Gradient Consulting have a wealth of experience in helping companies of all sizes, in a variety of sectors manage their system issues. They have written this short guide about computerised information systems, specifically with the owners and managers of micro and small businesses in mind.
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What worked well for one person, doesn’t always scale to more than one. A common example is a spreadsheet. It is a brilliant tool for one person, but even with tracked changes and sharing turned on, it doesn’t work well for more than one person. Start to face issues such as where do you store it? Who accesses it when? Who can edit formulas etc? Sharing leads to increased file size and file corruption.Previously it was good enough for one person to have access to the information, often cultural and personal issues to overcome when other people in the business need to share, use, know the key figures, particularly financial ones.A lot of very small businesses fall into the trap of getting bespoke packages. Quite often written in MS Access and supported by a bloke they met down the pub. A previous client spent £4k (about 7 years ago) on a package to help him raise sales orders and invoice. He was trying to share the package between his two admin clerks. I went to see if I could help and found that the application had been written in Lotus Approach and it couldn’t be shared the way he wanted. It seemed a cheap alternative at the start, but it wasn’t cost effective.In many small businesses the process evolves and procedures, policies and processes are very rarely documented. Those that work in aerospace or automotive sectors have to document processes, but often this is confined to those product lines. In addition the packages implemented as seen to be so simple that no training is ever given. This places staff in a position where they can spend many an unproductive hour trying to work out how to do something, or worse still how to correct a mistake.
Micro and small businesses often think they are too small to require anymore than a spreadsheetThen as they grow a little they become too busy to spend the time sorting out a proper system so they make do with what they haveThen they start to feel the pain – they don’t actually know which jobs are profitable, they can’t guarantee that they actually invoice all their sales, they’re not 100% sure what raw materials they have ordered and when they are due in, they can only tell which jobs are on the shop floor by walking round and they can’t give lead times to their customers.Many micro and small businesses fail to document their requirements properly. They think because they are small, they must be straightforward and buy a package not knowing whether it meets their needs. Conversely some small businesses have very complex processes and can’t understand why they have to simplify when moving to a structured standard system. Requirements like document management (required if aerospace T2, 3 for example) can be better handled through MS SBS and Sharepoint, rather than investing in a system that has document management built in.Often very small businesses buy a software package because a particular vendor befriended them, or they were recommended the package by their accountant, competitor or another business contact. This doesn’t help small businesses understand the solution they have purchased and how to get the best out of it.Often the contracts in place are standard retail, purchased package off the shelf contracts. Often no reseller, consultancy days or support contracts in place. These are important if small businesses are to get the most out of their software. They aren’t expensive for e.g. A Sage 50 product, but even a days implementation and training from a decent reseller will pay for itself when it comes to staff confidence, reducing errors and increasing system use.Some small businesses expect far too much from a new IS system, they expect that it will have all the features of a full blown SAP implementation and they just don’t. E.g. Manufacturing tends to be very straight forward, little more than creating a manual works order directly into the system. Planning and purchase requirements are generally run from reports based on a single re order level etc.
We have worked with vendors for each of these products in the past, plus a number of more niche players.
The selection process should take a key individual 5 days to complete, over an elapsed time of a couple of months depending on availability.We can provide consultants to run the selection process, but equally the company can do it themselves if they have the skills. But they must dedicate the time.User interviews – the starting point must be the processes that exist within the business now, and those required for future growth. Those processes that are inefficient must be considered with a view to eradicate with a new system. Those that add value and represent competitive advantage are fundamental to the requirements of a new system.From the user interviews a Statement of User Requirements should be generated. This document should contain:An overview of the company’s ways of working, with process flows where required (perhaps 4 pages only)A list of the requirements that are fundamental to the company (perhaps 3-4 pages only)A list of instructions for the vendor, company overview etc (perhaps 1-2 pages only)The SOUR should be sent out to a selection of suitable vendors, maybe up to 4. The responses should then be read, scored and discussed by the decision makers within the business.The best two responses should be demonstrated to the decision makers so that they can confirm what they have read. Some smaller vendors will not want to do this, they will just want to sell software off the shelf, but others will be more than willing. Consider something like a webex over a couple of hours. If someone isn’t willing to do this, you shouldn’t be willing to buy from them.When the software is selected it is important to consider how you will implement it, have you the necessary hardware in place? Pay for some training from the vendor, talk to the staff within the company about what is happening and why. Reassure them.Key things to look out for with consultants:They don’t charge clients to conduct interviews and then produce an ITT which is a standard document used for every clientThey scale down the selection process relevant to the client, e.g. They don’t quote 6 days to review a 3 man businessThey are independent of software vendors, they don’t take commission from vendors and they don’t decide on the vendor, rather they educate the client to make the decision. If the consultant is reluctant to include in the process a vendor that the client has already spoken to it is normally an indication that they aren’t truely independent.
Small and micro businesses do not need a full time project manager, but they do need someone to help co-ordinate with the vendor, help explain the testing or training that needs to be done. Again it could be a consultant or it could be an existing member of the clients’ team. This might only amount to a couple of daysThe review phase of system projects is often overlooked, but it is still important, even in small and micro businesses. Identifying unresolved issues with the system, reporting requirements and future enhancements. The review is normally conducted by interviewing the users and management of the organisation, completing questionnaires etc and then writing the results up into a report.
Small And Micro Business Systems Issues
Systems Issues:Micro and Small Businesses<br />Cathie Metcalfe<br />Gradient Consulting<br />
Common Issues<br />Company has grown up from “one man band”<br />What worked well for one person, doesn’t scale to two<br />Bespoke packages<br />What seemed like a cheap alternative at the time doesn’t have scope to mature as the business develops<br />No training<br />System has been implemented, but no procedures exist and no training was ever given<br />
Selection Issues<br />Micro and small businesses find it hard to know when to move to a more formal system<br />Documentation of requirements<br />Review of processes<br />Often vendor or software led<br />Poorly structured contracts<br />No expectation management<br />
Common Systems<br />Sage 50<br />Mamut<br />123 MRP<br />Pegasus Opera (Infor)<br />MS Dynamics<br />Niche players<br />
Selection Process – 5 days<br />User Interviews – 2 day<br />Generate SOUR – 1 day<br />Issue to 3 or 4 vendors<br />Analyse responses to documents – ½ day<br />View 2 demonstrations – 1 day<br />Review contracts, prepare team for implementation – ½ day<br />