Is Self-Implementation right for you?


Posted by Jamie Black

Topic(s): Efficient, Effective and Reliable

Read Time: minute(s)

For government finance officers looking to make the most of tight budgets, efficiency is key. The RIGHT tools and technology can significantly improve efficiency, provided you can muster the resources to purchase and implement them. 

Many of our clients are looking to implement technology as inexpensively as possible. Some consider self-implementation. How do you know when this approach is right for your finance or budget department and when it is a mistake? This article examines the criteria that determine whether you are likely to succeed in self-implementing a new finance-related system (ERP, payroll, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) or financial statement automation etc.).

Over the past 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 we have tried any number of models:

  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 achieved successful outcomes with each of these options. But frankly, we have also had some disappointments. Our wealth of experience has informed the following guidelines for determining the right approach.

Self-implementation Requirements:

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

As you consider whether 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. 


The initial configuration of some systems requires considerable technological knowledge, at a level not necessary for day-to-day operations. Server setup, database configuration and optimization, and development of custom code for integration with existing tools, are a few common areas of expertise required for initial setup. Do your team members have this expertise already? If not, you should carefully consider whether it is wise to invest your time and money to develop this expertise internally in order to self-implement the project.

On the other hand, some systems do not require such sophisticated technological expertise about support systems. Perhaps all that's necessary for self-implementation 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 to self-implement. 

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:

The level of subject-matter expertise required 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 ample experience preparing these reports today? Do you understand how these balances come together and know what G/L accounts get grouped into each number on your statements? Or perhaps this your first year-end cycle, and you do not have the support of those 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 implementation team members lacking?

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 across a large team, over many months/years, with many individual milestones, lots of complexity and great risk should the project fail, you will 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 fallback plan in the event of delay or failure, basic project management skills may suffice. At a minimum, we recommend assigning project management duties to someone who exhibits great attention to detail and strong organization and communication skills. For some systems, this approach might be sufficient to guide self-implementation.

Questions for the software vendor:

  1. How long and complex is a typical implementation project?
  2. Do you offer project management services if we decide they're 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 required 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 how much time is required of your team 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 level of 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, 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

The decision between self-implementation and fully outsourced implementation is not an all-or-nothing choice. Another option to consider is sharing the workload with the vendor in a joint or guided implementation. You may be able to do large portions of the work yourselves, which will yield significant fee savings and make strategic use of the vendor team's expertise and time. Use their team to provide oversight, remedy any expertise weaknesses, or cover 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 that provides the highest return on your technology investment.

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

Originally Posted on 27 October, 2016

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