Lee Prevost is the president and co-founder of SchoolDude and has years of experience working in the educational operations industry. Before founding SchoolDude, Lee worked for Applied Computer Technologies (ACT) and Honeywell Home and Building Controls, providing energy and control solutions for education clients.
I participated in a conference recently where a large school district demonstrated a new web-based interface to their legacy client/server-based maintenance system. It proved to be a very interesting discussion and triggered a flashback to earlier in my career when I was initially engaged in delivering maintenance solutions. Delivering enterprise systems before the late 1990’s was a challenge for our services teams and unfortunately, considerably more demanding for our clients.
My flashback included visions of having to explain to our prospective clients that they needed to acquire application server hardware, database hardware, networking hardware, server operating system software, database software, application middleware software, application security software, and finally the enterprise application “client” and “server” software. The real challenging aspect was aligning and training a team of hardware, software, networking, security, and operations professionals to successfully “implement” the new software on a timely basis.
There are numerous instances of dismal failures from the implementation of large, complex client/server enterprise software systems in school districts including Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Business Tools for Schools project (2003-); Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) BOSS project (2005-); Palm Beach County School District (PBCSD) PeopleSoft ERP project (2005-2006); and the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) enterprise S.M.A.R.T. project (2009-) to highlight a few (additional examples are included in a blog from Panorama Consulting Solutions). These types of system initiatives cost school districts tens of millions of dollars and quite often lead to consider embarrassment for superintendents and school boards.
The following are the five key factors that are the enemies of successful enterprise system implementations that I have witnessed over the past few decades.
1. Lack of Leadership Support. Large enterprise systems projects require substantial human and financial resources to succeed. These expensive and complex projects require that all key leaders of the institution back the initiative and agree the hold the project team members, strategic vendors, and business partners accountable for delivering results as planned.
2. Complexity. Enterprise system implementation failures typically include excessive functionality requirements and excessive integration requirements that quite often do not contribute to the expected Return on Investment for the project. Far too often, customization nullifies any ease of use and intuitiveness that a software package may offer. An early warning sign is when a project team chooses customization (changing code) over configuration options of a software package.
3. Unrealistic Expectations. Far too often we have seen that project teams prepare budgets and project plans without a realistic understanding of the complexities they are facing; the technical, management, and leadership skills required; the change management they will face; and an awareness of other potentially competing initiatives within the institution.
4. Insufficient Communications. Enterprise systems initiatives that cross multiple organizational boundaries require effective listening skills and proactive, clear, and concise messages that are targeted for each unique audience (organization).
5. Inexperienced Project Managers. Large, complex enterprise application systems implementations are traditionally extraordinarily challenging and require a trained, seasoned project or program manager with a proven track record of successfully managing complex projects.
Back to the illustration that I mentioned during my introduction. While it may be very tempting to “wrap” a legacy enterprise software package with a glamorous new web-based user interface – keep in mind that you are just applying a layer of veneer around an expensive, overly-complex software package with ever increasing support costs. We like to refer to this as “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” In many ways, this is synonymous to putting new siding on a crumbling building that is beyond its useful life and should be demolished. This type of solution may deliver some instant gratification, and temporarily mask critical problems, but it won’t be too long before the veneer wears off or the building comes crumbling down and you have to face the root cause of your challenges, quite often at a considerably higher price.
Over the past several decades the pendulum has swung from having to custom develop all of your process automation in-house; to having multiple choices of software packages to address a specific set of processes or business function; to the sub-optimal “do everything” fully-integrated enterprise software suites; to our latest Internet-based (Cloud) best-of-breed solutions that support industry-accepted integration features. This new breed of Cloud solutions positions you to optimize each major function of your operation while connecting your key cross-functional business processes as necessary.
Fast forward to 2013. Implementing our cloud-based maintenance and operational solutions is orders of magnitude easier for our clients. While building, deploying, and supporting our SaaS operational systems is more complex than ever for our team at SchoolDude, we are very fortunate through to have assembled a world-class team of software and hardware engineers that have a proven track record demonstrating that they are up to the task. The most dramatic change over the past two decades is the impact to our clients who decide to implement a new business system. While enterprise client/server systems typically have taken many months to several years to implement (or declared a failure), our cloud-based solutions are typically implemented in days to several of months with dramatically lower human and financial resources.
We recommend that you stay firmly focused on understanding the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of your enterprise software solutions. We have clearly demonstrated over the past decade that cloud-based, software as a service solutions offer a clear TCO advantage of 80% or greater over legacy client/server operational solutions. Another strategic benefit is that cloud-based solutions allow our clients to focus on their specific mission and goals and not be distracted with managing computer hardware and software systems.
Your comments and feedback are most welcome!