With more and more organizations moving to a buy-before-build policy when it comes to software, the number of vendor COTS implementations is on the rise. Even custom software companies strive to build out a line of products that can generate recurring revenue (the unicorn of revenue streams). Sometimes vendors will offer discounted implementation to help entice customers to go with their product which means that the more efficient the implementation, the better the margin (not to mention keeping your customer impressed). This post will talk about three keys to smoothly implementing your COTS software package.
Requirements Definition & Gap Analysis
Like with any good project, understanding what exactly it is that you need to implement to meet your customer’s requirements is a must. There is a reason that your customer bought your product so obviously there is a fit, however even the best of fits often reveal some gaps in needs versus functionality. Even in a COTS implementation it’s vital to do a detailed gap analysis to determine areas of challenge for your project. How you address those gaps is either a matter of services/implementation or perhaps customization. Either way, your gap analysis should form the foundation of your project scope and allow you to plan the work accordingly. It’s important to get an understanding from the customer that the gap analysis represents the sum total of what needs to be modified from the product that was demoed to them during the sales cycle.
Sell Your Roadmap
To help with a speedy (yet thoughtful) implementation, it’s important to sell the customer on not only what exists in the product but also what’s coming down the pipe. Often customers will take the gap analysis for an opportunity to customize their solution with things that are more “nice to have” than “need to have”. It’s important for the project manager or business analyst on the product to question the need for these items and sell the customer on accepting them as “roadmap” items (items that your organization has planned for the product but just not ready right now). This approach allows your project team to get your product in and running for the customer without the added noise of extra bells and whistles that, while nice to have, are not absolutely necessary to support your customer’s business. Getting your product manager involved in discussions at this point is a great idea as well as they can speak to the roadmap and indicate to the customer what they can expect and roughly when, taking the onus off the project team.
Set the Tone of Building Blocks
In the same breath as selling your roadmap, it’s important to keep the customer from over-complicating their implementation. Depending on how configurable your product is (remember, the more configurable, the more the customer will configure), you can see your project timelines balloon out of control if scope and direction is not kept in check. Encouraging your customer to start with a base layer implementation and then add on top of that as they go. Remember, the more functionality the customer asks for/wants for an initial go live, the longer and more expensive your project will be. If the goal is to get them on the system (and paying their monthly support fees) it’s best to take a rudimentary approach and ensure that your product meets their needs but without a lot of extraneous configurations to test and support. Encourage your customer to explore additional functionality once they get more familiar with the system and comfortable with configuration.
COTS implementations are becoming far more the norm these days and every company is fighting for that extra competitive inch that puts them overtop of the competition. Ensuring a lean implementation that still meets the customer needs is the ideal way to go about doing a COTS implementation. These three tips won’t ensure success every time but they will certainly get you started on the right path.