Selecting the right business IT strategy, not just the next system

Four principles that should underpin your systems strategy.

The cleaning industry has its fair share of challenges. As if managing a large workforce is not hard enough, cleaning companies have also been laboured with a complex set of information system requirements, just to make life fun. To limit the mention of further complexities, this article will stay COVID19 free.

I’ve worked within the cleaning sector since 2009 and have seen the explosion of new technologies available in the market.

During this time, I’ve realised some business owners make technology purchasing decisions not based on a strategic plan, but more on emotionally driven short-term wins. There are two common themes which can be summed up in these familiar sentences:

  • “This new app will help us win more contracts”
  • “The competition is using it so we have to catch up”

There are more, but these two emotionally driven thoughts dominate the selection motivators for many companies today. This article aims to introduce principles that should underpin all your systems strategy.

 Start with a fully integrated end in mind

To ensure your business does not end up with a commingled mess of systems, you should have a clearly defined strategy in place from day one, whereby the end goal is an integrated platform. Your business broadly has three core areas: payroll, finance and operations.

Define what functions these areas require and design the end solution before you buy any system.

Consider that your business shares common records between these areas and eliminate the need for duplication. The end-goal should be an integrated system (or systems) that clearly define where the “master” of record lives.

Let’s use a simple example by examining your most common record – the site. It’s shared across the business through payroll, finance and operations.

In your finance system this might take the shape of a project, job or gl extension. This is required so you can run financial reports and know your site profitability. In payroll, your site might take the form of a job/cost centre, so staff hours can be separated out for reporting purposes.

Operations would then need a quality audit system, which also contains sites, to allow the reporting of performance. Furthermore, you may have taken the leap to a time & attendance system that again requires sites for staff to clock into.

It’s clear to see that if there is no strategy in place to deal with the management of this common record, your business will be spending administrative time maintaining it in at least four places. Having a fully integrated solution is the foundation of administrative savings in any business.

Don’t let departments buy systems in isolation

It might seem an obvious statement, but it’s so regularly ignored. In my experience more than 50 per cent of system selections are isolated to a single department.

We would be dealing with the payroll department during a sales process, only to realise the finance team have no idea they are considering a change in systems.

In some cases, departments even deliberately hide their intentions until they have procured a new solution.

This creates more problems than it solves. Yes, it may have a positive impact on the payroll department as some of their pains are resolved by the new system, but it creates additional problems they have not considered.

Each system should be selected in conjunction with all affected departments of the business. Integration points must be defined so each affected department can understand the impact it will have on their commonly shared records.

The best way to achieve this is to appoint a person who has the “integrated end” in mind, and make sure they manage all system projects.

Pretty ain’t a priority, benefits are what you need

Don’t be fooled by fancy graphs, maps and images. Judge a system against a clearly defined set of requirements and the benefit each will bring to the business. “Looks good” is not a benefit, being easy to learn because it’s user-friendly is as it saves cost.

The business should list a set of requirements that an integrated solution must deliver. Then before they are finalised, judge each by asking the question: “What benefit will the business gain if this requirement is met?” If the answer is hard to come by, remove it from the list as it’s not needed.

Rome was not built in a day

Getting to your end-goal is not going to happen overnight. The investment in internal staff time alone makes it impractical to try and rush things. Once your list of requirements is set, plan for change through a number of phases.

Set phase priorities based on the benefits they deliver to the business, or the elimination of risk. If your payroll system is about to fall over, it’s probably the place to start.

Projects can last anywhere between three and 24 months depending on the complexity of the end-goal. I’ve seen many companies try and rush this process, which leads to poor results.

Mark Fermor is director of Facility ERP

This article first appeared in INCLEAN magazine 

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