The Worst Things about Supply Chain Implementation (and How to Triumph through them)

From a customer perspective, all system implementations including supply chain implementations can be harassing to contemplate. But I assure you that you and your team can triumph through them. Confronting and planning for these challenges and considerations ahead of time can help with faster implementation and higher return on your investment.
  1. Customisations and associated timelines and costs
    Supply chains are inherently complex. Each supply chain is also unique in the flow of data, people interaction, and organization of data structures. Expecting any product system, ERP, or supply chain platform to address these intricacies a 100% off the shelf can be unrealistic. On the other end, customizing a platform to mirror the company’s exact operational workflow can be time consuming, and expensive. It would also mean the vendor would need to be willing to offer the level of customisations on the platform.
    Your Strategy to mitigate:
    • Choose a vendor that is willing to take on these customizations and can run the custom requests in-house. Adding a second vendor to implement the custom requests can mean a lack of adequate knowledge base of the system and can also add layers to costs and timelines. Implementation-only focused vendors may not be aware of the platform limitations and constraints that might come up with custom requests.
    • Expecting an off the shelf system to work entirely in its native form for your company or customising it to exactly fit your workflows – neither extreme is a good position. The winning answer is a balance between the two. Evaluate what current company workflows can be edited without too much transition management effort to adapt to the system’s native functionality. The workflows that truly need to stay untouched because they define a company’s secret sauce are then left to customise.
    • Work with the software vendor to understand what custom requests can be managed with front end user interface edits. It is less expensive and time consuming to not touch the native code as much as possible. Not editing code to the best extent possible is also the preferred path for SaaS vendors.
  2. System Integrations
    Most all supply chain system integrations involve integrations with one or more of a combination of ERP systems, accounting systems, warehouse management systems (WMS), transportation management systems (TMS), customer relationship management systems (CRM), product lifecycle management systems (PLM), third party logistics provider systems (3PLs), freight forwarders (FF), project management systems (PMS), and integrations with wholesale and e-commerce selling channels. Even if a company is in too early a stage to have invested in systems, there are still integrations with excel sheets, PDFs and cloud stores like dropbox and google drive. Timelines and costs for successful integrations can have dependencies on the other system vendor having reliable APIs for connections, and dependencies on the other system vendor’s team members to help sort through integration related questions. While integrations with excel sheets and PDFs are often unavoidable, the integrations are dependent on the preservation of the data map that the integration was built to. Any change in this data map can break the integration.
    Your Strategy to mitigate:
    • Find a vendor that has had experience with managing multiple implementations with complex types and quantities of integrations. Beyond technical skills in-house, the vendor needs to have the willingness and team strength to manage the back and forth that will be required dealing with teams from the other systems being integrated with.
    • If any of the known integrations have been productized by the vendor, this can be a huge advantage. A productized integration means the vendor has worked the integration many times before and is able to execute the integration in relatively plug-and-play fashion with required edits to the standard with respect to additional fields required, or frequency of data push and pull.
    • If excel sheets and PDFs are being integrated with, take accountability to ensure that data formats are preserved and not subject to change.
  3. Internal resource allocation
    Beyond the investment of dollars on the system of choice, the cost of dedicating your team members’ time can be frustrating. It is often also difficult to assess how many people across the operations workflow will need to be dedicated, and how long each person will need to spend on the project.
    Your Strategy to mitigate:
    • More than one person accountable to drive successful system implementation means no one is accountable. While it may be important to involve and gather information from different team members over the length of project implementation, it is important only one person is held accountable for successful project implementation. This person would oversee gathering required data elements, optimising team members’ time spent on meetings with the system vendor, and to coordinate with the team members on action items they are required to complete.
    • Build in the cost of your internal project manager’s time allocation into your system RoI (return on investment) calculations. This will give you a more honest and accurate understanding of returns.
    • If the implementation is more complex and needs the time of more than one person, it is a far wiser strategy to pay your vendor additional dollars for project management and consultative support. Taking more team members’ time away from their day jobs and allocating it to project implementation can increase system implementation frustration.
    • If you are the project sponsor, ensure to run weekly, or bi-weekly check-ins with the project manager on your team and the vendor’s team. Having a high-level view of progress can help with socialising the right message to the wider team as well as to the executive team. Keeping stakeholders well informed during the project is essential to ensure successful systems implementation.
  4. Scope and time creep
    As project implementation begins, and if subsets of user groups are getting LIVE on the system in phases, this can begin a flow of new custom requests. New custom requests are also common if user groups from new business divisions or new geographies are introduced to the software after the initial agreement has been signed. With additional custom requests and integrations come additional costs, extended timelines, and frustrations.
    Your Strategy to mitigate:
    • Build in a budget and timeline flexibility for scope creep. The bigger the company, it is almost impossible to forecast 100% of all custom requests upfront since some requests are a function of usage based feedback. Setting internal expectations and building a percentage allowance upfront into budget can prevent shocks and frustrations with the project sponsors and executives.
    • Some scope changes are good ones. If your organization is scaling, data volume might increase and with that architectural and hosting capacity might need to increase. Ensure to address these future state scenarios with the vendor so when the time comes to make these changes, you know the vendor can handle the scenario and are comfortable that the vendor can support these additional scaling needs.
    • Ensure the vendor can support workflows for different business divisions and geographies upfront. Even if new needs come up, if the vendor has previously worked in that region and with similar divisions, it can mean the additional costs of custom requests are more economical.
  5. Getting your team to use the system.
    It is counter intuitive – but as unwieldy as legacy systems can be, team members get used to a certain interface and prefer sticking to legacy if it means no change. Changing to a new system even with better UI is always tough to navigate.
    Your Strategy to mitigate:
    • Pick a system that is intuitive and enjoyable to use. If a system if not easy to use no amount of socialisation is going to drive 100% compliance.
    • As frustrating as implementing integrations may be, increasing the number of integrations towards the goal of implementing a connected single source of truth can drive higher usage and adoption.
    • Appoint internal champions within each team that love the system, value the impact it has had for them and can hence evangelize usage from their position of experience and benefits gained.

In conclusion, the worst things associated with software implementations are ultimately triumphs for the organization and you as the influencer and sponsor if managed well.

Suuchi Ramesh
Founder, CEO
Suuchi Inc.

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