Conventional Wisdom, Software, and Your Business
By Jon Clemens, Vice President of Cargas Systems
We use this phrase to refer to commonly held ideas and beliefs that seem like they should be true. It’s – well – conventional. According to Wikipedia (and what better place to find a definition for the term “conventional wisdom”), it means a “body of ideas or explanations generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field.” But what happens when you want to do something “unconventional” in your business? Doing something in an unconventional way, or providing a product or service that is “unconventional”, can give your business a real advantage. Sometimes marketers refer to this as “unique value” – and who doesn’t want that?
Business Software and My Business
The conventional wisdom for business software – accounting, sales, and operations – is that “out-of-the-box” is better. And there are many good reasons this has become the conventional wisdom. Microsoft Dynamics products have significant capabilities to help your business with a full range of requirements – out-of-the-box: Marketing, Sales Process, Sales Order, Inventory, Purchasing, Core Accounting, Manufacturing, Project Accounting, Analytics, Reporting…the list goes on. Among our several hundred customers, many of them use the Microsoft Dynamics products with little to no adaptation.
On the other hand, your business is not “out-of-the-box” – it is not the same as all your other competitors. So, when does it make sense to become “unconventional” and adapt your business software to fit your uniqueness?
Specialized Business Process
Some businesses – maybe even most – have some business process that is very specific to their company. Or they have adapted a common process in some way that provides a strategic advantage over their competition. In this case, out-of-the-box software may not fit this process well. For many companies, this is where they build up a complex web of spreadsheets to address their needs. This type of solution may work OK for a while, but eventually it becomes inefficient for the business to maintain this process. Do you have any processes where spreadsheets are your answer to the challenge?
We have a customer that uses a very specific process for managing the prototyping and product development cycle. At each point along the way, there is a particular set of information that has to be collected and documented so that management can make a decision to continue the development process, refine the product, change the pricing, or abandon the product all together. They have adapted a well-established product life-cycle management process to give them a competitive advantage. Together we created an application that captures, organizes, and presents the specific information that they need for each step of their process. They are able to make more efficient, real-time, and collaborative decisions for their business using this application.
For some companies, they use software to enhance their unique value to their customers. Another way to say this – they use software to make deeper connections with their customers or vendors. Deeper connections – that sounds like that could translate into more and better business for everyone.
We have a customer that delivers a commodity product with a relatively short shelf life. They realized that they had information regarding their customers’ ordering history, and the availability of their products. How could they turn this into a value to their customers? What they needed was software that allowed their customers to securely access this information when they need it wherever they need it so they could make better decisions. In short, they needed a customer portal.
In other cases, companies have standard processes that out-of-the-box software can address in a standard way – a “conventional” way. What if this process is repeated 100’s of times a day? If adapting the software to make this process even 2 minutes faster, that can save more than 3 hours every day. As Conventional Wisdom says, “Time is Money” – this amount of time can translate into real dollars.
Where could this efficiency come from? Think about some of your own processes. Are there cases where there are fields of information that you have to fill in, or tab through, that you never really change? Are there extra button clicks to get you to additional information that you often have to use? Are there any external resources that you access during this process? If your interaction with the software could be “just what you need, no more, no less”, could this be more efficient?
We have a customer where the customer service team takes thousands of orders a day, over the phone. These orders are then organized into routes for delivery the next day. For them, the information that they need to enter to complete an order is very limited, and many of the “conventional” values can simply default – the user never even needs to see them. And, since they are on the phone with the customers, they need to quickly see other information such as order totals, account balances, month-to-date activity, and typical delivery day and route. The customer service team is able to quickly provide their customers with the information they need over the phone, and process orders in seconds, rather than minutes. The delivery team is able to organize the orders into efficient routes without printing the “conventional” raft of reports.
Scaling with less Cost
Finally, some business processes have the potential to scale out to tens, hundreds, or even thousands of users. One obvious example would be timesheet entry for project-based businesses – a process that could scale out to all employees. Other examples may involve adding access for business partners such as vendor or customers. Scaling out select processes in this way can be a significant benefit. However, to use another “conventional” phrase – “Nothing in life is free.” Often, licensing fees to software providers will scale up as you add users. This may be very cost effective – or it might not be. Adding a custom solution in this scenario may be a more cost effective solution – build it once and scale it out to many users.
What is the right balance for your business between “Conventional Wisdom” and being “Unconventional”? You may be thinking that one or all of the above scenarios apply to you. Or maybe you are not sure if there is a good value for you in adapting your software solution. A good place to start is with your partner, who knows your business and your solution. Challenge yourself and them to consider – what if in our case the “Conventional Wisdom” is wrong!