In my few years with the ECM industry I’ve heard various recommendations, discussions, comments and frustrations about the process of evaluating a company’s ECM needs, establishing a project plan, implementation and of course the ultimate go-live. It can be quite the process for both the vendor and the customer. I decided to ask a few company representatives who recently underwent ECM evaluations/upgrades/installations about their overall experience and what requests they’d ask of the vendor community to make these types of projects a little smoother for them.
- LISTEN. This was repeated to me more times than any other sentiment. Customers and prospects want the vendor to listen to the challenges, concerns, thoughts and expectations from them and the other staff members who may be involved. Although vendors have numerous customers, each company functions differently and can have different processes and goals. Take the time to come on site to learn how they do business with regard to whatever process or job the software is designed to do. This helps them talk through processes – sometimes in a way they may never have before. This process can uncover or make obvious additional improvements that can be made (or the software can make) and also helps the vendor to understand what kind of configuration may be needed upon implementation or what questions may need to be answered before either party is ready to proceed. This is especially true with highly configurable software packages. They want to be confident you are actually providing a solution to their problems, not just selling them a software package and trying to make it a good fit.
- EXPLAIN. While the vendor knows and understands the different features of the product, the customer doesn’t always understand why you’re recommending that module or add-on. It is helpful when the vendor thoroughly maps out the product offering as well as why that element is important to the solution. Do not assume that the customer knows or understands all the ways your software can help and/or how your software has helped other companies. Customers may have a general idea, but it’s very helpful for a vendor to take the time to understand what the company is currently doing and what they are trying to accomplish with this project. Don’t hesitate to make practical suggestions along the way for improvements or provide options as to how the software can more thoroughly fulfill the requirements. Keeping that in mind, respect the budget.
- PLAN. Have a strong methodology, structure and strategy in place for implementation and the communication that goes along with it. A documented, detailed plan of attack is helpful to keep both parties feelings knowledgeable and confident in the projects, expectations and trouble-shooting. Often times what gives the business the most heart-burn is the unknown/hidden costs that often arise from implementations that aren’t effectively planned or even completely left up to the company. The customer is in need of the vendor’s expertise and experience in getting the software up and running and a really strong idea of what that is going to ultimately cost. Obviously plans can be and need to be manipulated throughout the course of the project but clear, concise and documented communication from the initial meeting to the go live can help avoid misunderstandings, unexpected costs and project delays. The customer needs to trust that the vendor is working on their behalf and being mindful of the budget.
The most interesting part about my Q&A sessions – it seems like most times both sides want the same thing, it’s just a matter of productive communication and thorough documentation. The path to get both sides to the goal line doesn’t have to be long or stressful if the expectations and wishes are discussed in detail, both at the initial meeting and throughout the project. So keep talking, communicating and asking questions!