Is Self-Implementation right for you?

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Posted by Jamie Black - 27 October, 2016

Topic(s): Efficient, Effective and Reliable

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In order to make the most of tight budgets, efficiency is key for government finance officers. The RIGHT tools and technology can aid significantly with improving efficiency. This is of course assuming you can fit that technology into your tight budget. 

Many of our government clients are looking to find ways to implement technology as inexpensively as possible. For some tools, this can mean self-implementation. How do you know when this approach is right for your finance department and when it is a mistake? This article examines the criteria that determine if you are likely to be successful self-implementing a particular new finance-related system (ERP, payroll, CAFR or financial statement automation etc.).

Over the last 20 years we have implemented hundreds of technology solutions for clients: CAFR and financial statement automation systems, custom designed mobile applications, ERP systems, local and wide area networks, servers, and of course continuous monitoring systems. During the course of these implementations I think we have tried every possible model:

  1. 100% delegation of implementation tasks to client's staff
  2. 100% retention of implementation tasks by our team
  3. Every task-sharing split possible 
We have had major success with each of these options. Frankly, we have also had some disappointments. This has given us a wealth of experience and allowed us to come up with the following guidelines for determining which approach to take.

Self-implementation Requirements:

When you engage consultants / vendors to help with the implementation, there are really two major benefits that they provide: relevant expertise and time to dedicate to the project.

As you consider if your organization can self-implement a particular system, assess your team to see if you have the "right-stuff" in these categories. 

1) Expertise:

An objective assessment of your team's expertise is critical to ensure you are capable of taking on the implementation yourselves. 

Technology:

The initial configuration of some systems require considerable technology knowledge that is not necessary for their day-to-day operation. Server setup, database configuration & optimization, custom code for integration with existing tools are some common areas of required expertise. Do you have team members with this expertise already? If not, you should carefully consider whether it is a wise investment of your time and money to develop this expertise internally for the self-implementation project.

On the other hand, some systems do not require this sophisticated technological expertise about the support systems. All that may be necessary is strong knowledge about that particular application and its day-to-day features. In some cases, a strong user of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office could have all the technological expertise required for a self-implementation project. 

Questions for the software vendor:

  1. What technology does your system rely on?
  2. Are there servers to set up or databases to administer? 

  3. Is there any programming or scripting required to implement this system?

Specific subject-matter:

Subject-matter expertise depends upon the system you are implementing.

If you are implementing a new ERP system, are you expert in the functioning of your current system? Have you worked with many different systems? Have you ever been responsible for administering a new ERP system? 

If you are considering self-implementing a year-end reporting automation tool (CAFR / financial statements), does your team have a lot of experience preparing these reports today? Do you understand how these balances come together and know what G/L accounts get grouped in each number on your statements? Or is this your first year-end and you do not have any support from the people who prepared prior year reports? 

Questions for the software vendor:

  1. What subject-matter skills do you require of your implementation consultants?
  2. What experience is essential for a successful implementation?
  3. When you have seen implementations fail, what skills were missing from the implementation team?

Project management:

The size and complexity of the project will determine how sophisticated your project management skills will need to be. For example, if the project requires collaboration from a large team over many months / years, with many individual milestones, lots of complexity and great risk should the project fail, you want a very seasoned, professional project manager.

On the other hand if the project will only involve one or two people, is reasonably straightforward and you have a great fall-back plan in the event of delay or failure, basic skills may suffice. At a minimum we recommend candidates who have good attention to detail, strong organizational and communication skills. That might be sufficient to guide the self-implementation of some systems.

Questions for the software vendor:

  1. How long and complex is a typical implementation project?
  2. Do you offer project management services if we deem it necessary?
  3. What guides or checklists can you offer us to assist in managing a self-implementation?

2) Staff Availability:

One of the many reasons organizations pay for professional implementation is not due to a lack of expertise but a lack of available staff time. Being short-staffed or just overloaded with work likely means that you will not be able to prioritize the implementation tasks and you will wind up with a system that is never fully / properly implemented.

For many systems, considerable time is required to successfully implement the tool. The tasks may or may not be complex from either a technology or subject-matter perspective but, they may take considerable time. You need a clear understanding of both how much time is required and how much time your team has available. Consideration should also be given to how frequently you will need to break-off from the project to tackle your other duties. The more frequent the interruptions, the more difficult it will be maintain momentum, remember training etc. 

Questions for the software vendor:

  1. How much time would you allow for your consultants to implement this system for our organization?
  2. How much more time should we allow given we do not have your experience? Should we multiply the vendor's time estimate by 2? By 3?

Measure Your Optionsselfimplementation-1.png

As you obtain answers from your vendor, score and plot the responses on a graph like the one pictured here.

Projects that fall into the green zone are obvious "self-implementation" candidates.  

If you plot your project in the yellow or orange zones, it becomes apparent that the demands of the project are higher and careful consideration of your availability and / or expertise is warranted.

Should you determine that the project falls into the "red zone" it usually means that it would be wise to abandon self-implementation and investigate other options.

Joint Implementation

This is not an all-or-nothing decision between self implementation and fully outsourced implementation. Another option to consider is to share the workload with the vendor in a joint or guided implementation. You may be able to do major portions of the work yourselves which will yield significant fee savings and make use of their professionals' expertise and time strategically. Use their team to provide oversight, to remedy any expertise weaknesses or to supplement for any resource availability issues you may have. By balancing the use of your time, your expertise, and your budget for external services, you can often develop an implementation plan which provides the highest return on your technology investment.

For more on this topic(s), see: Efficient, Effective and Reliable

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