Businesses adapt to large suites

When it came time for Montage.DMC to implement its new business suite, it decided that the best way to take advantage of the product was to leave it alone. So when it came down to a decision between modifying the product to fit existing business processes or changing processes to fit the product, the company chose the latter.

This, said Sylvain St-Pierre, the professional services company’s Ottawa-based vice-president of e-business solutions, was the best way for the company to keep the total cost of ownership at a level that would make the new purchase – an Oracle 11i suite – worth it.

“Obviously when you buy an off-the-shelf package, you buy into a philosophy as well. Most vendors have a lot of flexibility in terms of how you can configure a package. But at the end of the day, you are working within a box to a certain extent,” he said.

Many of the changes forced on the company by the new suite, which replaced a mishmash of existing off-the-shelf and homegrown products, made sense from a business point of view because they automated existing processes, St-Pierre said. But this also meant that individual managers had less control over how they did things, which was not always met with enthusiasm.

With the new system, for example, the company was able to automate its time sheet and invoice process, but the accounting department lost some flexibility. Those in accounting could no longer change entries by themselves when necessary, they had to go back and ask the employee to make the change. This took some getting used to on the users part, but it sped up the time capturing process.

“That’s one example where we benefited in the long run, but in the short run, it was a tough one,” St-Pierre said.

The company didn’t have the resources to rewrite the code, he said. Instead they spent time creating reports since they had complaints about the kinds of information they were getting from the existing reports.

If Montage.DMC had spent its limited resources modifying the software, its total cost of ownership would have gone up, he said. Also, the company would then have to assume responsibility for any modifications, as opposed to laying responsibility on the shoulders of the vendor, he said.

Companies that buy big software packages but then go about modifying them significantly in order not to have to live with the business model imposed by the product are venturing into dangerous territory, said Bob Fabian, an independent consultant in Toronto.

“Companies say, ‘yes, we’ll buy it (a big software suite),’ but they really say ‘we want it to work our way, we don’t want to change how we work.’ And that’s a prescription for expense and maybe a prescription for failure,” he said.

The decision to modify the package or the business process has to be made on a case-by-case basis, said Alister Sutherland, the director of software research at Toronto-based IDC Canada.

“One has to weigh things like cost effectiveness. Does it cost less to modify the existing business software to fit business processes, or does it cost less to just change certain business processes to accommodate the software?”

One also has to worry about how the modifications will work, he said.

“If you modify the software, one of the fundamental dangers might be that the software might not work as intended. You’ll be in this nightmare of having modified what was otherwise a very good solution.”

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