Does technology rule the business world? We know that seamless IT systems give businesses the needed competitive edge. How to choose the best system for your business?
It is easy to buy minor applications to satisfy the needs of one stakeholder group. You can even evaluate the suitability of software by discussing it with the stakeholders. Only a few people need to be involved.
When the goal is to optimize workflows involving several stakeholder groups in the business, the number of minor applications soon becomes a burden: everything needs to work seamlessly together requiring a great deal of integration work. It would be smoother to use a single system that – as far as possible – supports implementing tasks from start to finish.
A feature list is not enough
Often, it’s smartest to invest in a single system that addresses all possible business needs. However, selecting such a system is more difficult and requires a solid comparison of different alternatives. The greater the number of stakeholder groups the system affects, the more difficult it is to conduct a comparison, because all stakeholders’ needs can no longer be managed by way of discussion.
So what’s the best way to approach an appraisal? The most common approach: create a list of features. It is a simple way to ensure that the new system to be purchased is best suited to specific needs of your business. The features list is a long catalogue of short descriptions.
As you compare different systems to the features list, write go / no go / go with workload x against each item. However, this still does not indicate how easy or effective it is to implement each feature. The feature description is often on such a general level that it can be interpreted in many ways.
“The number one requirement is that the system is easy and fast to use,” is a completely meaningless phrase. If you have not precisely defined what easy and fast mean, you cannot require it on a general level. That same loosely defined feature can be implemented in many ways and some minor detail could significantly hinder everyday work.
Much has been written about the benefits of a good user interface; unfortunately, usability is still underrated during the decision-making phase. There are many reliable methods for evaluating user interfaces, including usability testing, user interface walkthrough and user observation.
Workflows to the rescue
Instead of a features list, it would be best to design and implement a system based on workflow. The most critical workflows must be defined and evaluated in great detail. In other words, it is necessary to determine how different workflows will or could be implemented with a new system.
Although it will not be possible to immediately create all workflows in the new system, an evaluation will provide an initial picture of how some of the most important workflows can be implemented. If they are efficient, then it is likely that the remaining features can be applied so that they also operate effectively.
Assessing the real workflows of the selected system helps avoid a situation during testing or commissioning, where users discover that the new product does not have optimal workflows. In a worst-case scenario, workers’ performance might even deteriorate, an outcome that is considerably more expensive than conducting a more laborious appraisal in the early stages.
Users soon see the practical benefits of adopting a workflow-based approach. Performing one phase of work does not require workers to jump back and forth among different windows. Tasks progress from stage to stage in one view before moving on to the next. This saves a great deal of users’ time and reduces the load on working memory. It is not very easy to measure this benefit, but the end result is better work outcomes.
Relief, rather than complexity
I have personally held the view that information technology should make life easier, not more difficult. This thinking has played a major role in all the projects in which I’ve been involved. A system should make work easier; otherwise, using it makes no sense.
This is why I am so excited about the new HEADS product, that I’ve just started with. Heads is not just a next-generation commerce system that provides an effective centralized architecture and real-time data: it is also fundamentally designed to support the workflow of different trade sector stakeholder groups as well as possible. Although it is a newcomer to a competitive field, I see it as a solid and robust platform for building a first-class business system for the trade sector of the future.