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Our headline is a tad misleading because, while the specifics concern Microsoft Dynamics NAV, one of the world’s leading ERP and business management software systems, the principles of the article could be applied to virtually any software system implementation.  This one just happened to be NAV, because that’s what the consultant, a London-based freelancer by the name of Hannes Holst, implemented when he wrote the article.  (it’s our firm’s specialty as well, by way of full disclosure.)

In that project, Holst was tasked with replacing an existing ERP system with Dynamics NAV, and the plan was to do it on time and on budget – or under.  And they succeeded.  The three critical factors, in Holst’s retrospective were…

  1. Know what the business wants. In our own process at our firm, we label this the business process analysis, but call it what you will, you have to scope the requirements.  It’s the roadmap for all that follows.  It’s a serious (and yes, billable) engagement requiring both parties’ key staff to engage deeply in thinking about the client’s company, processes and goals.  Then, a roadmap is constructed that involves what, where, when, how and who, and guides the entire project team so they understand the goals, benchmarks and processes of that implementation

 

  1. Utilize the Dynamics NAV standard. NAV has been developed continuously for well over twenty years now, and covers all the functionality most any business could need today.  Standardized functionality has been applied all up and down the accounting workflow in NAV, and it works across many industries.  (While we specialize here in manufacturing and distribution, it’s equally adept at retail, service and many others.)  So wherever possible, Holst advises, align the business processes with the software.  This makes projects simpler, quicker and more agile.  Users can start working in some areas very quickly, as other pieces get added later.  (There are some caveats in this regard, but the advice is generally true.)  Finally, assess customizations in terms of impact to the company, which includes an overarching need, the budget, the need to continually maintain those modifications into the future, and the value of their overall ROI.  And when you do customize, wait a while, and then prioritize those “mods” from high to low when you determine which are truly needed.

 

  1. Hire an internal NAV expert. You can’t always do this of course, but you can have your most knowledgeable expert on the company’s inner-workings coordinating the project on the client side with the project leader from the consultant’s side.  A lot of issues can be resolved quickly when you have process- and software-knowledgeable participants on both sides of that support call.  That internal resource at the client side has a lot to do with landing your project on-time and/or on-budget.  They can recognize problems early on, unsnag project logjams, warn of impending potential pitfalls, and keep client-side implementers on-task and moving forward.  Your whole implementation benefits from the insights an internal expert can bring to bear, and having voices on both sides of the project management spectrum helps ensure that projects are kept honest, flowing, cooperative and, ultimately, successful.

 

Holst’s full, brief article can be found here (you have to join the forum, but it’s free):

 

 

 

It was nearly 30 years ago that a Dutchman by the name Guido van Rossum set out to create a new programming language that would adhere to three principles: First, it should be easy to read; braces and dangling punctuation marks would be replaced by indented white space surrounding fairly readable code words.  Second, it should let users create their own modules or objects that would be usable by others to form the basis of new programs.  And third, he thought, it should have a catchy name.  And so he named it after the English comedy troupe, Monty Python.  The code package repositories became known as “the Cheese Shop.”

Little did von Rossum know that one day his creation – Python — would become the most popular language, said to have received more Google search hits in the past year than Kim Kardashian, according to the editors at The Economist.  Today, Python is used by nearly 40% of professional developers (another 25% wish to do so according to a programming forum).  It’s also popular with ‘ordinary folk’ as well, notes The Economist, and is snaring youthful adherents as well, noting that about 40% of American schools now offer computer programming (compared to about 10% just five years ago) and among them, about two-thirds of 10 to 12 year olds have an account on Code.org’s website.

Mr. van Rossum recently stepped down from his longtime role as curator and supervisor of Python (“benevolent dictator for life,” he once called it) saying he has long been uncomfortable with the fame.

Like all languages, Python is not perfect.  The more traditional C and C++ languages offer a broader suite of lower-level functionality (lower-level usually meaning that you are closer to the machine’s own language, and thus have more control over commands and overall language functionality).  Java is popular for large and complex apps, and JavaScript is the language of choice generally for apps accessed by a web browser.

But Python’s simple syntax makes it easier to learn to code, and share.  It’s used everywhere from the CIA for hacking to Pixar for producing films, in Google web page crawlers and in Spotify’s recommended songs feature.  It’s also recently said to have become a language of choice for AI researchers, which means it’s truly here to stay.

And even the non-coders of the world have taken it up in non-technical jobs, where marketers use it to build statistical models for their campaigns and teachers can see if they are properly distributing grades.  CitiGroup has introduced a course in Python for its trainee analysts, and it’s a haven for those who have long relied on spreadsheets for data analysis.

While no computing language can ever be all things to all people, specialization of languages matters, and so Python just keeps growing.  Over the history of computing, any number of languages have grown, dominated and then faded: think Fortran in the early days, then Basic’s many versions throughout the PC’s heyday, and even Pascal, a presumed lingua franca of the PC-era computing lexicon.  Presumably, Python’s day will fade one day as well, but now nearly 30 years after its birth, that day remains anyone’s guess – and probably in the distant future.

Recently The Economist took on the issue of how the internet has changed and what they think can be done about it.  As an article called “The Ins and Outs” from June 30th 2018 (multiple authors) notes:

“Until a few years ago most users, asked what they thought of the internet, would have rattled off a list of things they love about it – that it lets them stay in touch with friends, provides instant access to a huge range of information, sparks innovation, even helps to undermine authoritarian regimes.”

Early cyber-gurus like Tim Berners Lee and Vint Cerf hoped to create a system “biased in favor of decentralization of power and freedom to act,” according to Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler.  When the first internet message was launched on October 29, 1969, a new era of unfettered openness appeared to be on the horizon.

Today, The Economist suggests, there is much disenchantment over the ways in which today’s net has become so much more centralized – and is becoming increasingly so.

In the West, the internet is dominated by a few giants like Facebook and Google, and in China by firms like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.  As historian Niall Ferguson argues, this pattern – a disruptive new network being infiltrated by a new hierarchy – has many historical precedents, from the invention of the printing press through the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The internet has become much more strictly controlled, they note, pointing out that when users were mainly accessing via desktop or laptop computers, they could stumble across amazing new services and try many things for themselves.  These days however, more folks get online via phone and tablets that confine users “to carefully circumscribed spaces, which are hardly more exciting than television.”

In the early days, Vint Cerf and others worked to make the internet largely “permissionless.”  Any computer and any network could join in if it followed the right protocols.  Packets of data were handed from one network to another, regardless of contents.  This looseness is what caused Tim Berners Lee to come up with the basic idea for the world wide web, which worked on top of the internet’s basic structure.

“These protocols were complemented by a set of organizations that allowed the rules to evolve, along with the software that puts them into effect” and kept them from being hijacked by outside interests.  Most notable among these was the Internet Engineering Task Force, whose founder David Clark put forth the philosophy that probably best summed up the early innovators’ intent: “We reject: kings, presidents and voting.  We believe in: rough consensus and running code.”

This openness and flexible governance set off a flurry of innovation and activity and by the mid-1990s millions of websites were up and running, and thousands of startups were launched.  Even after the dotcom bubble collapse around 2000, decentralized activity like blogs and forums continued unabated, with links to one another creating an ever-evolving ecosystem.

Today the connections to transfer data still exist, as to ever-growing reams of data, much of it now residing in cloud-computing silos within mega-companies like Google and Facebook, all closely monitored and metered, while billions of smartphones tap their available – and closely curated and counted – content.  Someone is always watching.  And most likely, monetizing off your data.

Whether it’s due to the workings of an authoritarian country or a monopolistic company, the internet’s protocols, governance and controls have swiftly and subtly evolved, and they are never going back.

[The original article in the June 30, 2018 Economist has many more sections and is worth a read.  We’ve reviewed and rendered here only a small portion today due to space constraints.  Again, it’s worth a read.]

 

Recently the folks at Panorama Consulting wrote an article about who should be on a company’s digital transformation project management team.  Included were the results of a study by two professors who came up with a clever way to think of the personality traits required of that team.  We’ll get to that in a moment, but first…

They first noted that teams can run from a very few players to as many as 15 or so.  Most, in our experience, have about 3 to 5 key members.  That team will develop a project charter to assign responsibilities and resources, both internal and external, throughout the project.  This steering committee decides which tasks can be handed off, and which (like final sign off on future-state business processes) cannot.  The charter defines how decisions are made, and by whom.

The team also addresses the fact that while major transformation is occurring, the business must still go on.  Day to day operations are ongoing, even as the new special project takes precedence, and senior managers need to determine how that’s going to work.  Overtime?  Suck it up?  Hire temps?  Wait for a slowdown in business?  Whatever the answer, it must be addressed at the outset, and adhered to thereafter.

In their article Panorama notes that…

“Some organizations build their project team based on who they believe to be the smartest or most technically-skilled. While technical expertise and operational knowledge are important, communication skills are also valuable, especially when the project team is tasked with executing an organizational change management plan to engage and train employees.”

Professors Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats published a study, Functional Roles of Group Members, in which they identified key personality traits that contribute to strong teams. Here are five of those personality traits:

  • The Cheerleader encourages other project team members to participate and recognizes them for their contributions. This role is useful for encouraging engagement on both the project team and throughout the organization.
  • The Peacemaker helps project team members reach a consensus when compromise is necessary. Peacemakers focus on the success of the organization as a whole. This role is useful when defining and prioritizing business processes.
  • The Sergeant-at-Arms ensures the project team meets deadlines and expectations while adhering to the organization’s core values. This role can help develop strong project controls and governance and gently remind team members of these guidelines.
  • The Good-Humor Man relieves the tension and anxiety of digital transformation. The right amount of jest can lighten the mood and reenergize team members.
  • The Contrarian is a critical thinker and innovator who is not afraid to share his/her opinion. This role can challenge project team members to think about the project from a people and process perspective instead of a technical perspective. The contrarian can also ensure that the project team preserves the organization’s competitive advantage during business process management.

Make sense for you?  Worth thinking about, for sure.

 

Our friends at our partner PrintVis, specialists in print & label industry-specific solutions recently posted a timely article on some of the new features to be found in Microsoft’s leading ERP solution, Dynamics NAV 2018 (later this year to be rebranded as “Dynamics 365 Business Central”).  The D365/BC product is basically NAV in new packaging, note the folks at PrintVis.  At it’s core, it’s NAV, in the cloud, hosted directly by Microsoft.  (Note: there will also be an on-premise (i.e., locally hosted at your server) version available.

Dynamics NAV now boasts over two million users (at over 130,000 companies) worldwide, and has established itself “as the choice for midsize organizations looking for a complete enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that is fast to implement, easy to configure, and simple to use,” as PrintVis’ Michael  Bradley notes.  And he should know, since PrintVis’ industry-specific solution now has over 350 companies running its application, which is deeply and richly embedded with the core NAV.

Customers who upgrade now can work with their reseller-partners to create a more seamless upgrade path to D365 now, and for future releases.  As PrintVis noted in their article:

“If your partner invests a bit more time in the upgrade today, they can move any/all of your code customizations to “events” and “extensions.”  This will dramatically reduce the amount of effort required for later upgrades – and this is the clear direction Microsoft has been heading for some years now. We have arrived at this pivotal time in the evolution of ERP.”

New features included in the latest 2018 release will extend the functionality of NAV, including…

  • Greater Integration with Business Applications
  • Improved Customization using Extensions
  • Automation and AI
  • Interaction with Microsoft Flow
  • Improved Workspace Personalization
  • Data Sharing with CRM systems
  • Pre-configured Excel Reports
  • REST API extended
  • Report Preview
  • Improved Check Printing
  • Pre-configured Excel Reports
  • Larger EC Sales Lists reports

The ERP world is experiencing a time of disruption and like any paradigm shift, change needs a while to be appreciated and absorbed – but it’s inevitable.  At least with today’s NAV, you’ll be ready for what is perhaps the largest paradigm shift ever in the business software marketplace by positioning yourself today with a product that’s already ready for the cloud tomorrow.

Companies executing a digital transformation in an effort to keep up with the pace of business change today and all its competitive challenges need to consider a lot of strategies when doing so.  A recent article from Panorama Consulting reminds us that setting the right expectations comes first.

 

Starting with a statement of project scope, you need to then develop the business case – why are you implementing new technology in the first place? – and then work out the elements of ROI (return on investment), and the corresponding budget and timeline.  Clear understanding of expectations must then be communicated throughout the organization.

Timelines, let alone budgets, are often very difficult to estimate.  Changes to both are inevitable.  But you can help your planning by considering a few aspects that are often overlooked.  Among the key project tasks Panorama’s consultants advise organizations to remember are:

  • Quantifying specific benefits you hope to achieve, such as visibility into real-time data, visibility across functional areas, reduced inventory and decreased days to close
  • Developing a master data management strategy and data migration strategy
  • Conducting an organizational readiness assessment
  • Developing and executing an organizational change management plan
  • Assessing staffing needs for each phase of the project, and possibly augmenting your staff with outside resources
  • Working with functional leads to map current and future state business processes and identify pain points
  • Working with functional leads to define requirements, validate requirements and schedule software demos
  • Recruiting stakeholders from different departments, business units and locations to help define requirements
  • Distributing workshop guides to prepare employees for requirements gathering workshops
  • Prioritizing functional requirements into three categories (mandatory, value-add, nice to have)
  • Balancing the need for software customization with the cost of training
  • Reskilling employees whose jobs will become automated
  • Meeting with the vendor for an organizational design session

It’s a lot of ground to cover, but considering these details before you commit can save a lot of time, money and frustration, and go along ways towards ensuring your digital transformation project’s success.

 

Customer satisfaction can be determined in any number of ways, from personal visits and other direct encounters with customers to surveys and data analytics.  Two key metrics include overall customer satisfaction rating, and a tactic used by many companies today called the net promoter score.  It measures strength of loyalty and a willingness to recommend you.

Net promoters scores are typically built on the offering of a single question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend [our company, our product, our service] to a friend or colleague?”

Based on this simple 11 point scale, scores are divided into detractors (those giving a score of 6 or less); Passives, who score you at 7 or 8; or net Promoters, who answered with a 9 or 10.

The detractors have the potential for further reputational damage, and when recognized provide an important opportunity to learn more, understand, correct a problem (and thus ‘save’ a customer) or engage them in meaningful dialogue aimed at solving the problem and improving your score.

The passives are somewhat satisfied, but are vulnerable to switching to another provider or product.  They’re not likely to say anything bad about your product or firm, but they’re also not enthusiastic enough about your products (or you) to actively promote either.

Promoters, those who scored a 9 or 10, are your sweet spot.  They love your company’s products, services or people, and will often recommend them enthusiastically to others.  They’re worth their weight in gold, of course.

In addition to ‘top-level’ metrics that you can find inside your ERP system, you can consider determining metrics for each stage of a customer’s journey throughout your life with them.  Metrics that include sales trends, buying history, preferences, results of cust-sat surveys and overall breadth of product support for your products and services can be combined and investigated at various timelines along the way, at least for a random sampling of clients.  Just as an investigative exercise alone, the results can be enlightening, and most every client is capable of surprising us (for better and for worse) with their responses, once engaged.

It takes a bit of courage sometimes to work up to asking the net promoter question, or to survey your customers on their more specific levels of trust and satisfaction.  But the knowledge gained and insights provided actually make it easier for you to improve your offerings and increase customer retention almost immediately.  Viewed in that light, why wouldn’t  you do it?