Step-by-Step Implementation

A detailed plan and teamwork drive successful software implementations.

Many software implementations fail because companies think vendors are going to lead the project. "That is not going to happen," says John Sidell, principal and co-founder of ESYNC, a Toledo-based systems integrator. In reality, companies do 75% of the work on the project and only 25% is done by vendors. "Most clients don't realize, when they tackle a project like this, they are signing up for that much work. If they get that education early, chances are they will have a better expectation going into the project," Sidell says.

The best executed software implementations start with a detailed plan or roadmap and a partner who comes along for the ride. "Why be Lewis and Clark when you can be Rand McNally," Sidell points out. "Some people blaze a trail and don't understand where they are going. Someone could give them the map of Idaho," making it easier for them to reach their goal, than it was for Lewis and Clark.

The software is only one spoke in the implementation process wheel. Companies need to integrate the software into their existing systems and processes. Sometimes the layout of a warehouse needs to be changed. Often, companies will adopt new warehouse processes to take advantage of the software's capabilities.

It is a good idea to run before and after metrics when implementing any new software system. Unfortunately, many managers fail to do this, and then have a difficult time recognizing the full benefits of the new system.

"When people do not establish a metric, the project is judged by two measures: Was it on time and on budget? If they have the wrong expectation of what the budget and timeframe should be going in, then they don't recognize the productivity gained and reduced costs. The only things people remember are that the project was late and over budget," Sidell says.

Two Success Stories

Bob Adkinson, COO of Archway Marketing Services, Rogers, Minn., attributes his company's successful implementation of HighJump's warehouse management system (Eden Prairie, Minn.) to training employees how to use the system, zero turnover on the implementation team and including stakeholders in the process.

Archway is a business process outsourcer 3PL that manages print, logistics, picking-packing-shipping, and decision support systems on behalf of its clients. There was one more factor to the system's successful implementation; Archway choose to modify its business processes instead of trying to mold the software to fit its business.

"The package represents many industry best practices since it has been implemented so broadly," Adkinson says. The company chose to incorporate the software's best practices to make its business more efficient and responsive.

Three years ago, Dunkin' Donuts (Canton, Mass.) implemented a voice picking system in its 300,000-sq.-ft. DC in Westampton, N.J. "Voxware (Lawrenceville, N.J.) has made it very easy for its customers," says Warren Engard, director of distribution operations with Dunkin' Donuts. Engard's implementation team included a project manager, IT personnel and other managers and supervisors who would be affected by the software.

The team made a list of requirements and applications. Voxware produced a detailed requirements document listing all of the specifications and the applications needed to implement the system.

No physical changes were needed at its facility to implement the software. However, Engard did change his warehouse process and improved slotting and pallet building. Toward the end of the project, Voxware trained Dunkin' Donuts IT staff on how to configure the headsets and set them up on the RF network. It trained supervisors on how to set up users and how to work the management console. Users were trained to use the software and were given a reference card of the prompts and phrases they needed to use.

Voxware came back to test the system and wrote an interface to connect the voice system to the company's recently acquired WMS system. Currently, Voxware is sharing the development costs for rewriting applications to accommodate use of Dunkin' Donuts' scanners for putaway, replenishment, receiving, cycle counting.

Best Implementation Practices

Whether a company is implementing a new warehouse management system or an application software, companies will have a more cost and time-efficient implementation if they follow these best practices.

Business Case/Operation Analysis

It is important to remember that the cost of change is higher at the end of a process than at the beginning. "The more time you spend upfront, the better your solution," says Voxware's Elif Kizilkaya Eracar, v.p. delivery services, North America. It is critical that the first meeting between a consultant or vendor and the company is a fact-finding, get-to-know-you session lasting two or three days.

A business case for the project must be created that lays out the internal and external costs of the project and the work that needs to be done to accomplish the project. An implementation checklist identifies what needs to be done to implement the software.

At this initial session software vendor representatives learn how companies currently run their businesses, and they may start to suggest changes to companies' processes.

It is critical to invite people to these meetings who will be using the new system or who will be affected by it including warehouse managers, supervisors and members of the IT department who understand the company's software and how it can interface with another system. The last step in this phase is to document the solution and reach an agreement on the plan between the two parties.

"Our goal is to match 80% to 90% of the client's business objectives," Eracar says. "That is why it is important to have the right people at the first meeting.

Requirements Definition

During the second stage, a detail requirements list is created, requests for proposals (RFPs) are prepared, software is evaluated, and demos are reviewed. The RFP should include a description of the operations, functional and technical matrices, and transaction data. ESYNC recommends having a bidders' conference that brings all vendors on-site for one day. The suppliers will receive a company overview and tour of the facility. The day ends with a Q&A session for technical and functional requirements.

Acceptance and Testing

The third step involves testing the system followed by company acceptance. This phase gives companies a chance to test drive their new systems and kick a few tires to make sure it operates correctly or determine if pieces of the system are wrong or missing.

Companies can start training employees on the new system so they are familiar with the new software and can be more productive when it goes live.

Deployment

The fourth step is training followed by actual deployment. After the software has been deployed, monitoring the system and troubleshooting begin. A customer support handoff often occurs toward the end of the deployment. In some cases, vendors' customer service departments go through a checklist that asks if certain things were done and if the company's employees know how to tackle different things.

Some vendors do post-deployment audits where they go back to customers to learn how they are doing. For example, after companies use voice systems for a month or so, they find they want to make the system speak faster.

Here are some final recommendations on installing new software: Spend as much time as needed up front. Involve the right people in the organization that will be using or affected by the system and the people who will be needed to deploy the system. Get buy-in from the employees to make sure they use the new system, and never skip the user acceptance phase when the system is tested.

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