system or ERP solution could be installed with minimum problems, this may be your most significant hurdle. If the installation of integrated accounting software systems is the best alternative for your company, what is to be done with those people who cannot, or will not make the adjustment?

You must face the very real possibility some people may have to be replaced. It’s not a very pleasant thought, but do not delude yourself into thinking all people will be as excited about new accounting software systems as you are. Business is not easy sometimes, and this is one of those times. I do not like the idea any more than you do, but changes may be necessary for the good of the company and its employees.

Ask yourself if you know how to organize and control an accounting systems selection project. One of the greatest dangers is people assuming they know when in fact that are ignorant. They do it rarely in their business life. Can IT or choose a finance system, do they really know how to select a vendor or a solution? Manger’s need to have confidence in their decision making but often they do not know how to evaluate facts outside their core functional area, nor even what facts are needed to evaluate a solution. Its too easy rush into a demo and to benchmark everything against the first software seen .

In practice its better to spend sometime discussing your business needs, your change management challenges, and the business case and to focus on the implementation partner understanding and expertise. the right partner will guide you through the process and will not waste your time with inappropriate solutions, and then the demo will have some relevance to your needs. and you will have a better idea how to evaluate it.

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