Commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) software—not custom software—continues to be the preferred option for many firms, especially for ERP and CRM solutions.
The benefits of COTS solutions have been publicized widely and revolve around reduced time to deploy, cost avoidance, standards based, best practices included, solution maturity and platform flexibility, to name a few. However, many COTS deployments end up being disappointments, if not failures, once in production. Thus, many of the touted benefits are not being realized.
A critical success factor in a COTS solution deployment is the fit/gap analysis. COTS solutions are not ‘plug and play’, no matter what their marketing materials say. During the fit/gap analysis phase, decisions need to be made about customizations and functional configurations.
Many projects go wrong during this critical phase. Finding the right balance requires a solid process based on the following 4 key guiding principles, based on what we have seen, learned and practiced.
Set the Right Expectations Upfront
The decision to deploy a COTS solution deserves a separate blog post entirely, but for this discussion we’ll assume that the decision has already been made. Business leaders articulated some valid reasons, possibly including the need to standardize internal processes across units, to adopt best practices provided by the new solution, to drive business process improvements, to simplify the solutions portfolio, or a thousand others.
What is critical is that someone from the top clearly communicates why the solution was chosen and what the expectations are for implementing it.
This communication should be done early, often, and broadly. If standardization across or within the business is a driver, it should be communicated that customizations will be held to an absolute minimum and will require executive-level approvals. (Typically, these would be limited to requirements for revenue generation or for regulatory compliance.) If best practices are the driver, it should be made clear that a review of functionality should prioritize changing the current business processes where needed, as opposed to proposing customizations to preserve the past.
Clear, firm and consistent communication is needed to get the project team, stakeholders, key users, and business community on board early. Too often this message gets communicated to a very small team of insiders only, who have no power to enforce the guidance from the top.
Also, under pressure from ‘general users’, leadership too often starts to weaken the message, indicating that, for example, customizations may be an option if the user community thinks they are really needed. (Of course users want to avoid change. They hate change! They can get pretty passionate about keeping current functionality in place under the new solution.)
Put the Right People on the Team
When it comes to establishing and staffing the project team, organizations always start with the best of intentions. Most organizations want to put their best resources on the team. Then reality gets in the way. A second choice, third choice, and wild-card resources are assigned to critical positions. This phenomenon can be a recipe for failure. The project team needs to clearly understand the requirements and deliverables of the project and be keenly aware of the organization’s overall strategy, objectives, and drivers.
Make sure the project team has a close and ongoing connection with the leadership team and the business user community itself. Don’t operate in a silo, far away from your internal customers. You need a close connection. Communication between the project team and the user community are key—especially when change is involved.
Employ Governance and Change Control Processes
Project leadership should confirm that proper governance and change control processes are in place before commencing with a fit/gap analysis. Absence of these two processes poses major immediate and future risks and should be a showstopper for the continuation of the project.
Governance ensures the effective and efficient use of IT in enabling an organization to achieve its goals. Specifically, in this case, it will oversee the execution of the approved project, with or without gaps. Typically, a Steering Committee will fill this role.
Change Controls enable project teams to modify the scope of the project using specified processes, controls, and policies. The process can be as simple as:
- Change request is defined and submitted
- Requests reviewed by designated committee
- Options and impact on business or project are reviewed and presented
- Decide for or against the change request.
Follow a Solid Fit/Gap Analysis Process
A review and reconciliation process to address gaps may look like the following:
The secrets to a successful fit/gap analysis are: early, often, and consistent communication; the right people; proper oversight; and a solid process. Don’t take shortcuts here—they come at a high price!
COTS software implementations are never as straightforward as they sound at kickoff. Control the process and make smart decisions about what the business really needs, and at what cost.