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Looking For A Cloud Solution?

Over the years I have seen major changes in business software as the markets matured and automation became more main stream. First, was the basic accounting functions, then mission critical applications specific to industry needs. The advent of the personal computer and Intuit (Quickbooks) that brought automation to the small and medium size businesses. There was Unix (Xenix), which centralized processing for multi-user functionality, then the wide area networks, which decentralized processing and leveraged all those desktop personal computers into strategic business solutions. We can't leave out paperless content management and process automation. And finally, the cloud including Appegedon!

The next revolution in business software solutions are cloud based applications. Many vendors are re-engineering their existing applications to take advantage of all the benefits of cloud distribution. Also, we are seeing new vendors emerge that are offering some promising innovation in automated, cloud-based processing. The dynamic growth and acceptance of these new platforms are due to several factors. First, the pandemic has change the landscape of traditional business processes and has forced companies to look to virtual opportunities. Second, the market is smart. Unlike the transition from paper to computer based solutions, which spanned over 30 years, the business market is receptive to technology and management innovation. Third is the generational transition of the workforce that is much more receptive to automated process and mobile utilization. And last, most companies will naturally progress to the cloud with their existing vendors and dealers as the versions of their software changes and they are forced to upgrade. All this means that cloud computing is going to replace traditional on-premise designs within the next 10 years.

My suggestion to companies that are interested in changing to a cloud based solution is to use this opportunity to perform a thorough audit of your business practice and processes, then re-imagine/engineer those workflows utilizing new modern technology and management strategies. As I consult with clients, the first objective is to create a visual road map of all the processes in the business (See below: sample process for Purchasing to AP).

The next step is to pull together a team with representation from each business unit of the company. This team will be responsible for re-engineering work process, so they must have a thorough understanding of their departments policies and procedures. A "best" practice would be to engage with a consultant who is well versed in cloud based applications and work processes. This person will be key when discussing new workflow changes that leverage the opportunities of modern technology and management.

The third step in the process is the most important. Here you will flip all your existing processes upside down. If you read the chapter on the 3 P's (Planning Process for Profit) you will find a strategy on how to begin your re-imaging process. The concept of working backwards is key to developing an MBSM strategy. Determine the KPI's and Metrics that you want the company managers to review DAILY, then work backwards to the collection point. Make sure as you re-engineer the process you look for EPV (entry point validation), SEP (Single Entry Processing), ERA (Electronic Routing and Approval), and ECM (Electronic Content Management) for paperless processing. Also, cloud functionality can extend processes to business partners by providing community collaboration, data collection portals, and business transparency. There are chapters in this book on each of these features. Below is a sample of a re-imagined AP Process from above.

Once you have settled upon process workflows now it is time to evaluate your current solutions and applications to determine if those tools can achieve your goals. Also, look at where you intend to be in three years. It might be that through normal upgrading the process designs that you want to achieve will become available. If you want to "test the waters" or see what is available now, put together an RFP that details and documents the workflows you are trying to achieve. When you send out your request, explain to the vendors that you want to see how they will support the processes your team has developed and be proactive. However, be open to new ideas in process that they may have to offer.

During the presentations, grade the vendors on each process and make notes. The grading process is 1 through 5. Total the grades at the end of the presentations, and the top three candidates can be selected for second round presentations. At this point, basic software selection criteria needs to be engaged like cost, implementation time, conversion, and references. One of the most important features of cloud software is an open API integration. Software companies that offer this, allow integration seamlessly with third party applications. If your core ERP has open API, then you might choose to go with a more robust, configurable front end cloud solution where you can design the processes yourself without writing any code or choose a more industry specific front end cloud solution (ex. Omnidek for work order billing, time collection, credit card processing that feeds to backend ERP).

Once you have selected your software make sure that as you get trained and start implementation that you follow your process objectives. Then, write standard operating procedures for those processes and incorporate them into your job/task descriptions. I find that human resources is the best department to manage this process. They should build internal teams that will provide training/re-training of human resources. Another idea is to have H/R build video training programs that are designed based on process and functionality vs features only, which are generally supplied by the software vendors.

Finally, MAKE SURE YOU COMPLETE THE IMPLEMENTATION. Most software utilization today is about 50%. It is important to stage your implementation, but don't stop until ALL the processes are fully implemented. A completed implementation is crucial to an MBSM strategy. In order to provide your managers with daily Metrics and KPI's, they must be accurate and dependable. If not, the information will be discredited and you will be back at square one.

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