Reducing Solution Selection Risk
A number of years ago I was called into a system implementation project for a large state public transit authority in the U.S. Not long after I arrived, one of the agency’s staffers called me aside and showed me a picture of a locomotive. It was possible to drill down on this image to what seemed to be almost all of the component parts that comprised the locomotive. This individual then told me that the software sales person said that he should be able to select the image of any part and doing so would automatically trigger an order such that a mechanic on the shop floor could go to the parts cage to get the part needed to repair the locomotive.
This was the beginning of lots of trouble. The pictures I was shown were static images and linked to nothing. I came to learn in the coming days that the implementation team on site decided to try to create a work around through the new financial management system when really what should have been evaluated to meet the requirement was a maintenance management system. For this reason and a multitude of others, the project was ultimately cancelled after thousands of dollars were invested.
Reduce Risk – Start with Requirements Analysis
As illustrated above, one of the most common risks relevant to a solution selection project is a lack of sufficient understanding of requirements that your new solution must meet. An appropriate response to this risk is a requirements analysis of sufficient breadth (functional areas) and depth (details). This requires discussions with members of your organization with detailed knowledge of current processes and any desired changes they expect a new solution to support. It is also beneficial to look at an existing solution if possible, to identify factors such as the following:
- Functionality that is used and works
- Existing functionality that is not used and the reasons therefore
- Gaps in current systems relevant to existing business requirements
Create a Vendor Short list
After you understand your requirements, identify a short list (e.g. no more than five) of potential solutions that appear to align to your requirements. Take into consideration several factors such as vendor stability, vendor alignment with current technology trends, access to support, the prevalence of a potential solution in the local market which is an indicator of the presence of knowledgeable resources who have functional knowledge of a solution, etc.
Participate in Vendor Overviews and/or Presentations
Arrange for short-listed vendors to provide an overview/demonstration as to how their solution will meet your functional and technical requirements. As part of this endeavour, identify references that you can contact for each of the solutions you are considering. Obtain references for solutions you are considering and estimates of implementation and operational costs. To the extent possible, try to obtain reference/experience feedback from organizations using a solution you are considering, independent of the software vendor.
Select Your Solution
Following the selection process described above, you will find yourself in a position to identify a solution that best meets your requirements, based upon value and best match to your overall requirements at the lowest cost. You can also be confident that you will have taken reasonable measures to reduce significant risks related to solution selection that ultimately can lead to project failure.