Implementing new enterprise software can feel daunting, and even more so when presented with the statistics and case studies of projects that fail to meet expectations - or outright.
Assuming a company already has a decision in place for which part of the supply chain operations they wish to improve, the question then becomes how to get started? What if the nominated project leaders already have full days and need to manage this in addition? And how do those project leaders ensure engagement and commitment from other stakeholders?
Different industries, sectors, and solutions may have different context; we apply this within the scope of our experience and share a few dos and don’ts of how to get started and improve the chances of being one of the successes.
1. Don’t plan to reach the moon (yet…)
Outlining the vision of what is to be achieved is a good starting point. But companies should be prepared for the reality that there may not be a single vendor (or combination of vendors) that can yet take them there.
A recommended approach is first determining - what is critical to improve? What is somewhat important and what could wait until tomorrow? Organizing brainstorming workshops with the necessary stakeholders to learn the answers is a good starting point. Share this with the potential vendors, if they can align existing functionality and road-mapped functionality against the outlined vision it will add a great deal of value for both parties during the mutual assessment period.
Vendors that believe in agile development may be open to feedback around product development and capable of bringing their solution closer to a client’s specific use case. However, software providers will likely only consider this if such requests make sense for their overall product and are not extremely bespoke.
It is OK to see the moon, but also important for companies to exercise patience in getting there.
2. Do explore multiple vendors
Companies should tread with care around vendors that claim they can solve everything.
At this time, there is no single, turn-key solution that can meet all the requirements of any given supply chain. A best-of-breed approach is almost certainly required to achieve the target state many companies are seeking. For that reason, it is also critical that vendors have the ability to connect with other solutions – one example is via an Application Programming Interface (API).
During this stage, companies should research the market, book live product demonstrations, attend webinars, download product brochures and other reading material. The goal is to get a feel for what solutions exist that may solve the challenges and goals that have been outlined.
It is also an opportunity to compare vendors that have similarities against each other. If a company has a good feeling for Vendor A but they can’t solve enough of their needs as Vendor B – the company should ask to their product roadmaps. How agile are the solutions of each vendor? Perhaps the vision of Vendor A will take the company above and beyond what Vendor B will ever be able to do.
3. Do start with Proof of Concepts or Pilots
Testing is arguably the most valuable steppingstone throughout implementation and companies should ensure they have the opportunity to measure the value of a solution before committing to widespread rollout.
A Proof of Concept (PoC) aims to provide companies with an understanding of how the solution may function for a defined scope of the supply chain; and potentially give the vendor the opportunity to further align their product’s capabilities to a specific use case.
Specific objectives and expected outcomes, as well as the responsibilities of each counterpart, should be agreed upon when starting. As the name suggests, a PoC intends to prove a concept and validate the performance of a solution while focusing on a small piece of the big picture.
A Pilot is a complete dress rehearsal with a company’s supply chain data. The scope is bigger than a PoC but still smaller than a full-scale implementation. As an important validation step before full implementation, the Pilot allows companies to collect success cases and get internal commitment from various stakeholders to support the large-scale implementation.
4. Don’t cut corners during the testing phase
Companies should avoid setting out with the intention and expectation of testing out solutions for free. Most vendors capable of providing a free version of their solution will likely only have very restricted versions available. This will provide limited opportunity to apply the solution to a company’s use case and limit the ability to generate key learnings throughout testing.
Although the financial appeal may be there, stakeholders are often less committed to success when they feel there is nothing to lose. However, the risk of wasting resources associated with time and energy spent, as well as the risk of negating the entire project, is very high.
Instead, the testing phase should be treated with the same level of commitment given to the entire project so far. As a valuable steppingstone it is important that it is given the time, energy, and devotion from all project leaders and stakeholders that are going to be involved now and when fully scaled.
5. Do focus on value creation and ‘low hanging fruit’ at each step
A guiding principle to implementation should be a stepwise approach and not trying to solve everything at once. But that does not mean companies cannot focus on creating value at each of those steps.
Improving supply chain visibility is foundational to identifying optimization potential and should be the first step. What is the value of visibility? It may be hard to measure in dollars, but time saved through eliminating the delay of information and updates is one example. When scaling initiatives throughout the organization, a good approach is to identify goals and objectives at each next step – demurrage savings, port optimization, arbitrage, capitalizing on spot market opportunities are just to name a few.
Every supply chain is different, it may be possible for some organizations to hit those dollar savings in the early steps, it may take longer for the more complex supply chains with many stakeholders involved.
But by identifying what sort of value can be realized at each step and creating tangible benefits throughout the implementation journey, it will ensure a more streamlined process for implementation. And once fully scaled, it is full steam-ahead to the overall vision.