Investments in new technology often come with many questions attached, and that includes software upgrades. Greenhouse Grower recently asked leaders from four companies that supply software systems to share their best advice on what growers need to know to make sure they are approaching software investment the right way. Here’s what they had to say.
How Should Growers Know When It’s Time to Upgrade Their Software Systems?
John Stallmer, Innovative Software Solutions, Ltd. (Issol): Think of the ways that departments within your company communicate, collaborate, and access data. Are there any inefficiencies that come to mind? Is growth making it more difficult to stay organized? Are you still relying on spreadsheets to manage your business? Does your company need end-to-end visibility and communication? Is your data spread out across multiple systems? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then a new software solution can help unify the flow of information, not just internally, but also externally, with your customers, brokers, and suppliers.
Greg Lafferty, Practical Software Solutions: When the flow of your operation is being hindered by the lack of capabilities in your existing systems, can you meet customer requests? Can you deal efficiently with vendors? Can you understand and see the pulse of your business within your system to make good, accurate decisions? If the answer to one or more of these questions is no, then you probably need to consider a new management system.
How Should This Process Begin?
Aaron Allison, SBI Software: Be prepared to cover some basic considerations as you are working with your software provider to implement software. Ask your software provider, “Do you have a better way to do [any specific] task?” Explain your business process thoroughly to your software provider so they understand your exact needs. Ask your provider, “Am I using all of the tools in my software package?”
A thorough software supplier will visit your operation in-person to learn and understand your process. If you have to work with them remotely, use screen demonstrations to communicate what you need. Make sure you and your software provider use the same terminology so there are no miscommunications or misunderstandings.
Stallmer: Start by doing a needs assessment. Before you start calling vendors, know what it is that you are looking for. What needs do you want to meet? What are your must-haves, your would-be-nice-to haves, and your show-stoppers? Work with each of your departments (from purchasing to shipping) to determine where their current systems or processes are falling short.
Once you have your needs assessment completed and have defined your business objectives, sell this to senior management. It is critical that they are involved in and backing this process. After that, put a team together that will take the lead in researching and vetting new software options. Make sure to backfill some of the responsibilities of this team, so they can stay focused on this task.
As you meet with software vendors, make sure you are staying focused on the objectives you defined in your needs assessment.
Lafferty: The process should begin with self-reflection to evaluate how you’re doing business today and to understand how you would like to do business in the future, say five to 10 years from now. Then simplify your processes to help you get there, and investigate options to automate those processes.
Melissa Herbst, Velosio: Understand why you need to change and what your business wants to achieve. Many organizations start with looking at specific features and functions. Those are safe and easy conversations to have. But technology-led conversations can get confusing, if they are not held against the bigger goal of moving the business forward. As an example, if 20% of your orders are impacted by inaccurate product fulfillment, you are risking 20% of revenue because of poor information that wasn’t provided in time to react. What does the business achieve by cutting that percentage in half? What does that mean to your business and what needs to be in place to help mitigate the risk? Once you understand what needs to change and why, you will be better prepared to communicate with providers what the focus needs are, and that partner will be better able to recommend the appropriate solutions to support your goals.
What Are the Biggest Factors Growers Should Consider When Upgrading Their Software?
Allison: Make sure you clearly define your business process. Create a simple process map for any business process being updated in the software. Record your business process steps, from order generation to shipping. The more mapped out you have your business process, the more benefit you’ll see from your software. If your company is committed to ongoing technology innovation, then it is important to have one person on-site who understands the business process from A to Z.
To implement software that works for your business, it’s critical for your software provider to understand your business process. Too many providers put the emphasis on hiring a person who understands technology. Technology is not where problems become right or wrong. Business process combined with technology is what makes software effective and helps your business grow.
The key element is syncing the business process with the functionality of the software properly, the first time.
Stallmer: These are the most important factors/steps I see:
• Functionality of the software you are looking at and how it aligns with your needs assessment.
• Vendor relationship, as you will hopefully be working with them for many years. How well do they know your industry?
• How the software is licensed (concurrent user, name user, by module, etc.)
• Are there monthly, quarterly, or annual fees? You may find options where your annual fees are low, but you then are charged for enhancements, consulting time, and sometimes even support time.
• Training and support provided by the supplier.
• Knowledge of your customer base. If customers are driving the changes to the software, you will get more out of a solution where you are similar to other customers.
• How the software might change your organizational structure. Is this in line with your objectives?
Lafferty: The biggest facctor might be the partner you choose to tackle your project. Most software generally works. Some products have different features than others, but generally they work. However, this is a long-term partnership you’re creating when you go into this venture. You want to know this partner is going to be with you every step of the way for the next 10 years or so.