“Fine,” you say. “But we’re a small organization and don’t have deep pockets.” And I would reply, “Neither do we.” In fact, the most rewarding thing about this series of projects is that we’ve done them ourselves with internal resources. In the course of doing them we have developed in-house expertise, a very close working relationship with our IT friends, and delivered extremely capable products that are aligned with our culture and requirements.
Good for us. Why do you care? Because after having been through this evolution I am convinced that most mid-size and many smaller companies have the resources and knowledge to be successful in a similar initiative. I think many are intimidated by the scope of these efforts and so default to procrastination or outsourcing. The former is a bad business decision, and while the latter is certainly a viable choice it is not the only or necessarily the best option.
A few things we learned along the way that may help put this in perspective for you:
Data is King. At the beginning we didn’t have much data and found that a lot of what we thought we had was anecdotal. Our first effort was to collect solid data on our most important processes and issues, even before we began requirements gathering. The data then informed the requirements process and was foundational to our success.
Tools Are Cool, But Processes Rule. Again, before we began designing systems we went through a process redesign of all core business processes. We mapped Is and envisioned, tested, and institutionalized New. Only when we were comfortable that our core processes were in excellent shape did we move on, deferring less critical processes to later in order to keep momentum on our side.
Keep It Simple. When we did begin building systems we worked hard to stay focused on core processes, simplicity of use, data and system integrity, and open architecture to enable integration. We resisted bells and whistles that were seductive but did not support the core requirements established at the beginning.
Technology Is Just An Enabler. It can be hard to remember why you’re doing all of this when you get into the project. Technology does not generally change your business, but should improve your business in ways that matter. Time, cost, quality, and overall customer satisfaction is the name of the game. This is really just a restatement of the end goal, and a caution not to get caught up in technology for its own sake.
Here’s the interesting thing. When we began this process several years ago I was vocal in my reluctance to take the “do it ourselves” approach. I was concerned about long term supportability of unique applications and worried that we might not have the resources and stamina to be successful, preferring instead to adopt off the shelf solutions that have wide market acceptance. I was wrong. Our group has done an excellent job. Some of our staff developed themselves into technologists, some are now expert data custodians, and we now have a much higher degree of visibility into our operations. We know our processes inside out and have very good working relationships with service partners, such as IT and others in our supply chain.
And I know this; there is nothing unique about us. If we did it then I am convinced many others can as well. I am not suggesting that commercial applications and the use of consultants is a bad thing. Not at all. But I am suggesting that home-grown applications that are customized for your specific circumstances are within your reach and capability. A major added benefit of course, is that you get to do it yourself, learning new knowledge and skills along the way, improving yourself and your organization.
I’ve observed presentations where major corporations showcased their FM technology projects, costing millions of dollars and taking years to complete. Ours took the same amount of time, cost a small fraction of the outsourced solution, and meets our needs exactly. Am I proud of our team? You bet. But again, there is nothing unique about us except our willingness to attempt and our will to persevere.