The Tech Advisor by Patrick Russell is a book is for business managers and leaders facing big decisions about software. Read this before you call the salespeople, vendors, and consulting companies. This message is unique; you may not hear it anywhere else.
Sometimes organizations want software that will empower them to step up to the next level of business activity, efficiency, and productivity: to automate and expedite a key process, or create a new process; to facilitate collaboration; to connect data with data, people with data, or people with services. Here you don’t just install a conventional program and go through a few tutorials. Everything changes. People in diverse roles doing a variety of tasks will become part of a new system. Staff, affiliates, and customers will all be affected – and are likely to be interconnected in new and unfamiliar ways. All activities should coordinate and flow easily. What works well in the pre-existing process should be expedited and enhanced, and new pathways should be built, augmented with powerful tools.
Software initiatives that combine automation and complex human interaction require careful planning and considerable effort. Even individuals close to the situation may miss critical parameters. A deep knowledge of software and organizational process, a talent for innovative design, and an understanding of how people, positions, roles, and groups interoperate in a collaborative network – are all key success factors. The potential rewards can be huge – major cost savings, highly efficient operations, a big boost in revenue, and greater market share – but the risks are significant.
A small company may also face these challenges, especially if it has developed unique processes giving it a competitive edge. It may be looking at an investment of effort and resources comparable to a large enterprise, relative to its size.
Software vendors may not tell you everything you need to know, nor will they do your due diligence for you when you plan, select, and implement technology. If you lack the expertise in-house you can make serious mistakes, which can be costly, even devastating. A number of issues might not get the attention they deserve, including:
• Is the technology being considered really the best choice?
• Are you getting the features, capabilities, and scalability you need now and will need in the future?
• Security and change control. What are the risks in the cloud and software-as-a-service?
• Loading, migrating, and connecting with data – an easily underweighted challenge.
• Interfacing with legacy systems. Is the original knowledge still in-house?
• Will the system serve all the users? How about the customers? Do the managers really know what is going on?
• How will you know you are getting high quality, “industrial strength” custom work?
• What about system configuration, training, knowledge transfer, maintenance, and future enhancements?
• Will your organization really “own” the system, or will you remain dependent on the vendor?
• What happens if your vendor goes out of business or the platform you bought is discontinued?
• Have you really identified all the tasks required, their costs, and business impacts?
• Are your preliminary requirements gathering and planning sessions correctly focused, or are you wasting time?
• Will your staff and your business be downgraded by a software upgrade?
• Will your new system last for years, even decades? A premium price tag won’t guarantee it.
This book offers information to help you make good choices and avoid the pitfalls. It explains how a software professional, “the tech advisor,” can come in on a short-term basis to support your planning before you call the vendors. The cost is often offset by the time it saves your highly paid managers responsible for the preliminary work. The tech advisor protects your interests and is your advocate standing between you and the vendors. The book explains how to find and hire one. It also sheds light on the tech advisor’s crucial methodologies.
Whether or not you hire a tech advisor, the book will help you make wiser technology choices. This book is your tech advisor, and will assist you in achieving your own facility with an expert advisor’s approaches. It will help you ask the right questions, do your due diligence, and apply some of same methodologies. This way you are far more likely to get the timely answers and the powerful, cost-effective solutions you seek.
Patrick Russell has worked in the software industry for 30 years, designing and developing industrial controllers, innovative software products, and large enterprise systems. He has been a successful entrepreneur and a Director of Technology for a major international consulting firm. He is the President of the Institute of Management Consultants, San Diego Chapter. Here he shares his insights on the do’s and don’ts of a successful software project.