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Re-engineering the business from a distance—it’s still about people

Matt Smith Profile picture for user Matt.Smith July 22, 2020
Successful software implementations were never just about the technology. the pandemic brought this reality into sharp focus. This is what we saw.

Image of post-it notes on a board with the words ‘make things happen’
(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay )

What do you do when your major software implementation project is affected by lockdown measures resulting from responses to a pandemic? Do you shut down, freeze the project, attempt to complete and go live? Those are the three stark choices every lead project executive faced in March this year.

Surprisingly, we found many of our customers wanted to continue projects. Customers understood the urgency of delivering modern systems at a time when entire business models and processes were, quite literally, blown up. If anything, the pandemic and the thought of what economic conditions will be like in the long years to come, drove many of our customers to speed up their adoption of new technology and technology-enabled processes. This is what happened. 

The old 'normal'

In 'normal' conditions, planning for and implementing enterprise software is not about technology, it is about delivering change. Determining the current situation-the processes being executed, the constraints, the non-value-added work, and the opportunities for rapid improvement-typically involves extensive in-person consulting. It is the people involved in and affected by the project that require generally more work and attention than the software.

The process of training the trainers, data migration, testing the solution-all of these processes have in typical times involved travel to the customer site and the type of in-person interaction that we assumed was necessary to build trust and facilitate complete communication.

As a vendor, IFS would have personnel at customer sites, as would our services and product partners. From the initial sales process through the meetings to drive our business value engineering (BVE) process, regular status meetings and go-live, our people would typically spend much of their time at customer sites ensuring not only a successful project, but a successful change management process that takes the customer's business from point A to point B in an orderly fashion.

So far so typical. All that got thrown out as an operating model once lockdown took hold. 

Culture not technology

Across many industries, businesses adopted video conferencing and other technologies to bridge the geographic divide and run projects remotely. But as IFS CEO, Darren Roos discussed recently in a MindFuel session with Akhilesh Tiwari, Vice President and Global Head, Enterprise Application Services, TCS, successfully communicating at a high level across distance takes more than Microsoft Teams or Zoom and an internet connection.

Like everyone else, we were not prepared for this scale of disruption. When this hit us, we wanted to make sure our employees were safe and healthy and that their families were safe and healthy too. Once we had taken care of that, the next most important objective was to help our customers deliver their products and services to their customers as quickly as possible. We did what we normally do, which is to divide the project into small bits.  Seamlessly, everything then came together within weeks. We moved 457,000 of our workforce from large delivery centers to an extreme form of distributed work. No services were disrupted.

Tiwari credited Tata's culture for helping it maintain close and effective communication with the customer during the crisis.

TCS has an incredibly strong culture, a culture of delivering to customers," Roos said. "IFS is very similar, and I think it is that culture which made it happen. The employees did not take a view that ‘COVID-19 has happened and I will lock myself away.' Their attitude was ‘what is the impact on my customer, and I will make sure my customer is okay.' There is a degree of customer centricity. The magic sauce is culture… it happened organically for us like it did for IFS. 

Tata has identified a new paradigm they call 25 x 25 - by 2025, only 25 percent of a business workforce needs to work out of offices.

Change on multiple fronts

One IFS customer, Michael Dixon, Business Transformation Director of fencing and protective equipment manufacturer PRÆSIDIAD, had to deal with more than the complexity of implementing during the height of the pandemic. He started his role just as the pandemic hit, having had only one in-person meeting with a member of his company during the interview process. To make matters worse, the company had replaced their entire management structure.

In a MindFuel discussion with IFS Vice President for Manufacturing Colin Elkins, Dixon said the changing cast of characters involved in the project proved more of a barrier than the distances over which the project was being managed.

The entire management team has changed within PRÆSIDIAD.

A new senior suite, they weren't the people that had made the original decision [to select IFS.] In the early days, the way that the project was structured wasn't quite right. There wasn't that real business engagement - and [we] struggled a bit with the new management team coming in place.

Ensuring Return on Investment in a distanced world

Dixon describes how he and the new team were able to rescue the project, and his experience seems to prove that it is clear thinking and leadership that matter more than having a vendor on-site. This is heartening news for our business value engineering team as we engage with customers to not just plan implementations from a functional perspective, but to identify and address opportunities to lower cost, increase productivity or grow revenue and margin - all in the context of change management.

In another recent MindFuel session, Andrew Vlaciotis, Vice President of IFS's Service Management business unit for Asia Pacific Japan, cited IDC data on how IFS software had delivered measurable outcomes including:

  • 35 percent increase in field service team productivity
  • 17 percent increase in supply chain productivity
  • 15 percent increase in regulatory compliance team productivity
  • 22 percent increase in engineering team productivity
  • 25 percent increase in finance team productivity
  • 7 percent increase in capital asset management team productivity
  • 94 percent increase in sales team productivity.

Using this and other real-world data to inform our efforts, IFS developed a methodology to help our prospects and customers build their enterprise software project around hard and measurable goals. This is a detailed and consultative process, and some degree of in-person consultation is beneficial.

Our business value engineers have created a detailed, facilitated in-person business value assessment (BVA) process to help identify processes, variants, waste, systems, technology and assets and better understand how our customers can harness our software to create enterprise value. This involved spending time on-site so we can live a day-in-the-life of the customer and understand at a deep level their processes, their challenges and their environment.

As the pandemic hit, we addressed that added challenge by creating a digital version of this process around our Enterprise Operational Intelligence software tool.

People and transformation

This new Digital BVA software is free to use and gives the customer results more rapidly than if we were on-site and then returning a report after the fact. So far, we are finding customers prefer the digital version. In that sense, digital transformation has come for our business as certainly as it has come to customers.

In retrospect, we have always known that a culture of customer centricity represents the defining characteristic that sets one vendor apart from another. But it is the ability to turn what were once analogue processes to digital alternatives while also delivering an improved experience that demonstrates the reality of that culture. 

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