I regularly encounter companies that are muddling along with the same computer systems they've been using for over 20 years.
Bolt-on functions that don’t communicate with each other are commonplace, as are multiple data entries and time consuming searches for bits of paper. These are all symptoms a fully integrated system could virtually eliminate.
Why It Matters
As an example, software that lets you send out invoices or statements via email has been around for years. Despite this, many companies insist on doing it the ‘old fashioned' way.
You only have to miss one entry – so perhaps a customer’s address isn’t updated in a single crucial location – and you have a problem.
Other ticking time bombs in aging business systems are the special little ‘tweaks' that are often written into software to allow a certain amount of communication between a couple of systems. Companies often come to rely on specific special functions, and it's common for only one person to know how these work. If this person leaves, and the system breaks, big problems can occur.
Big Red Bus Theory
My very first client described this situation perfectly as the ‘big red bus theory' – If the person in the know is run over by a bus tomorrow, what happens then?
Many businesses use economic gloom as an excuse to put off developments that would bring them renewed growth. They are often frightened into inaction – hindered by the media, which perpetuates scare stories on a regular basis.
If you are constantly putting off upgrading your financial or business software – crossing your fingers and hoping for the best could end up being the worst decision of all.
Return on Investment
It’s very easy to only look at the costs on the page, leave things as they are, and carry on without change. If you do this, the cost of doing nothing can really start to add up. If the system does fall over at some point, you'll be in real trouble. You need to consider the long-term return on investment, rather than just the initial costs.
I spend a lot of time with businesses finding out how they work. On some occasions, existing processes can be tweaked, or they can make better use of the software they already have.
If you do decide to take on new software, or enhance your existing system, you should be looking for a return on investment within 2 years or less – this should be demonstrable and quantifiable.
It's essential to consider the buy in from all parts of the business. This means involving everyone who the change will affect and making them feel as if they have been a part of the decision making process. This can be the difference between a project succeeding or failing – it really is that important.
I recently watched the film Lincoln, so forgive me for quoting another US President, Franklin Roosevelt. He said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
Not making a change could be the worst decision you make.