Month: February 2016

Dirty Secrets of Software Implementation

by Jeffrey Morgan

peopleIn the glamorous and sexy world of software procurement and implementation, dirty secrets abound. You shouldn’t assume that your new spouse is going to cook, clean, mow the lawn and drive the kids to school. Before becoming entangled in a new long-term business relationship, draft and execute a business pre-nup that includes a detailed project and implementation plan clearly spelling out the responsibilities and workload distribution of all the parties involved. And make sure you include plans for how to break-up in case things don’t work out. Implementation services may cost at least 2-3 times as much as a software license, and possibly more. Understanding the implementation model you are buying is critical to the success of the project.

One of the most common disputes between customers and vendors in software implementations (after the contract is signed and license fees are paid) concerns who was supposed to do what. These disputes can turn into ugly finger-pointing sessions reminiscent of your favorite dysfunctional family movie . Don’t assume that handshake deals and verbal agreements with the sales team are going to be honored by the company’s implementation and support team. After the deal is signed you may never see the sales rep again; you will be dealing with team members you have never met in-person. This isn’t the vendor’s first movie, but it might be yours so the time to work out the details is before the contract is signed. Make sure that all promises are in writing and are included in the SOW, project plan and other contract documents.

Implementation Models

There are really only three implementation models with minor variations and you should clearly understand which one your vendor has proposed:

  1. Do it Yourself
  2. Train the Trainer
  3. Turnkey

In a Do it Yourself (DIY) model, you license the software and configure the system using in-house staff or contractors and consultants. I have occasionally seen this model work. More often than not it turns into something resembling a nuclear disaster. It isn’t likely to save any money and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have staff members who really understand the business processes AND the underlying technology. If you saved money by opting for this model, don’t assume the vendor will provide extensive implementation assistance under your support contract. Implementation support and post-Go-Live support are completely different animals. If the project doesn’t work out, you may have to scrap all your work and start from scratch.

Train the Trainer is the standard approach to implementation offered by many software vendors. The vendor uses webinars, remote access and on-site services to train key staff members and stake holders in configuring the software. This model can be successful if you and your staff are committed to making the project work and are willing to invest large quantities of time. A key benefit of this model is that your staff will really understand the software. One major problem with this approach is that your staff members already have a full-time job. How are they going to find time to setup an enterprise system that may involve months or years of configuration, testing and hundreds of configuration steps? This model has a higher success rate than doing it DIY, but spectacular failures are not uncommon.

In a Turnkey model, the vendor does the heavy lifting, but this doesn’t mean you’ll be sitting back while the vendor is waving a magic wand. At a minimum you will have to provide lots of data and configuration input, attend training and meetings, and execute quality assurance measures for every deliverable. This is the most expensive method for configuring software, but no one knows the system better than the vendor. If you opted for a milestone based payment plan, you can rest assured that each component is configured and tested before you pay for that service.

The Paparazzi

You might be thinking that you don’t have to worry about the paparazzi. After all, this is software, not Hollywood. But if you run into a a 6-8 figure cost overrun on a public sector software project, your picture might be prominently displayed on the front page of your local paper with a caption that reads “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin to do.” If a massive failure occurs in the private sector, it might be a long time before your next audition.

If you need help planning your implementation, send me an e-mail at Read more about IT Governance here.

Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016

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