What We Did on Our Summer Vacation/Pandemic Lockdown
We like most of you, limited our activities over the past six months to socially distance and keep our communities safe. This also meant paring back our initial plans to launch and market our business, or at least pivot some of those activities. Once we stabilized and processed the new business environment, we turned our energy to the opportunities before us. We may not be able to attend trade shows in person to forge relationships with potential customers, but we can set a strong foundation of our business offerings by understanding what organizations need in terms of technology solutions and consulting services.
In addition to doing market research, designing our website, and subtly stalking our larger competitors online, some of the most informative and valuable work we did was interviewing our friends and neighbors about their experiences in using enterprise solutions and consulting services. We were counting on the good graces of our personal networks to understand the potentials and pitfalls of technological transformations and we wanted perspectives outside our existing professional relationships. The interviews were structured as part of our marketing research about our offerings, but what we learned is valuable for all organizations because it showed trends of similar challenges and needs across some very different organizations.
We conducted these interviews with the agreement of confidentiality and with a clear mutual understanding of no intention to sell products or services. What we wanted was information and honest feedback about their experiences. These are the generous friends who gave us their time and expertise:
A. Owner of a small audio/video installation business B. Director of a mid-sized nonprofit organization in human services C. Manager of a large manufacturing corporation in procurement and global sourcing D. Manager of a small manufacturing business in food services.
As you can see, these organizations are very different in size, industry, and services provided. The findings of these interviews invigorated us because Agile Integrations can solve these common problems experienced by our interviewees and can support organizations of all types through meaningful transformations. Here are some common themes we found in these interviews:
1. Implementation of a new system is hard no matter what, but planning and foresight can help you realize your goals even when you have time and resource constraints. In our experience, most organizations initiate major changes only when prompted by an immediate need; they do not dedicate enough resources and organizational endurance to the effort, and therefore the changes become even harder to implement. It is the high-investment nature of implementing new systems that stops organizations from taking them on as well. Our interviews with organizational leaders shared their recent experiences with organizational changes that validate these trends.
· The nonprofit had to implement a new system when the organization won an award for a grant that increased their client load by 12,000 people. Different consultants to implement the software and to update the processes were hired.
· The food service manufacturer grew their business to include home meal kits providers and realized they needed a new enterprise resource management (ERP) system. The owner and managers have all had to dedicate substantial time and money to the effort with the support of outside implementation specialists.
· The owner of the audio/video business knows he could scale his business if he invested more in his processes but has not found the time to make the leap.
· The manufacturing corporation has multiple ERP systems in place but they don’t always work together. Large scale changes are often neglected because managers are already overwhelmed with daily functions.
It’s hard for organization leaders to begin a change process before there is an absolute need for it, but the change becomes harder to implement when it is done under pressure. The ideal path to making changes is to set aside money, staff time, and leadership to it in a thoughtful manner. When the ideal conditions are not available (which is more the norm), get extra help and be realistic about adequate resources needed to achieve a successful transformation.
2. Integrated systems maximize effectiveness and efficiency. Using data to measure your organizational effectiveness and drive improvements are benefits of enterprise software solutions. However, using data to drive quality is not possible if different systems do not communicate together or no one interprets the data to benchmark against metrics. The bigger the organization, the more likely there would be different systems that take care of the different aspects of the businesses. This was true of the four organizations in our interviews. Proper information management and common user experience among your staff in a single source environment helps you to navigate within your information architecture and answer questions like, “how do we know we are making the best business decisions?” and “are our processes optimized for costs and benefits?” The more coherent all your systems and processes can be integrated, the more benefits you can reap such as using data to drive efficiency and quality.
3. Consultants should bring a combination of competence and humility. Consultants offer great value when they deliver a service where an organization does not have the capacity or capability in-house. Learning the uniqueness of every organization is how they can further their value. The manager of the large manufacturing corporation will always know her industry the best and consultants will simply not be able to provide the same level of expertise. Acknowledging the unique environment that nonprofits work in goes a long way in supporting the organization, such as understanding the complexities of competing priorities in managing multiple large scale grants. In one instance shared by an interviewee, the consultants who were hired wrapped up their implementation project with a substantial amount of work that still needed to be done and the staff of the company then had to spend months updating their processes and systems to make the software useful. When buying a new software product, you are paying for the implementation through its entirety regardless if it’s the consultants or your own staff who finish the last mile. It’s figuring out the most efficient way to combine your staff expertise and consulting experience that leads you to the quickest results and least disruption to your daily operations. Customization to software solutions is a key driver for success. Why should the consulting be any less customized?
4. Technology is not your silver bullet, but it is a vital tool. No single software is going to transform your organization because you are the one who has made your organization successful so far and you are the driving force to future success. The software is what will help you achieve that success. None of the leaders or business owners we talked to said a single ERP system solved their major pain points, but they all shared experiences of technology allowing them to advance their work in some way – manage inventory better, create invoices on the spot, track increasing client loads, analyze sourcing data in a global supply chain, etc. The technology should help your organization focus on its business and optimize your processes.
5. Consulting is not your silver bullet, but it is business coaching. You will always be the best at transforming your organization. The owner of the audio/video business never considered consulting for his small nine-staff business, but saw the benefits of an objective expert who could give him insights to improve his operations. He likened it to the sleep coach he and his wife hired to help their young kids sleep better. What he appreciated about the coaching was that the coach identified methods that worked for the family and helped everyone stick to those methods. He can see the value for his business. He, like a lot of very small business owners, always saw software - not so much the consulting - as the solution because technology is more concrete. Collaborative consulting and operational efficiency should be available to businesses of all sizes and sectors because every business can use a little coaching to help realize its potential.
The age-old wisdom of organizational transformation says it involves people, systems, and processes. We really enjoy all three aspects of transformation, particularly the people. We are lucky to know these really smart and capable people who have visions of advancing their industries and let us pick their brains. It got us excited about all the other smart and hardworking people in organizations whom we can really help. It’s collaboration and sharing our specialized skills that will move our world past the current challenges. Luckily, none of these organizations from our interviews have had their operations disrupted severely by the pandemic and a couple of them even saw an increase in business because of the stay-at-home orders. But it is safe to say we all face uncertainty and conditions are changing daily for organizations. Adequate and effective planning is the only way forward in the face of uncertainty. Enough about us. We want to learn about your specific and unique challenges, What you did during the spring and summer to face your new reality?