With more and more projects being focused on COTS implementations rather than custom software builds, there is a mindset shift in the primary focus of the project being on building customer knowledge of the product rather than the vendor understanding of specific intricacies that the customer may have that necessitate the custom build in the first place. This post will speak to the importance of getting your customer’s users familiar with your system and the benefits your COTS project will see from doing so.
Early Decision Making
Every COTS solution has a level of configurability to it. Some are more configurable than others depending on the nature of the industry being served but it’s fair to expect that with any level of system configuration that there are decisions that need to be made by the customer. As with any project, decisions made by the customer can have impacts to your budget, schedule and scope so the earlier these are made, the less impactful they usually are. But in order to have your customer be comfortable with making a decision that impacts the design and potential usage of the solution, they need to be well-versed in the functionality of the solution and how it meets their business processes (conversely, there may be business process changes that need to be made agnostic of the solution). By getting your customer up to speed early on your solution either through live, interactive demonstrations or hands-on training where they can begin to touch and feel the application, you are helping them build a foundation of education upon which critical decisions to keep the project moving ahead (and ideally on budget) are made.
More Effective Testing
How many times have you had a customer promise they were testing the system thoroughly in the early stages of acceptance testing only to find out at crunch time (a.k.a. when you ask for sign-off of testing) that some critical business functions were not properly tested to the satisfaction of the customer? More often than not the roadblock to effective customer testing is that foundational knowledge of the solution and how it functions to meet the needs of the customer. Since you are very likely replacing a legacy system with your solution, you are also introducing a level of complexity out of the gate that the customer testers are likely not used to and need all the help they can get to understand how to use the new system. By bolstering their knowledge early on in the project with training and demonstrations, you can easily encourage more in-depth testing early on to help avoid the last minute ‘gotchas’ that your customer will want to delay your project to test deeper.
Knowledge transfer from your consulting team to your customer is one of the most important aspects of your COTS implementation project. Starting the education early on of what the solution can (and can’t) do is vital to keeping your project moving along as planned. Your primary goal should be the customer to assume full and complete ownership of the solution and the single way to get there is to ensure that your customer knows the system just as well as you do.